How to Avoid Spiritual Automatic Pilot

IMG_2125?ver2I made two mistakes one day that could have been serious.

The first thing I do after I stumble out of my bedroom in the morning is take a pill that needs to be taken on an empty stomach. Then I use my exercise bike, have a quiet time with my Bible and the Lord, shower, have breakfast. After that, I take other medications that I am supposed to take with food.

One Saturday after breakfast, I opened my medication container sorted by day and took the first pill. Then I realized I had actually opened the p.m. side rather than the a.m. No problem: that medication was one I took twice a day. So I opened the a.m. side to take the rest, only to discover that same medication was already gone from that side, and the one I usually take first thing in the morning was still there. I must have taken the wrong medication first thing in the morning—but now I had taken both the morning and evening doses within three hours of each other instead of twelve.

I called the pharmacist immediately to see if I was going to face any dire consequences due to my carelessness. Thankfully, she assured me that some people do take twice the dosage I usually do and told me just not to take any more til the next day.

While immensely relieved, I was also chagrined because this was not the first time I had a medication mix-up. I had purchased my pill sorter to help me keep better track of my medications. But I still have to remind myself not to be distracted or go on automatic pilot while taking them. I need to stop, think, and pay attention.

Automatic pilot isn’t always a bad thing. If you ask me on any given day if I washed my armpits or knees in the shower, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. But I trust the routine process covers all the bases without my thinking about it much. A friend said that operating on automatic pilot got him through the first months after his wife’s death.

Automatic pilot in other areas can cause a range of problems, though. If I am not paying attention while driving, I might miss my turn, drift into the next lane, or miss the person speeding through the red light. I recently turned on the most-used stove burner rather than the one I needed and caught a nearby piece of waxed paper on fire (which thankfully burned itself out in seconds).

It’s all too easy to operate on automatic pilot in my spiritual life as well. I can check off my daily Bible and devotional reading and not remember an hour later what I read. I can pray, lapsing unwittingly into all the same phrases. I can go through the day without seeking God’s guidance and help, unless a major problem arises.

There are a number of ways I can combat automatic pilot living.

Be alert

When I take medicine or drive, I need to be alert. Multitasking is fine with some activities but deadly for others. The same is true spiritually.

Ephesians 8:16 says, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” The Greek word for alert means “to watch; give strict attention to, be cautious, active; to take heed lest through remission and indolence some destructive calamity suddenly overtake one.” It’s often translated “watch,” but is also translated “wake” and “vigilant.” It’s used in connection with:

  • prayer (Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2)
  • watching for the Lord’s return (Matthew 24:42-43; 25:13; Mark 13:34-35; Luke 12:37-39; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-7)
  • watching out for false teachers (Acts 20:29-32)
  • guarding against Satanic attack (1 Peter 5:8)
  • In Revelation 3:1-3, the ESV uses “wake up” while the KJV uses “watch”: “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”

I shouldn’t walk around half-asleep and inattentive, physically or spiritually.

Be careful

When I operate on automatic pilot, I’m not cautious, not aware of danger, not engaged. Ephesians 5:15 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” I like the word the KJV uses: circumspectly. I need to pay attention to my thoughts and actions rather than just drifting through the day.

I need to watch out not only for negative thoughts and attitudes, but I need to look for active ways to minister to others. I’m too often caught up in my own head and miss ways to bless others.

Be purposeful

Any relationship can grow stale when one person stops appreciating the other and starts taking the other for granted. It’s possible to go through daily routines side by side without connecting.

When I read the Bible, pray, attend church, I need to remember that the Christian life is not just a series of duties. It’s a relationship.

Routines can help us maintain good habits. One key to having a regular devotional time is setting a regular time, place, and plan to follow. But if routine creeps into our thinking, we find ourselves just going through the motions.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemoth said in A Place of Quiet Rest, “But if your study of the Word does not lead you to know God, you have missed the whole purpose” (p. 56). When I pray, I need to remember Who I am talking to and why. When I go to church, I need to remember this is not just what we do on Sunday morning: we’re going to hear God’s Word and fellowship with His people.

Be focused

We always have distractions. They may not be bad in themselves, and they don’t mean there’s anything wrong with us. But we do have to deal with them. One near medication mix-up occurred when I was talking to my son. I needed to either wait til we were finished or ask him to give me a second to attend to what I was doing before resuming the conversation.

We can be distracted by entertaining things, mind-numbing things, or hard things. The current crisis can draw us into a closer dependency on and hope in God, or it can distract us from Him. No matter what else is going on in our lives, we need to remember God’s Word is our truth, food, hope, guidance, and so much more. We may have to adjust our usual course of reading, but we need to keep time with God the priority of the day.

Be engaged

God told Israel in Amos 5 that He hated their sacrifices, offerings, and feasts (see also Isaiah 1:11-20). Hated them? Didn’t He ordain them, require them? Yes. But the offererers weren’t seeking Him (verses 5-6) and their lifestyles were full of injustice and oppression (10-13) and worship of idols and false gods (26). In Hosea 6:6, God said, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” He wants our obedience, yes, but He wants our hearts most of all.

Though we don’t observe the OT sacrificial system today (see Hebrews), it’s still all too easy to lapse into the forms of worship without engaging our hearts

I remind myself to stop and think before taking medication. I often pray before I drive that God will help me be watchful and careful. And I pray that God will help me stay spiritually focused, alert, intentional, and engaged.

What ways have you found to avoid automatic piloting?

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30 thoughts on “How to Avoid Spiritual Automatic Pilot

  1. I, too,find myself on auto-pilot from time to time – especially in my prayer life. I sometimes find my mind wandering as I am praying and have to pull myself back and refocus. I know my main problem is I don’t have a routine with my prayer time. As an elementary school teacher my days are very structured and I am on auto-pilot a lot! Now that I am teaching online due to sheltering in place and will retire in June it would be the perfect time to start playing around with a new daily schedule and a new mindset. Thanks for a thought provoking post!

    • I used to pray from a written list, but that can get routine, too–just reciting from what’s written. But without a list, we can easily forget things we’d like to pray for. I try to pray for needs as soon as I hear them or thank God for something right as it happened–that makes it more like a conversation than a once-a-day meeting.

  2. I hear you, Barbara–and I have a tendency to slip into “oblivious” mode, completely caught up in what’s going on in my head and missing the point of what God wants me to see. Right now, there’s so much pain and discouragement in the air, and I could miss the whole thing with my nose in a book and my hands in the kitchen sink. I continually pray that God will make me sensitive and alert.

    • Me, too, Michele. I even resent when my mind is on something else and someone interrupts me with a question or just wanting to talk. I have to remind myself that I’m supposed to minister to them, and giving them my attention is one way to do so.

  3. Thank you for this good reminder, Barbara. I am one of those multi-taskers who always feels as though there is more I should be doing. I need to remind myself to slow down and focus on one thing at a time – focus on my prayer when I am praying, focus on cleaning, when I am cleaning, focus on the person who is talking to me when I am listening. Glad the pill oopsie wasn’t an issue!

  4. Good conversation! I feel like “automatic pilot” is one argument against read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans, at least for me. I tend to plow through my obligation each day often rather than truly savoring. As a side note, I’m really glad your med mixup didn’t cause problems! I can see how that could easily happen.

    • I struggled with that, too. But I really liked the pluses about reading the Bible through. So I still do, but just not in a year–I go at my own pace, more some days, less others, and I feel free to slow down and camp out if I want to.

  5. I tend to be on auto pilot with my prayer life and something new I’ve been implementing since I’m working from home now which means more free time is to journal my prayers and prayer through scriptures. For example i rewrote IPeter 5:6-7 as a prayer. Not changing scripture per se but putting it in my words as the spirit leads.its actually been part of the small group lesson this week so is very timely!

    Great post..lots to reflect on here. Thank you.

  6. A very welcome post, Barbara. Thank you so much. I totally understand where you are coming from where your medication mix-up is concerned. I have had the same thing happen with one of my medications. I have also used the pill sorter but still had problems. So…for me, at least…what works is when I take the pill at noon I say to myself, “I’m taking my medicine” and try to visualize myself doing so and some times even remembering the glass or cup that I am using. It has really made a difference for me and I am so glad that your mix-up didn’t cause any problems for you.

    You mentioned about Sundays being for going to church, listening to God’s Word, and fellowshipping with other Christians. I used to have problems with mind straying here and there at times and what I found very helpful to me was instead of thinking of it as going to church, I started thinking of and referring to it as going to worship God. That has made such a difference for me. And I also have found that really the worship begins on Saturday night by getting good rest and also praying for my heart to be receptive and praying for my pastor.

    • I used to keep a running list with my medications. I’d write down what I was taking, abbreviated, and the time, while I had it in my hand. But sometimes I’d not be paying attention, and right after I swallowed, I’d think, “Wait–was that the blue pill or the yellow one?” Argh. That when I switched to the pill sorter. I’m trying, before I take anything, to stop and think of the day and time before opening any of the slots.

      I’ve found that getting a good night’s sleep on Saturday and praying before church for the pastor and my own heart are big helps to me to getting more out of church, too.

  7. I can easily slip into autopilot mode too. Sometimes it’s helpful to not have to think about something in order to do it (folding clothes, for example). But, yes, we need to be careful what we become complacent about. I don’t want to put my spiritual life on autopilot. Being mindful and staying intentional is so key.

  8. It is easy to slip into spiritual autopilot. To just drift through our reading and not remember what we read. To let distractions keep our mind wandering. To just go to church because it is Sunday morning. But it is about the relationship, isn’t it. It always comes back to the relationship.

  9. Barbara,
    I think you hit the nail on the head…the best answer for me is to stay focused on the relationship (reading His Word intentionally, praying earnestly, concentrating on obeying His word and reaching out to others) vs. letting my mind and body slip into mindless routine. Sometimes I have to mix it up a bit to stay fresh and on my toes. (ie: take a prayer walk)
    Bev xx

  10. Barbara, this is GREAT! I lived in spiritual autopilot for years, even decades maybe. Growing up in a Christian home, in church almost every time the doors were open, attending a Christian school from K-12… It just all became so routine. Sadly routine! I am thankful it is not that way today, but at the same time, also mindful that without careful intervention it could easily become that way again.


    Thank you so much for linking up at InstaEncouragements!

  11. Barbara, it is so easy to slip into doing things without focus. I am grateful that as hard as these days have been, they have brought an awakening as well. May we be in His Word and may it awaken souls that are slumbering. Blessings!

  12. Sometimes, auto-pilot seems easier the older I get. Routine is so engrained:) I often find I have to “mix it a bit” in order to get engaged and be in the present. Especially with my Bible reading and prayer life. Just a change of location can help (which I have been doing during these quarantine days). I don’t remind “mixing it up” with your pills, however!:)

  13. Oh this was very good, Barbara. I am guilty of auto pilot living in all areas of life. Since I’ve been self isolating I have found that my devotion time is so much more meaningful because I. I’m not looking at the clock because I need to get it done and 2. I’m not on auto pilot with it. I am engaged and getting so much more out of getting to know the Lord during this time.

    Glad there were no bad repercussions with your med mixup!

  14. I am definitely feeling more thankful and respectful of His almighty power right now! Love and family mustn’t be taken for granted. Thanks for linking up with #globalblogging

  15. Barbara, what a wise, important post! These are things we all need to remember and remember again! I have been reading Jerry Bridges book, Respectable Sins. I just finished the chapter on ungodliness. He says ungodliness is not the same as unrighteousness. It’s not outright evil, it’s just going through the day without really thinking about God. He backs it all up with Scripture. You have reinforced many of his points.

  16. Pingback: End-of-March Reflections | Stray Thoughts

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