They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green, and they go right on producing delicious fruit.
Jeremiah 17:8 NLT
In my very limited exposure to him in college Psych 101, B.F. Skinner didn’t strike me as someone who I would speak about in the same [positive] context as my faith. However, I stumbled upon some of his research this past week and the correlation was too strong to ignore.
As part of Skinner’s research on Operant Conditioning (Operant conditioning is a form of learning. In it, an individual changes its behavior because of the consequences/results of the behavior. – Wikipedia), he discovered something he called a “Superstitious Pigeon.” Check it out:
“To prove his idea that behaviorism was responsible for all actions, he later created a ‘superstitious pigeon.’ He fed the pigeon on continuous intervals (every 15 seconds) and observed the pigeon’s behavior. He found that the pigeon’s actions would change depending on what it had been doing in the moments before the food was dispensed, regardless of the fact that those actions had nothing to do with the dispensing of food. In this way, he discerned that the pigeon had fabricated a causal relationship between its actions and the presentation of reward. It was this development of “superstition” that led Skinner to believe all behavior could be explained as a learned reaction to specific consequences.” –Boundless Psychology
So, “Superstitious Pigeons” believed that their actions caused the food to arrive versus (the truth) that food would be given every 15 seconds regardless of what that pigeon was doing. They even changed their actions just prior to the 15-second mark so they were repeating whatever they were doing right before the last time the food was dispensed.
Hmm… Is there a chance that I’m a Religious Superstitious Pigeon?
- Do I fall into the habit of only praying when I’m (or someone I love is) in trouble?
- Does some part of me believe that just showing up to church each week will stop danger from entering my life?
- Have I ever been tempted to offer God my good choices as a quid pro quo?
Unfortunately, at one point or another, I have done each of those things. There have been times in my life where I’ve treated God as a list of rules rather than a relationship. There have been times that I’ve tried to manipulate my past, present and future through acts that could easily fall into this superstitious pigeon category. God’s people in Jeremiah’s time did, too, and he had this bit of wisdom for them:
“But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they go right on producing delicious fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NLT)
Trusting in the LORD and making him my hope and confidence means I will not have to employ superstition. If I want something bigger than a circumstantial life, the answer is to have roots deeply planted in God’s riverbed. This goes well beyond any kind of unwashed, same-sock-wearing, game winning strategy; this is about a long-term, fully invested relationship.
This is about trusting that HE will make it rain because HE loves me. I will withstand the drought because HE loves me. And when I place my hope and confidence in Him, I begin to learn what it is to love him.
Dear Lord, please help me live each day as a tree, deeply rooted in your riverbed, rather than bobbing and cooing my days away as a superstitious pigeon. Thank you for loving me no matter what. Help me to learn to love as you do. Amen.
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