The Power of Habits

September 1, 2017

Habits are powerful. They are the things we do without having to think about them too much. They represent our routine. When they are good habits, they help us live the kind of life we want.

I’ve been working on healthy habits this year. I’m drinking more water and very little diet soda. I’m trying to eat right, which in my case involves counting calories. I’m walking daily and exercising. But I will confess that forming these new, healthy habits has not been easy, but it has been life changing. I wish I’d done it sooner

How long does it take to form a new habit? One number that is frequently heard is 21 days. This number doesn’t quite represent the original quotations from which it was taken. It would have been truer to say a minimum of 21 days. More recent research would such that it takes on average 66 days, but depending on the complexity of the behavior, it can take longer. But good habits are worth it.

Once you form a good habit, you do certain things routinely. Of course, the danger is that you will lose the habit if you keep breaking it. Habit formation doesn’t take perfection, but it does take consistency.

Spiritual formation also includes habits. I’ve learned important routines in my spiritual life, things that I automatically do. One of the habits I would like to suggest to you as we begin a new quarter in our Bible school program is participation in Bible class on Sunday morning and Wednesday night. For some of us, this is a habit. We don’t have to ponder whether we are going to go. We just go. We have formed this as a habit in our life.

Will every class meet a burning need in my life? Will every class give me a spiritual, mountain top experience? Probably not. I’ve had meals of physical food that were quite memorable. I’ve eaten food that didn’t appeal to me very much (for example, think about your least favorite leftovers), but was still nourishing. The same will probably be true as we attempt to provide spiritual food in our Bible classes. I’ve learned to find something worthwhile in the classes I attend and to be spiritually nourished by it. Besides another aspect of being together is fellowship and forming my identity with fellow Christians. This is even more important for our children.

I suspect in eternity we will not look back on time that we spent in Bible classes and say things like: I wish I’d slept in more. I wish I’d watched more TV. I wish I’d worked more. I wish I’d done more household chores, or whatever else we might have done with this time.

I hope that you will give this habit a try. Remember habit formation will probably take weeks to months. Consistency is important in forming this habit. But maybe at the end of that time, you will say what I’ve said about my new healthy habits: I wish I’d done it sooner.

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Habits of Holiness

February 21, 2014

The agenda no doubt was to criticize Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes noticed that Jesus’s disciples failed to wash their hands before a meal. The Mishna recorded the tradition that this ritual required a minimum amount of water equal to the volume of one and half eggs. This was definitely about ritual and not hygiene! Jesus countered with the legal loophole used by the religious leaders for declaring something dedicated to the temple, and so unavailable to be used for the care of aging parents. They were criticizing about a tradition of the elders; he was convicting them about the Law of Moses. (See Matthew 15:1-20.)

Following this exchange, Jesus addressed the crowds with a proverb: “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:11 ESV). This led his disciples to note the Pharisees were offended by Jesus and to request further explanation of the proverb. Jesus’s reply stressed holiness is developed from the inside out. His reply gives us a glimpse into the habits of holiness.

Be careful with God’s revelation. Jesus noted that the Pharisees were blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit. God will uproot what he has not planted. In pursuing holiness and a relationship with God, truth matters.

Be careful what you say. What comes out of our mouths in Jesus’s proverb must refer to what we say. What we say reflects what we are thinking. What we say foreshadows what we will do. The connection between deeds and words is found in Paul’s discussion of sexual immorality and covetousness (Ephesians 5:3-5). Right in the middle of these two themes, Paul warns about the wrong use of words. Some kinds of talk defile. Some kinds of talk sanctify.

Be careful what you think. In Jesus’s explanation of his proverb, he goes further and warns about evil thoughts. Paul also reminds us to think about good and honorable things (Philippians 4:8). Some kinds of thoughts defile. Some kind of thoughts sanctify and make holy.

Although the good news may intervene and change our habits and destiny, God still uses our habits to develop holiness. Someone has wisely said:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.