I don’t know about you, but I’m a work in progress. Part of that progress is working out bad habits and working in good ones. Is that difficult only for me, or is it sometimes hard for you too? Oh, good, I’m not the only one! Well, let’s sit down together and have a heart-to-heart talk about us single Christians and our habits.
Sow a thought, reap an act;
Sow an act, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character;
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’ve read that poem by Emerson several times, and it always makes me think. I suspect it’s because I’ve seen its principles work throughout my life. The first church I joined after I became a follower of Christ taught me well in the basic Christian disciplines: reading and studying my Bible, repenting and praying, fasting, serving, fellowshipping, evangelizing. Though I am no longer in that denomination, I will always be grateful for its fabulous foundation, which has gotten me through some severe times of spiritual warfare, desolation, and devastation.
There are some additional habits I’ve got down pat: working out regularly, drinking good water, not smoking or drinking or using illicit substances, not window shopping or spending money frivolously on a regular basis, and staying celibate.
On the other hand, I am still working on consistently improving my eating habits. And being too busy to keep my car and my room as clean as I would like. Or not dipping into my savings to pay my bills. And procrastinating calling people I know I need to call. Spouting off questions and statements better left unsaid. And don’t forget spending way too much time perusing social media on my phone!
So…Let’s all do an inventory of what habits (strongholds, addictions, fixations, obsessions, ruts, weaknesses, susceptibilities, etc.) we need to get rid of and what habits we need to have.
What habits do you need to get rid of?
What habits do you need to make and keep?
Don’t ignore “the little things” that eat up our money and time. You know, habits that make us late for work, make us broke or borrow money for, alienate us from family and friends, keep us from participating in the life of God at church.
These habits, whether sins of commission or omission, cause us shame, grief, and further entrenchment the longer we hang onto them. Every last one of them has the potential to destroy us—destroy our futures, destroy our relationships, destroy our future marriages. Christian Single, do you want to stay trapped in something that will ruin your future marriage? “That’s a bit harsh,” you may be looking at your screen askance and saying. “How will this little habit destroy my future marriage?”
Let’s just take one example or two. Let’s say your bad habit is overeating.
That’s a pretty common one. Most of us will admit to a little overindulgence in this area.
So… gentlemen… You’ve let your eating get out of control and maybe you’ve packed on several extra pounds because of it. Or you have a high metabolism so you don’t gain weight. That just makes you eat more, because you know you can.
You look at your bank account and see that most of your money goes toward food… You find receipts and food wrappers stuffed in your purse or wallet and all in your desk, car, or apartment for groceries, eating out, carry out, whatever. You have 17 food and drink apps on your smart phone. You record the food channel when you’re out, collect cook books, follow every tip and every move from your favorite chefs, and you’re always looking for the next high in taste-testing a new restaurant. If a church outing doesn’t center around food, you’re unlikely to be moved. You only want to marry a girl who can cook and cook good. You eat everywhere. You eat working on your computer. You eat in your bed when you’re reading or getting ready to sleep. Your friends are likely to catch you eating even when you text, call, or drive.
Suddenly you see the person you’d like to marry in your church’s café. She’s cute and slim and smiles at you as she’s getting her drink at the soda machine.
You stop stuffing that burger in your face. You feel self-conscious about that horrid beer belly you’re trying to tug your shirt over. You become vaguely aware of your own sweat and body odor and wish you weren’t so heavy. You repress a grunt as you stand up. While you’re mustering the courage to go talk to her, the love of your life goes the other way, smiling at everyone, and goes to sit next to a man who is trim and handsome and has a brilliant smile. He’s eating a salad. <sigh> Are you getting the picture?
Ladies… here’s one for you: shopping. Shoes, clothes, purses, jewelry, name brands, a hair product, a shiny new car, the latest kitchen appliance, catalogs, online—shopping is your drug of choice. When you feel depressed, you shop. When you want to celebrate, you shop. When you feel you deserve it, you shop. When you feel jealous or inadequate or insecure or lonely or bored, you shop. You must see it all and you must have it all. Today.
The repercussions of having a strong shopping habit are much easier to see from a distance: if a man thinks he can’t afford you, no matter how cute you look, he’s not likely to want to date you. Unless he’s already climbing the corporate ladder somewhere, you’re unlikely to inspire him to get a better job so you can spend it all till he’s broke. Does that make sense?
So let’s try this again.
What habits do you need to get rid of?
What habits do you need to make and keep?
There’s no sense in bemoaning the fact that we have these bad or, at the very least, unhelpful habits and why we have them. Let’s just admit it’s our flesh and our craving desire to fulfill our need for the Lord with some substitute. It’s that God-shaped hole that Pascal spoke about in his Pensées VII. That’ll cover a multitude of sins. Let’s talk about how to start working our way towards God’s destiny for ourselves by divesting ourselves of these destiny-destroying habits.
The basic principles are refocus, repent, exchange, and replace.
Before we even get started, The Word of God teaches us two things about what can be expected before we even get to breaking bad habits.
The first thing we learn is that no temptation has ever come at us that is unique. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure” (NLT).
The first part of that verse tells us that others have experienced what you have experienced by the way of sinful habits.
The devil loves us to think that this habit, this recurring thought, that temptation, is unique to you and only you. And that you and only you are evil and horrible and dirty and no good for having that habit, thought, or temptation. And because you are such an evil, horrible, dirty, and no-good person, you should just stay that way and stop trying to be yourself and get this habit, thought, or temptation out of your life. You deserve it.
One way to loosen and break the hold that a habit has on you is to confess and share your sin with someone else, whether with a gossip-free, condemnation-free group or person. Knowing that others have struggled with the same problem often takes away the alienating power of shame and condemnation to keep us wrapped and trapped. That is why 12-step programs, originally coming from the world of substance abuse treatment, are so powerful.
The second thing is expect some pushback from the forces of darkness, who have invested much time lulling you to sleep spiritually inside your strongholds. Now that you mean business with God, you’ve gotten their attention. And they’re going to throw obstacles in front of you to wear down your determination and make you docile, just like you were before. Be forewarned and armed, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 6:10-18!
Now let’s get to our principles.
Refocus. We’re good at staring at ourselves, whether it’s at our points of pride or our sins and failures. Instead of staring at ourselves, we need to redirect the eyes of our “inner man”—our emotions, affections, desires—upon Jesus, Hebrews 12:2. Refocus on what He came to do. Refocus on His words, promises, and commands. Refocus on His future for you. Refocus your spiritual gaze back onto Him and learn to not be so easily distracted. Start loosening your grip around this bad habit.
Repent. Repentance is not just feeling sorry. It’s not feeling sorry for getting caught. It’s being sorry enough to want to change, then depending on God’s strength and power to walk through the transformation, Acts 3:19 and 2 Corinthians 7:9-10. It’s changing your mind about who you are, who God is, and agreeing with God that He is right and I am wrong. It’s agreeing with Him that my habit has enslaved me. My habit has become my savior, my idol, and it cannot give me the permanent and eternal satisfaction that I beg it to give me. Only God can give me that permanent and eternal satisfaction. Now you can conceive of letting go of this enslaving habit, attitude, lifestyle.
Exchange. Now, having loosened our grips on our bad habits, we are ready to drop them into God’s hands and exchange our sorry substitutes for the real deal. Start talking to God about the great exchange. Humble yourself, then surrender yourself, to God, James 4:6-8. Surrender all your body parts to God, Romans 6:16, 19-20. He died to make it possible for you to receive the forgiveness of God, Romans 4:25 and 1 Peter 3:18. He resurrected from the dead to give you new life, Romans 8:11 and Galatians 2:20. That new life has been given to every disciple of God. Now it is time to live that new life out.
Let the Holy Spirit dredge up all that soul junk and gunk that drove you into those spiritual, emotional, intellectual, financial, relational strongholds in the first place, and let Him heal your heart. Don’t be afraid to let the Lord heal and cleanse your soul. If you are really concerned about what might happen because you went through something traumatic, then make an appointment with a Biblical (not just a “Christian”) counselor, especially if you can find one in a healing room. For more information on that, click here: http://healingrooms.com/?src=myaccount_choose_local
You will want to have mature Christian friends around who can be in prayer for you during this season of your life. You may even want to meet with these Christian friends regularly so that they can see and encourage your progress. Sometimes these small groups are also called accountability groups, where both you and they have earned the right to ask difficult, honest questions and get difficult, honest answers.
You may actually have to replace several people in your life if they reinforce your bondage, 1 Corinthians 15:33, Proverbs 13:20 and 12:26. Which leads me to:
Replace. Now for the final part: Drop your bad habit with one hand and pick up a healthy habit with the other hand, spiritually speaking; Romans 12:21. Nature doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither do our souls. It’s best to replace a bad habit with a good one quickly, even simultaneously.
For example, if you are addicted to pornography on the Internet, perhaps you will have to get rid of all your electronic devices for awhile. Meanwhile, you will replace those old images in your head by renewing your mind. You can renew your mind by memorizing and meditating on scripture, listening to godly music, worshiping the Lord privately, and prayer. By doing this, you learn to develop real intimacy with a real God, not shallow or artificial intimacy based on illicit sexual fantasies or encounters.
Ask Him to help you see other people the way He does and not as sex objects. By doing this, you learn to do the opposite of what the devil and your flesh want to do. This is called moving in the opposite spirit.
Read the testimonies of other Christians who have overcome overwhelming obstacles, even if they are different from what you’re trying to overcome.
Eventually you can allow yourself to have one device with a spyware / security feature that allows someone else to see exactly what you are seeing.
Meet regularly with your accountability group until you—and they—sense and see a difference in your attitude toward your now-former habit, a difference in your reactions, a difference in the impact your memories have on your emotions.
Don’t let your eyes wander everywhere, especially you brothers; train your eyes to look at a woman’s face, no matter how trashy the girl in front of you dresses. You have to keep making conscientious decisions about how you are going to interact with your world until those decisions become second nature.
All this, you can do by learning to walk by the power of the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:16-17. If you don’t know, it’s alright to directly ask God to train you how to walk in the power of His Spirit.
See how this works?
These basic principles work no matter what the stronghold is: anger, overeating, drugs or alcohol, sex, swearing, gambling, cheating on your boyfriend or girlfriend, stealing, lying… Name it and Jesus stands ready to empower you to drive it out of your heart and your life.
However, be sure to give yourself time to get rid of the old and entrench the new.
And accept His grace to help you move along one step, one victory, at a time. Don’t stay wrapped and trapped in your bad habits. You were freed, indeed, to live life and love to the fullest. Please take full advantage of that love, my friend. That’s what it’s there for. That’s what I do! See you at the top as we trudge, jump, crawl, run, hop, dance, and squirm our way toward the cross and eternity.