We’ve been talking about making right choices, because your destiny is not floating around out there, it is the sum of all the choices you make. Therefore, if you get into the habit of making the right choices time and again, you will certainly move towards your destiny. And if you consistently make bad choices, you will lose your destiny.
Today I want to take our discussion about choices to the next level, where making wise or foolish choices becomes involuntary, it becomes what we call a habit!
CREATURES OF HABIT
Dictionary.com defines a habit as, “a long, loose garment worn by a member of a religious order,” or, “an acquired behaviour pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”
2 Peter 2:19 (ESV Strong's)
They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.
Habits enslave you, of that there is no doubt. So understanding how to make or break habits is an important skill for spiritual growth, because habits drive behaviour, which in turn forms character.
We all have habits, every one of us. So let’s look at how we can break the bad habits and establish the good ones, which will result in increasing godliness and spiritual power in our lives. Remember, you will be slaves to either good or bad habits, so let’s pick good!
HOW HABITS HAPPEN
Habits don’t happen overnight, they come about slowly, layer upon layer. At the start we consciously do a task, but as we do it over and over it becomes automatic, without thinking about it.
So habits can be good, like brushing your teeth, or God, like reading the Bible. They can also be bad, like eating junk food, or sinful, like lying. But all of them come about through repeatedly doing the action, until the action becomes the master, and instead of you driving it, the habit drives you!
Romans 6:16 (ESV Strong's)
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
So good habits formed become righteousness, and bad habits become sin, and you will serve one or other of these masters, and these in turn will form you character. So let’s first look at how we can break bad habits and then look at how we create good ones.
Negative habits have negative effects on our lives, but they can be broken. God wants us to break bad habits, and here’s the thing, if you love the Lord and you persist in negative habits, He loves you so much He will break them off your life if you don’t, and this inevitably involves pain!
So here are 8 keys towards breaking bad habits….
1. IDENTIFY THE HABIT
Some bad habits are bad for everyone, such as drug taking, but some have effects that vary from person to person. Staying up late might be a bad habit for one person because they are brain dead the next morning, but another person might find they can achieve more once the rest of the house has gone to bed. So how do you know which habit you need to eliminate?
Psalms 139:23-24 (ESV Strong's)
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Let the Holy Spirit search your heart and reveal what needs to be changed. This is not a once off process, but over time He will reveal more and more to us. Maybe make a list of the recurring troubles in your life and then try to identify patterns of behaviour that might cause or contribute to the problems.
2. RECOGNISE THE HABIT LOOP
Every habit, good of bad, has what is called a habit loop. This consists of a trigger, a routine and a reward. The trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and begin the routine, which is the behaviour itself. The final step is the reward, something that satisfies your brain and helps it remember the “habit loop.”
So if the bad habit is gossiping, the trigger could be hearing a negative about someone else. The routine is that you begin speaking of this to others, often using a way to dress it up like , “please pray for so and so,” and the reward is the joy with which the other person receives it, treating you like you are and ace reporter with a scoop. Trigger, routine, reward.
Hosea 8:7 (ESV Strong's)
For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.
Very often the reward you reap is not the one you think you’re getting. The actual reward for gossip is a bad reputation, so we need to deal with the true reward, which the devil will always try and hide from you. The immediate reward for the alcoholic is a high, but the true, long term reward is addiction and destruction of their life, and those around them!
3. CHANGE THE TRIGGER
Sometimes a negative habit can be overcome by simply changing the trigger. One very common bad habit is breaking a conversation to check your texts. You know, when you are talking to someone and you get the little sound that tells you you have a text. Putting your phone on silent until the conversation is over can remove the trigger. Let me paraphrase this text
Luke 10:41-42 (ESV Strong's)
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many texts, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and her phone will not be taken away from her.”
Being distracted is a common bad habit, and concentrating on what’s important and removing other possible distractions or triggers is a great way to address it.
4. CHANGE THE CONTEXT
Many bad habits come about in specific contexts. For example, we are more likely to engage in negative habits when we are bored, stressed or seeking to avoid an activity (e.g., procrastinating from work). When you encounter the situation, the habit starts to control you. Paul writes,
1 Corinthians 6:12 (ESV Strong's)
“All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.
If your bad habit dominates you in certain situations, simply avoid the situation. If you are eating snack food because you are bored, then keeping yourself occupied can change the context that the habit is latching onto. If you get snappy and irritable when you are stressed, reducing the stress should reduce the irritability.
But this can be very hard to do, so an easier way to approach bad habits is this next point…
5. SUBSTITUTE THE HABIT
Jeremiah 13:23 (ESV Strong's)
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?
Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.
Changing a bad habit is often easier said than done. You cannot just snap your fingers and remove something that has been controlling you, enslaving you, often without you even realising.
One great idea that can help if you’re being dominated by a bad habit is to reengineer the habit loop by replacing the bad habit with a good or less bad habit. You don’t change the trigger, just the resulting habit.
Psychologist John Bargh recognised he had a drinking problem, and that alcohol was beginning to control his life. He also knew that trying to remove the bad habit of drinking is often extremely hard, so instead of trying to remove it, when he felt the urge for a drink he replaced the drink with a lollipop. Instead of punishing himself for wanting a drink. He rewarded himself with a sugar hit. Later he found it easy to dispense with the lollipop, and never went back to drinking.
6. BE ACCOUNTABLE
Accountability is a great asset when it comes to stopping a bad habit. Having someone who calls you and asks specifically how you are doing with the task keeps you honest and on track, because you dread having to own up that you are failing!
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (ESV Strong's)
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
If you are struggling with a bad habit, share it with someone you trust, and be accountable. If you fall your friend can help you up. If you struggle your friend can help encourage you. That’s what Church should be, so don’t struggle on alone with a bad habit… phone a friend!
7. NEVER GIVE UP
Bad habits are often very hard to shift, but don’t give up. Remember, any habit that is not of God and is controlling you instead of you controlling it is sin.
So, even if you struggle and fall, get up and keep going, because God wants you to become all you can be in the Lord…
James 1:4 (ESV Strong's)
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
8. PRAY AND STAY- THE BIG KEY
You can diagnose the problem, you can isolate the trigger, you can replace the bad habit with a better one, but let’s face it folks, bad habits and addictions can be the most powerful adversaries you face in life! To conquer them, you and I need the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives…
Romans 8:31 (ESV Strong's)
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
You can try to beat bad habits by yourself, and maybe have some success, but I guarantee you that if you pray and seek the Lord, your successes will be amplified. Praying and yielding yourself to God allows Him to do the impossible and conquer these controlling habits.
John 15:5 (ESV Strong's)
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Apart from Him, you have little chance of beating bad habits. If you pray, if you have others pray with you, if you are accountable, if you trust a God, then you set yourself up for success in conquering bad habits!
GOD LOVES YOU.. DEAL WITH IT, OR HE WILL!
God loves you so much, and He wants to see you eliminate destructive and sinful habits from your life. If if you don’t deal with bad habits, He will! So my advice to you is to deal with them, sooner rather than later.
Romans 5:3-4 (ESV Strong's)
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
Suffering is one common way God deals with your persistent sins and bad habits. Often the suffering is the direct consequence of what you’ve been doing, and it’s often called, “Getting caught!”…
Galatians 6:7-8 (ESV Strong's)
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
So don’t ignore bad habits, because they fester and get more poisonous, more controlling and more destructive! Deal with them, or God will deal with you, and you won’t want the suffering and consequences, right?
So God promises we can conquer bad habits if we persevere, but how can we establish good habits?
GROWING GOOD HABITS
Habits are unconscious patterns of behaviour acquired by frequent repetition. We mainly think of bad habits, but good habits can be great sources of joy and power in our lives. Recent studies show that when you do an activity daily, it takes on average 66 days for it to become a good habit, and once it is a habit, it’s a lot easier to do it!
Strangely, bad habits are a lot easier to form.
Sometimes good habits are “forced upon us” by an authority figure like a teacher or parent, but we can also create good habits in our lives which lead to good and godly decision making.
So how we create a good habit in our lives?
1. CHOOSE A GODLY HABIT TO CREATE
A new behaviour pattern will be made up of a habit loop… a trigger, a routine and a reward. So if you want to create positive habits in your life, don’t let these evolve, sit and plan them (write them down). Identify the habit you want to establish, and consciously and deliberately set yourself up.
Start with choosing one habit, not 10! So what positive habit do you want to develop?
2. IDENTIFY THE TRIGGER
Research has shown that almost all habitual cues or triggers fit into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people and whatever immediately precedes the action.
A helpful cue to establish a good habit is to take advantage of as many of these categories as possible.
For my quiet time, I have it at the same time every day, before others are up, in the same comfortable chair, with a cup of coffee and my iPad.
Mark 1:35 (ESV Strong's)
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
3. CREATE A REWARD
Galatians 6:9 (ESV Strong's)
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Now we know that long term there are good rewards for good habits. So why should you be rewarded for doing something you should be doing anyway? Isn’t the habit—such as your devotional reading—a reward in itself?
You might feel guilty about creating another reward for a good habit. But in this you are not rewarding yourself for doing the action, you’re training your brain to create a neurological craving.
When I do my quiet time, I reward myself with a cup of most excellent coffee. I’ve found that this forms part of the habit, that I feel most unrewarded about it if I just have the quiet time without the coffee! A short term reward often reinforces the long term reward. And when God speaks out of my quiet time, which He often does, I receive a bountiful reward!
4. MAKE IT PART OF YOUR LIFE
Routine is your big helper here, because when you start to create the good habit, it is very conscious and thus not a habit at all yet.
Doing things over and over moves the conscious action into a subconscious habit. When you do this enough it becomes part of your life, and long term rewards naturally follow (consequences). Paul said,
1 Timothy 4:8 (ESV Strong's)
for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
This is training yourself towards godliness, establishing good and godly habits and choices.
5. START SMALL AND RECOVER QUICK
Many times we fail to establish godly habits in our lives because we start too big and then get discouraged before we develop the good habit. What experts call mini-habits can be very helpful. It is better to do a little bit every day, than a whole lot once a week.
If you can’t manage the Bible Reading Plan... the two readings take around 5 Minutes a day… just do the second reading. If you can’t handle memorising Scripture, start by memorise one verse. If you find it too hard to pray every day, pray every time you sit on the loo! Start small and build on that.
And if you start and fail at some point, recover quickly. In the Bible reading plan, of you miss too many days you will find yourself faced with reading 27 chapters to catch up. Don’t do it. Skip a bunch and start again. Better that than you failing and walking away, right?
Yes it’s hard to establish good habit, and yes it takes effort, but this habit pleases God and yields long term fruit…
Matthew 7:16-17 (ESV Strong's)
You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST
We will all be judged, Christians and unbelievers. For unbelievers, they face the judgment of the Great White Throne in Revelation, where God with a broken heart will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” They have rejected Jesus and His sacrifice for them and they go to eternal death in hell.
Revelation 20:15 (ESV Strong's)
And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
But believers also face judgment. Let me make it clear, we are saved, we are going to heaven. But we will still be judged…
2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV Strong's)
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
Jesus will weigh up our sin, things we have said, done and thought, and we will receive a reward, or not. That’s why I consider it essential that we establish good habits and destroy bad habits in our lives now! We need to habitually make good decisions, not bad decisions! It’s an ongoing process, and we may never arrive, but if we trust the Lord and obey Him, our lives will change to become more Christlike.
1 Corinthians 3 talks of this… where Paul talks about the foundation of Christ (11), and believers building on this foundation with either gold, silver or costly stones, wood hay or straw. Then at the judgement seat, fire will ignite them and tests their quality. Verse 15 says this…
1 Corinthians 3:15 (ESV Strong's)
If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
So let me make it clear again, believers are saved and going to heaven. But our acts will be judged and rewarded appropriately. So what are you building into your life? Wood, hay and straw of selfish choices and destructive habits, or gold, silver and costly stones of godly decisions and good habits?
IT STARTS WITH A CHOICE
Remember, destiny is a series of choices, so you need to start right now by making a conscious choice to please God. Starting new good habits is hard, but breaking bad habits is far harder!
Destroying a bad habit or establishing a good habit starts with a choice, a decision. I want all of us to make a decision this morning. Choose one bad habit you want to remove from your life. Ask God.
I believe many here are struggling with bad habits, maybe habits no one knows about.
Today is the day you are set free from these destructive habits. Today is the day we’re breaking bad! So whatever that habit is, remember the key point is to pray for Holy Spirit power to break it and have other stand with you.
You don’t have to reveal the habit, but come forward and let our team pray prophetically into breaking bad!