A woman reaches for a cigarette while her 2-week-old-daughter sleeps in the bassinet beside her. A man leaves his family behind and drives into the city looking for his next drug fix. A pastor powers up his computer and clicks on a link that will carry him to a popular porn site. A married businesswoman glances at a handsome coworker and allows herself to wonder what it would be like . . .
Habits. Some are safe, helpful, and even necessary for successful living. Others carry consequences that can damage or destroy not only us but those who depend on us.
What is it?
When an action becomes a repetitive, involuntary response, we call it a habit. Habitual patterns usually begin innocently enough during childhood. Reinforced by parents, these involuntary responses take root and flourish. As we age, self-indulgence and stress ignite habits that may eventually prove harmful.
Are Christians immune to bad habits? I recently polled approximately 250 men and women in my Christian writers group and invited them to acknowledge some of the habits that hounded them on a regular basis. Their responses were eye-opening. Here are the top 10:
- Overeating. Eating too much or filling their stomachs with the wrong foods ranked near the top of the list of those poled. “Many church-related social gatherings center on food,” they admitted.
- Smoking. Sadly, many Christians find themselves fighting the deadly nicotine habit. What started out as an experimental puff quickly developed into a health-destroying habit.
- Gossiping. It’s hard to imagine that this detrimental habit would be one of the top-ranking items on the list, but it was. Tongue-wagging is just as sinful in God’s eyes as a carefully planned physical attack against another human being.
- Spending Money Needlessly. Too many trips to the mall; clothes hanging in the closet that we don’t need; eating out too often-these are all actions that zap our resources. Imagine the good we could do for God’s people here on earth if we redirected the money we waste feeding this particular habit.
- Wasting Time. Even the most committed Christian can spend too much time wandering the Web or sitting glued to the television screen.
- Procrastinating. For many, putting things off is more than just forgetfulness. It’s a lifestyle choice-a poor habit that has never been corrected. Besides inconveniencing others, repetitive tardiness and unfulfilled promises leave friends and family discouraged and disappointed.
- Lying. Most Christians don’t like to admit that they lie, and for good reason. God hates lies! So they label themselves as “honest” or “forthcoming.” We often become so skilled at dishonesty that we don’t even recognize this sin in our lives. But, no matter how you slice it, anything that’s not completely true is an untruth.
- Drinking. Those polled acknowledged that excessive alcohol consumption is a problem rarely discussed. “What you do is your business,” many insist. Truth is, there’s nothing in Scripture that promotes the use of alcohol. Many passages highlight the evil effects of strong drink.
- Cheating. Yes, even Christians cheat–on their taxes, on tests, on spouses. Some well-intentioned believers cheat their families out of time-usually the result of bad habits that demand to be addressed.
- Drugs. Most believers who struggle with drug addiction do everything in their power to convince others that the problem doesn’t exist. The very subject of drug use is taboo in some Christian circles which makes dealing with this issue difficult.
How to Break a Bad Habit
OK. So we all-Christians and others-have bad habits. What can we do to stop them dead in their tracks?
The first item on our “this is essential” list is the realization that we have Someone in our corner who hates our habit as much as we do. God not only witnesses the destruction that our particular addiction causes us personally, He sees the waves of hurt and tears caused by our actions spreading out from us like ripples on a pond. So He offers some practical steps for breaking free.
Revelation. “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6, NIV). Seeing our situation through the wisdom and understanding offered by God, we begin to acknowledge that our behavior is wrong. At this point, our “involuntary” action is no longer involuntary. Suddenly we see it as a choice. Actively choosing to do something destructive to ourselves is quite different from believing we’re the passive victim of an involuntary act.
Reason. “For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you” (Proverbs 2:10, 11, NIV). We must find a reason to break the habit that’s breaking us. This powerful logic can’t come from other people. It must come from God. Human thought is limited. “Eternal logic”-the type God offers-isn’t. We must allow Him to present to us, in His own way, the depth and severity of the damage we’re bringing upon others and ourselves.
Responsibility. “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” (Proverbs 4:=26, 27, NIV). It’s our responsibility to break our own habits. We must come to the point where we say resolutely, “This is my problem. I dug this hole. And now with God’s help I’m going to get myself out of it!”
Speaking of personally dug holes, ever tried to take sand out of one? It’s almost comical. You dig and dig and dig and with each handful of sand you remove, more slides in to takes its place. Sometimes trying to remove a habit from your life is just like that . . . until you begin to use substitutes.
One of the keys to eliminating a poor habit is to substitute it with a good one. Dieters do this all the time. Crave a candy bar? Eat a fresh, crisp apple instead. Drooling over that mound of fettuccine Alfredo at the next table? Double your order of angel-hair pasta with marinara sauce.
Christians have available to them an arsenal of powerful weapons with which to do battle with destructive habits.
Prayer is our first line of defense. It should be far more than a daily ritual. The apostle Paul admonishes us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). That means be in constant contact with God so that when a damaging habit knocks for attention, we’re already in contact with the one power in the universe that can help us overcome the temptation. “For my strength is made perfect in your weakness” God tells us through Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9.
Fasting causes us to shift our focus off the obstacles that may be standing in our way-obstacles that are keeping us from making that direct connection with God. Remember that fasting as presented in the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean giving up food for a day or week. The workaholic who’s neglecting her family could force herself to leave the office with everyone else each day for a month. The tax cheater may choose to find a reputable accountant to prepare his return for the next three years. See what I mean? Fasting is a serious weapon against a destructive habit.
Studying God’s Word will bring to light an endless array of answers to troubling questions. No, it doesn’t have to be a “religious” thing. There are no rules about when and how long you should read the Bible. The key is to open the pages of this amazing book with questions already in mind. Then, as you read, you work to apply what you’re discovering to the particular habit you’re battling. The results of this powerful substitute will astound you!
Slaves of a New Master
A woman reaches for a cigarette while her 2-week-old-daughter sleeps in the bassinet beside her. Her hand stops midway to the coffee table as her love for her child and the realization of her great worth to her heavenly Father overcome her desire for a smoke. With a smile, she bends low and kisses the cheek of the sleeping child.
A man leaves his family behind and drives into the city looking for his next drug fix. But before he makes his first purchase, he speeds toward home again, stopping only long enough to buy special gifts for his wife and children, using the money he’d earmarked for his habit. He’s determined to be the husband and father he promised to be.
A pastor powers up his computer and clicks on a link that will carry him to a popular porn site. But before the first lurid picture can download, he shuts off the machine, unplugs it from the wall, and walks away. It’ll be months before he connects to the Internet again.
A married businesswoman glances at a handsome coworker and allows herself to wonder what it would be like. . . Then she looks away as a silent prayer shouts from her heart. Instantly, she’s filled with the comforting presence of her Creator, whose unlimited power helps her resist the temptation and begin to live a life based on purity and faithfulness.
These destructive habits have been broken because the people who struggle under their weight have strengthened their connection to the God they love.
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Romans 6:22, NIV).
*Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.