Sunday, November 6, 2011

Forming Habits

We all have habits, good and bad, and I think we'd all agree that bad habits are much easier to acquire. If you're not paying careful attention, a bad habit might be formed before you even notice. Like eating chocolate every night after supper... and you go to your chocolate stash and realize it's all gone. Then you start forming the habit of buying chocolate every time you see it, completely subconsciously, because you must continue your habit of eating chocolate every night... (Yeah. Thank goodness I noticed before those bad habits turned into a lifestyle of chocoholic-ness.) Good habits tend to be much more difficult. I can start out with the best of intentions, but too easily fall back into the rut of my old habit of NOT doing whatever my new, good habit was meant to be.

For example, the past several years I've started each year with a resolution of reading my Bible every day, and reading through the entire Bible in a year. I can't tell you how many times I've read through the first several chapters of Genesis, only to miss a day, and then give up completely somewhere around January 9. I realized that part of my problem was my perfectionism, I wanted to instantly be perfect in my new habit. Then God showed me that my real problem was laziness. I had plenty of determination when I made the resolution on New Year's Day, but I didn't want to keep exercising my will. I wanted that one burst of "inspiration" to last, and my new habit to be formed as easily as the old. When Genesis became boring and the attempted habit continued to require determination that I thought was exhausting, I gave up. 

Sometime in June of 2010, I decided to try again. I had a new strategy: starting in June, and NOT starting in Genesis. I found a Bible reading record, with each book laid out in chapters, so you could mark off each individual chapter as you read it. This gave me the ability to aim for my goal of reading the entire Bible, without having to read straight through from Genesis, but instead reading whatever I felt interested in. And finally, I decided to accept that there would undoubtedly be some failure days, but that I would just keep trying. But the important part is that forming the habit taught me to rely on God for strength. When my alarm went off and I just wanted to sleep for another half hour, or when I missed a day and felt incredibly discouraged, His strength got me up and reading, and once I started reading, I wondered why it seemed so hard. 

I'm reading "The Pursuit of Holiness" by Jerry Bridges (highly recommend), and I just got to the chapter Habits of Holiness. I hadn't realized before that my behavior, and the way I respond to situations are also habits. It made it much more clear to me what I need to do to change my ungodly responses (criticism, frustration, deception, etc) to godly responses (grace, gentleness, truth, etc). I had thought that it was something mysterious deep in my soul that would gradually change, and then I would cease giving ungodly responses naturally. It's helpful to know that there is something I must do about it, and sobering to realize how much I need to change!

I hope this doesn't seem like a prideful post, because I don't consider this to be a success for myself. It was only when I admitted that I couldn't do it myself and relied on His strength that it became possible for me.
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." - 2 Corinthians 12:9

I know I'm not able to do anything on my own, but He also requires some effort from us. You don't become a Christian and grow into Christ-likeness automatically. 
"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." -2 Corinthians 5:21
"For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." Romans 8:13
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." -Philippians 2:12-13
Clearly He freed us from sin, and gives us the strength and will to obey, but we still must make the choice. I hope this post might be encouraging for anyone who is struggling with similar issues. 

"I can do all things through him who strengthens me." -Philippians 4:13

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