In the middle of April each spring, we await the arrival of the hummingbirds. Some of them undoubtedly have traveled hundreds of miles before they reach our back yard, but they always know to come to the window and make us aware they are back and are thirsty! So, how do they know just exactly where to go? Well, obviously God, their amazing Creator, guides them in ways we don’t fully understand. But also, they are creatures of habit. They, and many many other birds, animals and fish, will return to the exact same locations each year to raise a new family which will in turn come back the next year. We have also been watching the ospreys return to our area and repair the same nests that they used last year and the years before that.
We also have several trails through our property which are getting deeper and deeper as the local deer herd wanders through each day, always traveling on the same paths. Our neighbors’ dogs, when they see us outside, come running to the fence to beg for dog biscuits, and they always take the same path—which has become rutted like the deer trails—to the fence. The deer and dogs, like the migrating birds, are creatures of habit.
But, it isn’t just the birds and animals that are such creatures of habit; we humans have the same characteristic. Consider, for example where you sit in church each Sunday. Chances are the pastor knows just where to look to see if you are there! And, if a visitor shows up before you get there and takes your seat, you aren’t quite sure what to do! You probably have many other routine patterns or habits in your life too. Maybe you have a routine each morning before your day begins, and if you travel to a job, you probably take the same route each day. When I was working as an engineer for Hyster Company in Portland, Oregon, I got transferred at one point out to the testing grounds in Troutdale. It took a while for my brain to reprogram the new route to work. Then, we also moved from an apartment complex to a home in Gresham and several times I found myself—without thinking—taking my old route home. Changing our routines or habits is not an easy, automatic transition. Our brains are like the old vinyl records (for those of you who remember what they were!) and our subconscious keeps falling into the grooves of the patterns that have been repeated over time. We have to consciously make the effort to make any changes that disrupt that pattern. “A habit is something you can do without thinking—which is why most of us have so many of them!” (Frank A. Clark).
Habits can be either beneficial or detrimental to our physical and spiritual well-being. Some habits, such as substance abuse, can become addictions which control our lives and ruin our health and in time will cost us our lives. Some habits, such as an immoral lifestyle, cause not only physical problems, but emotional, mental, and spiritual problems as well. Someone said, “A bad habit is like a soft chair—easy to get into but hard to get out of.” We will probably need help to “get out.” And, the longer we have had the habit, the harder it may be to conquer it. Changing our habits, like climbing a long flight of stairs, is easier to do when we are young. It is possible that a man could live twice as long if he did not spend the first half of his life acquiring habits that shorten the other half!!
But, as baseball catcher, Tim McCarver, once said, “Good habits are as easy to form as bad ones.” You just keep repeating them until they become part of your lifestyle and daily routine. For example, I have had several back surgeries so need to work hard to keep my back and core muscles in as good a shape as possible so I can to function. So each morning before breakfast, after I take a hot shower to relax, I do a series of stretching and core exercises. It has become a habit—a good one for me. We have friends who have been missionaries for many years and stayed with us in our home recently. He has a motto: “No Bible, no breakfast!” So, each morning before he eats breakfast, he first “feeds” on God’s Word. It has become a habit for him—and a good one for all of us to consider. A habit I have developed, since I usually awaken before it is time to get up, is to have a prayer time. I have a number of people for whom I have committed to pray daily. Remember the story of Daniel and the lions’ den in Daniel chapter 6? Daniel’s peers were jealous over the king’s appointment of him “over the entire kingdom” (v. 3). And, since “they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful…” (v. 4), they decided to have the king “establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides (the king) for thirty days shall be cast into the lions’ den” (v. 7). Daniel’s response, knowing the possible consequences, truly reveals his solid commitment to His God. We read: “Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying, and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously” (v. 10). In other words, it was Daniel’s habit to pray and he didn’t stop just because of the king’s edict, even though he knew it might cost him his life.
So, Bible reading and Bible study, and praying are great habits to have. The writer of Hebrews mentions another and that is regularly attending the services of a local assembly of believers. He wrote: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day (of His return) drawing near” (Heb. 10:23-25). The Apostle Paul mentions another habit that is surely a good one to develop and that is an attitude of gratitude, of being thankful. To the Ephesians he wrote: “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:20). And to the church at Thessalonica, he wrote: “in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thes. 5:18).
By nature, we are creatures of habit. What are some of the habits you have developed over time and how do they affect you physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually? Are there some habits you need to remove from your life? The best way to break a habit is to drop it. If you need help, and you probably will, God would love to help you, but you need to ask Him. If you need a support group (such as Celebrate Recovery), those are also available. Then, to fill in that “groove” in the gray matter so you don’t keep falling into it, replace the bad habit with a good one. What good habits need to become part of your life? Start today—not tomorrow—to develop them.
“The unfortunate thing about this world is that good habits are so much easier to give up than bad ones” (Somerset Maughan). But, remember, “I can do all things (drop bad habits and develop and keep good habits) through Christ, who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).