As I give tennis lessons, I am reminded over and over how difficult it is to make changes and to correct bad habits. Webster defines a habit as: “a pattern of action or behavior that has been repeated so often that it has become automatic and is hard to break.” Amen to that! So, a habit is something we can do without thinking—which is probably why most of us have so many of them!
It is easier to start with a complete beginner who has never played tennis and to instruct them with proper strokes and movements and to help them develop good habits than to try to correct the bad habits of a student who has been playing for awhile but never had instruction. Bad habits are kind of like a soft chair—easy to get into, but hard to get out of. Good habits are as easy to form as bad ones, but to turn bad habits into good ones takes determination, discipline and time (unless God just performs a miracle for us!). For example if someone has been using the wrong grip on their racket, or has incorrect racket preparation or follow through, it is not easy to change to where the proper grip, preparation and follow through happens without thinking about it—in other words, turns a bad habit into a good habit. Typically a player can make the changes needed as you are helping them, but then as soon as he/she is not thinking about it, goes back to the old habits. It takes doing it the correct way—while thinking about it—enough times that it becomes automatic. I know for me, it took years to change some of my bad habits with the racket, and I’m still working at making changes, so I can empathize with the students I teach! Also, it seems to be much easier to see other’s bad habits than to acknowledge your own!
How true that is of all of life, and especially as a Christian that is trying to live a godly life. We often have some bad habits that we developed over a period of years and realize that they are a detriment to our faith and joy and testimony. Sometimes when we become a Christ follower, He instantly takes away some of our bad habits, whereas other bad habits may take time and discipline and lots of depending on the Lord. Even the Apostle Paul struggled with some things in his life as he described in his letter to the Romans. He wrote: “For that which I am doing I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15). After a discussion of the battle within him, He cried out: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (v. 24). But, praise the Lord, the passage doesn’t end on that desperate note, for in the next verse, Paul answers the question, saying: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Ro. 7:25-8:2). As believers we have a new nature, Christ comes to live in us through the Holy Spirit. Paul writes: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away, behold, new things have come” (II Cor. 5:17). So, we have the potential to live a new, victorious life and not fall back into our old pattern of life. But, we still must make choices, because we also have—until our bodies are glorified—the old nature living within us along with the new. Paul describes the struggle within us in Gal. 5:17: “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” The key to victory over the old, sinful flesh and its desires is in v. 16: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” As an act of our will, we need to consciously ask—and allow—the Holy Spirit to be in control of our lives. Paul calls that being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), and that is an ongoing process, not a once and for all decision. The good news is the more often I make the right choice the more it becomes a good habit and a new pattern in my life as I become more like Christ, which—by the way—is God’s purpose for each of us, “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Ro. 8:29).
Paul describes this process of practicing making the right choices in Eph. 4:22-24 where he writes: “that in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which, in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” As those who have trusted Christ for salvation and been given a new, sinless nature in Christ, we must still throughout each day make the choices to “lay aside the old…and put on the new.” That is our responsibility, but even that we do through the strength of the indwelling Christ (Phil. 4:13). In that passage in Ephesians 4 we also have a key to helping us be successful in making “putting on the new” a habit and that is through the renewing of our mind, which comes from spending time in God’s Word, reading, memorizing and meditating on what God has revealed to us about Himself, about us and about our responsibilities as His child and ambassador here on earth. As we make godly, biblical choices over and over we are becoming in practice who we really are in Christ. We are replacing old, sinful habits, with new, Christ-like ones.
Changing our habits, like climbing long flights of stairs, is easier to do when we are young, but remember, “Nothing is too difficult with God.” Ask for His help. Better yet, just let Him do it in and through you (Phil. 2:12,13). Memorize and meditate on Jer. 32:17 (NASB) “Ah Lord GOD! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee.”