We are all creatures of habit and habits make life better or worse, depending on whether they are good habits or bad habits. Say, for example, you begin talking with God when you first wake up each morning. That’s a good habit that will help you, throughout the day, to keep in contact with God. Maybe the first thing you do when you get up each day is to fix a cup of coffee and spend time in God’s Word and meditating on its truths. That too is a good habit (unless maybe you need to cut back on caffeine!). We had a missionary stay with us awhile back whose motto was “no Bible, no breakfast.” He insisted on feeding his soul before he fed his body. That’s a good habit that takes lots of discipline. My wife and I have a habit of reading a scriptural devotional just before we go to bed—“His Word the last word”—again, a good habit that helps us to have Scripture in our minds as we fall asleep.
Just what is a habit, anyway? According to Arlene Pellicane, in her recent book Calm, Cool, and Connected, “It is something you do so often that it becomes easy. It is a behavior you keep repeating without giving it any thought. It’s how you live on autopilot.” According to researchers, about 40% of the actions we perform each day is not due to conscious decision making. In other words, we really are creatures of habit. We work at shaping our habits and then our habits shape us. Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, describes habits as consisting of a three-part loop: cue, routine, and reward. “The cue is a trigger that tells your brain to go into autopilot mode and which habit to use. Then comes the routine, the behavior itself, which can be physical, mental, or emotional. Finally there’s the reward, which helps your brain decide if this particular behavior is worth repeating.” If you determine that a particular habit is detrimental to your spiritual life, physical well-being, or interpersonal relationships or work performance, Charles Duhigg suggests just changing one element of the three-part loop of habit as a way to take a step toward change.
Since we all battle against the desires of our old sinful nature (Gal. 5:17), chances are we each have some areas of our lives where we have developed habits which rob us of our faith and joy in Jesus, detract from our testimony for Him and put a strain on our relationships with others, including our own family members. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the believers at Ephesus in Asia Minor, writes: “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind…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” (Eph. 4: 17-24). Paul goes on in his letter to list some specific examples of things to “put off” and to “put on.” “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth…Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good…Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment; that it may give grace to those who hear…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you; along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (vv. 25-32).
Note in Paul’s admonition that succumbing to habits of the flesh gives Satan “an opportunity.” It allows him a foothold in an area of our life where he can operate to make us miserable and destroy our testimony and rob our joy. Don’t let him do it. Recognize that this “bad habit” is sin and displeasing to God. Confess it as such and ask God to give you strength to deal with the issue. Memorize scripture that covers the subject and each time the urge (temptation) comes to repeat the behavior, thought pattern, or emotion, quote the verse and resist Satan by submitting your will to God (Jas. 4:7). Remember, Jesus, when tempted by the devil, quoted scripture to Him, saying, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written…” (Mt. 4:1-10). Note also in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that he challenges us not only to stop doing the wrong thing, but to replace it with the right thing. We gain victory over the deeds of the flesh by—through the strength of the indwelling Christ—doing the right thing. We “lay aside the old” by “putting on the new.”
One challenging area of temptation in our culture today is to overuse and become addicted to our technological devices, causing harm to our spiritual and physical health and relationships. If you happen to be on your devices way more than you’d like to be—more than what’s beneficial—I recommend you get a copy of Arlene Pellicane’s excellent book. It will help you deal with digital addictions, but the principles shared apply to all habits that we need to deal with in our lives. Her book is available from Moody Publishers.