In this lesson I want to talk to you about habits, especially bad habits and how to break them.
The word "habit" comes from a Latin word which means to "hold" or "live in". A habit is some way of acting, which because of repetition becomes a normal part of our lives. Now we all have habits, all kinds of habits.
Some are good:
- Regular exercise, personal hygiene
- Bible reading and regular church attendance
- Moderate consumption of food, getting lots of sleep etc.
These are the types of things our parents tried to instill in us as young people because they knew that these habits would help us be healthy, happy and productive as adults. Of course, we also have bad habits. Those unhealthy or immoral practices that, because of repetition, have also become habits in our lives. I'm not just talking about the usual bad habits that are evident:
Things like tobacco use or bad language - these are easy to spot and many people feel self-righteous if they've managed to avoid or give up these things in order to please the Lord. There's nothing worse than an ex-smoker preaching at you. There are other bad habits that we have that are more subtle but are as unacceptable as talking dirty, using tobacco or abusing alcohol - you just don't notice them as much.
For example, some people have the habit of wanting their own way all the time; or some people continually talk about others (usually in a negative way). How about people who are stingy - their habit is to make sure they always keep the best part and biggest share for themselves - there's a nasty habit that's not always evident. Then there are people who are busybodies. They can never mind their own business, they have to run everybody's life and everybody's business. It's a habit with them - they always do this if the opportunity presents itself.
I could go on and on about bad habits:
- the habit of making yourself look good
- the habit of giving up too early
- the habit of not telling the whole truth
- the habit of taking the easy way
- the habit of getting angry all the time
- the habit of blaming others for everything
- the habit of feeling sorry for yourself
- the habit of ducking your responsibilities
Do I need to go on? Have I named your bad habit yet?
You see I believe that it's never too late; in fact it's necessary that we develop good habits if we want to live happier more spiritually fruitful lives. Worry, stress, guilt, fear and anger are often the results of negative habits we have cultivated and repeated over the years.
The way to break out of the cycle of worry, guilt and other depressing emotions is to break our bad habits and replace them with habits that will produce greater happiness and satisfaction in our lives.
In this chapter, I want to examine more closely the results of bad habits in our everyday lives and how to overcome them.
Results of Bad Habits
Bad habits have external consequences:
- Temper = Conflict/Violence
- Smoking = Cancer
There are also internal consequences as well:
1. Feelings of Unworthiness
Continually repeating the same wrong things like:
- losing our temper
- over eat / drink / drugs
- lying to get out of trouble
- lack of sexual control
- giving in to self-pity, depression
Continually repeating these things makes us feel unworthy, that we don't deserve God's forgiveness or His love because we're always repeating the same thing. A lot of people who feel unworthy have a hard time becoming Christians because they think God won't accept them - they're too bad, they have too many bad habits. One of the internal results of a bad habit.
Bad habits make us feel paralyzed. We feel helpless because we keep making the same mistakes over and over again - our bad habits are stronger than we are.
We invent all kinds of methods to avoid dealing directly with our bad habits:
- We'll laugh if off (alcoholics use this).
- Rationalize it (not so bad, others do it, I can control it).
- We get angry if anyone points it out or tries to help us "Don't go there".
- Denial (we run away, deny we have a problem).
- Apathy (I don't care anymore, I can't stop).
These are some of the ways we defend our bad habit - note that none produce peace or happiness; they just enable us to continue with our bad habit.
4. A Rebellious Heart
We decide to keep our bad habit even if it makes us feel bad.
- even if God forbids it
- even if our friends and family and conscience are against it.
At least we're familiar with our bad habit and no one is going to make us change. Of course these feelings of low self-esteem discouragement, defensiveness and anger are not the kinds of things that produce happiness, peace of mind and love.
I suppose that aside from the harm that we do to ourselves with our bad habits, the real tragedy is that we model our bad habits on others and are responsible for introducing and encouraging the same bad habits in other people - sometimes in the ones we love.
Well, I don't want to discourage us so I'll stop talking about the negative side of the story and move to some positive solutions. How do we break the cycle? How do we get rid of bad habits?
1. You have to want to
The Hebrew writer put it this way,
...he who comes to God must believe that He is...
- Hebrew 11: 6
In other words, you must want to believe for faith to be formed in you, no one can force you to believe.
Several months ago a man (not in this congregation) called me about his son. He wanted to know what to do to make his son give up the homosexual lifestyle. We talked for a while and in the end I told him that nothing could be done until the young man wanted to come out of this sinful habit. No amount of preaching, pressure, or nagging can make someone give up a bad habit if they don't want to.
Now someone might ask, "How does a person develop a desire to break a bad habit?" There's no common rule here but from experience I can share with you some things that motivate a person to want to break a bad habit:
When you know the truth about what you are doing and that it is wrong - this may be the spark that gets you going. Sometimes we don't let go because we're not sure that what we're doing is wrong, dangerous or hurtful.
If we can be convinced that the habit is truly a bad one, a sinful one, a hurtful one - this sometimes motivates us to want to break it - that's why parents, family, friends mustn't compromise with what's right when dealing with someone they love who has a bad habit.
Love is a great motivator. Sometimes you don't care about the effects of your bad habit on yourself but you care about how it affects others.
- Some give up booze because it's ruining not themselves, but their families.
- Same with tobacco
- Others will go get help for their outbursts of anger because they see the frightened look on the faces of the ones they love.
Those who refuse to break bad habits even with the pleadings of their loved ones really love their bad habits more than they love their loved ones.
Sometimes your bad habit turns around and bites you.
- You get sick because of it.
- You hurt someone because of it.
- You get in trouble because of it.
- You lose your job, your reputation your money, your family because of it.
Some people have to hit bottom (like the prodigal son) before they start dealing with their problems. People who ignore the pain and go on are truly ignorant and rebellious in God's eyes and deserve the condemnation that they will receive.
2. Acknowledge it
If, for whatever reason, you are moved to look for a way out, a way to break your bad habit the next step is to acknowledge it. The hardest thing to do is to acknowledge that we have a bad habit, not just a habit but a bad one. It is difficult to admit that:
- You are a wasteful gambler
- You are impure sexually
- You lack self-control
- You gossip, criticize, are lazy, negative, etc.
It's difficult because you know that when you admit fault, you can no longer participate in it without guilt.
It's difficult because the moment you admit this bad habit and try to leave it you must anticipate a life without a habit you enjoyed - we love our sins (John 3:19).
We'd rather defend our sins or keep our sins than abandon them.
The best to neutralize the power that a bad habit has over us is to shine the light of truth on it by acknowledging exactly what it is and how it is hurting us. (e.g. I am a gossip and because of this I stir up trouble, etc.)
3. Share Your Problem With Another
We confess our sins to God but in order to stay away from them we need help from others. Sharing our burden with someone else (a spouse, another Christian, a trusted friend or family member) creates in us those things we need to deal with bad habits.
For example: sharing our bad habit humbles us and in so doing prepares our souls for God's blessings. He lifts up the humble and brings down the proud (Luke 14:11).
It strengthens our bond with people who can encourage and support us through the times we withdraw from our bad habit. Sharing our problem with another cuts it in half and makes it manageable.
4. Let God Heal You
In the end only God can heal our wounds and make us whole again. We desire to break the habit, we confess it to God and ourselves, we share it with others for support but only God can remove the ache and sinful desire that is at the root of evil.
He does this in several ways:
A. He heals you through His Word.
As the Centurion said in Matthew 8:8, "..Lord.. speak only your word and my servant will be healed."
God's word sheds the light of truth on our bad habits; it guides us into right conduct and living; it comforts our hearts and convicts our consciences. His word fills the void left by the elimination of the bad habit. If not, it will only be replaced by another bad habit à Smoking à Overeating. This is why regular worship, Bible study and reading leads to a lifestyle that contains less bad habits.
B. Heals through the Holy Spirit.
The Bible calls Him the comforter. Paul tells us that we overcome the sin our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13). The Spirit of God works directly with our spirit to strengthen us in dealing with our bad habits. You could say the word shows us our faults and the Holy Spirit gives us the strength to do what the word requires of us.
C. Heals through People
If you want to let go of bad habits you need to be with people (Acts 2:42).
- who will not encourage you in evil.
- who are themselves filled with the Holy Spirit.
- who will confront you with the word
- who have overcome the bad habit you're trying to overcome.
You can't get rid of a bad habit in a vacuum you need to draw close to God so He can heal you through His Word, Spirit and the love of His people.
Summary / Invitation
It's easy to shrug off this lesson by saying, "Everybody's got bad habits". The question is, "What about your bad habits?"
- Are you ready to deal with them?
- Are you ready to admit them, share them, give them to God?
We all need to break our bad habits; the problem is when; when will we begin the process? I hope today will be that day for many of us here.