Breaking the Habit

By Mike Mazzalongo     Posted: Sun. May 14th
In this sermon, Mike reviews the factors that go into both making and ultimately breaking the many bad habits we acquire as sinful human beings.

The word "habit" comes from a latin word which means "to hold" or to "live in". Habit is some way of acting which, because of repetition, becomes a normal part of our lives. Keyword there is repetition. Now, we all have habits, all kinds of habits.

Some of them are good, for example, regular exercise, personal hygiene, of course, regular Bible reading, church attendance, moderate consumption of food, getting lots of sleep - good habits that we have, that help us physically, emotionally, spiritually. These are the types of things that our parents try to instill in us as young people. Especially moms, they're the ones that develop and continually help us to develop those good habits, when we are young. As young people because our parents know that these habits will serve us well as we grow older. of course, we also have bad habits, and that's what I want to look at in this lesson.

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, because some habits, they're evident. You can spot them right away right. Things like tobacco use or bad language, these are easy to spot. And many people feel self-righteous if they, themselves, have managed to avoid or give up these things, in order to please the Lord. Nothing worse than somebody that keeps going after you for smoking because they, last week they quit smoking. All of a sudden, this week, they're going to teach everybody how not to smoke. We understand that, but there are other bad habits that we have, that are much more subtle, but as unacceptable as talking dirty or 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. That's a habit, a bad one. Or some people continually talk about others, usually in a negative way. That's a bad habit. How about people who are stingy? Their habit is to make sure they always keep the best part or the biggest share for themselves. Now, 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 else's life and everybody else's business. It's a habit with them. They always do this, if the opportunity presents itself. That's a bad habit. I mean, I could go on about bad habits. It's easy to list them.

  • The habit of making yourself look good at the expense of other people.
  • The habit of giving up too early.
  • The habit of not telling the whole truth, or massaging the truth in such a way that it makes you look better than others.
  • The habit of taking the easy way all the time.
  • 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.

All bad habits. Have I touched on yours yet? Certainly touched on a lot of mine. 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 and more spiritually fruitful lives. Worry, stress, guilt, fear, anger, are often the results of negative habits that we have cultivated and repeated over and over again, throughout our lives.

The way to break out of the cycle of worry and 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. I mean, it's pretty evident right? Don't need a written statement to understand that. Or to know that that's the case. You break bad habits, your life gets better of course.

So my lesson, I want to examine more closely, not bad habits, but the results of bad habits in our everyday lives. And more importantly, how to overcome them. Walk out of here with something, all right, not just a reminder of our bad habits. Now bad habits have external consequences. An easy thing, I pick smoking. Smoking - cancer, among other things. There's a negative result of that bad habit. You've got to - if your bad habit is you've got a bad temper or you can't control your temper, well, then you're going to be in conflict many times in your life.

You're going to have to deal with violence many times in your life. So there are external consequences to our bad habits, but there are also internal consequences of our bad habits as well. For example, feelings of unworthiness. That's one of the inward consequences of our bad habits. Continually repeating the same wrong things, like losing our temper, or over eating, or drinking or drugs, or lying to get out of trouble, or lack of sexual control, or giving in to self-pity and depression, continually repeating these things makes us feel unworthy, that we don't deserve God's forgiveness or His love. Why? Because we're always repeating the same old bad thing. It's hard to feel worthy before God when you continually repeat the same nonsense over and over again.

A lot of people who feel unworthy, have a hard time becoming Christians because they think God will not accept them. They're just too bad, they have too many "bad habits". And that's one of the internal results of having and staying in a bad habit. Another internal consequence of bad habits: discouragement. Bad habits make us feel paralyzed, if you wish, emotionally, spiritually. We feel helpless because we keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Our habits seem to be stronger than we are. And that's awfully discouraging. Another internal consequence of bad habits: we become defensive. We invent all kinds of methods to avoid dealing directly with our bad habit. For example, we'll laugh it off. We'll just laugh it off. People who have - if you listen to conversations between people who mutually have trouble with alcohol abuse, a lot of their interaction is humor, joking about drinking too much. Joking about having been so bombed or so stoned or so drunk. I got a better one than that, well, I fell down the stairs. Really? ha, ha, ha. Or we rationalize, it's not so bad. Others do it. I can control it. I can quit any time. I'm in control. My answer to that is always, Why don't you? Or we get angry. If anyone points it out or tries to help us, oh, don't go there. Don't go, that's a, I can't discuss that. That's a no discussion zone. That's the way we protect our bad habits. Don't let anybody talk to us about it. Or we deny it. We run away. We deny we have a problem. I haven't got a problem.

There's even a song about it, "people say I drink too much, they call it a problem, I call it a solution." All of these coping mechanisms, they usually lead to one final coping mechanism: apathy. I don't care any more. I don't care what you say. I don't care what the experts say. I don't care what other people say is going to happen to me. I just don't care. Leave me alone. I can't stop, so you might as well just leave me alone. Apathy. These are some of the ways we defend our bad habit. Note, that none of these produce peace or happiness. They simply enable us to continue with our bad habits.

Another thing that bad habits produce internally, and that is, rebellious hearts. We decide to keep our bad habit even if it makes us feel bad. We choose to keep our bad habit even if God forbids it. We keep our habit 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. Some people would rather live with the misery they know, than take a chance at a happiness they don't know. Of course, these feelings of low, self-esteem, discouragement, defensiveness, anger, these are not the kind of things that produce happiness or peace of mind or love. Love of self or love of others. 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 behavior in other people. And sometimes in people we love.

So enough of the discouragement, I want to talk about the positive side of the story. How to overcome these things. How do we break the cycle? How do we get rid of bad habits? Again, I speak as someone who has had many and continues to have many bad habits. Here are some things to do, to try to break out of the cycle. Remember, I told you the key word - repetition. Repetition of a certain type of behavior and defense of that behavior. So how do we get out of it?

1. You have to want to

You have to want to get out of it. The Hebrew writer put it this way, "He who comes to God, must believe that He is." Hebrews 11:6. In other words, you must want to believe, for faith to be formed in you. No one can force you to believe. You can't arm twist somebody into faith. Several years ago a man, not in this congregation, called me about his son and he wanted to know what to do to make his son give up the homosexual lifestyle. As you know, I once to put out a book on that topic. So I used to get a lot of calls from other preachers and other people in the church, asking for resources or advice. Anyways, he had called me because he had read the book and he wanted to know. He said, my son came out. Acknowledged that this was the lifestyle he was following, and I want him to come out of this lifestyle, so what do I do? 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 practice and lifestyle.

No amount of preaching or pressure or nagging can make somebody give up a bad habit, if they do not want to. Now, someone may ask well, how does a person develop a desire to break a bad habit? Good question. 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. One of the things, number one, that gives a person the motivation, perhaps, to want to break a bad habit: the truth. The truth. 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 are doing is wrong or 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, in the topic of that man, that brother who called me about his son, that's why parents and family and friends must not compromise with what is right, when dealing with someone they love who has a bad habit. That same person and others, since talking about people in their family they love their husbands, women their husbands - my husband just acknowledged to me that he was gay. What do I do? Or my son or whatever. Do I just never talk to them again? No, of course not. They're your son, your daughter, you love them. They love you. You can talk, you can communicate. You can actually even encourage the good things that are happening in their lives, obviously not everything is bad in their lives. But whatever you do, do not compromise the truth about that particular topic in their presence. Don't start watering it down. It's wrong. It'll always be wrong.

So we can talk about your new house, and then I can go see the new car. Help you go buy that car you want to buy and give you some advice. I'm your dad. I know about cars. We can go to the ballgame together, that's fine. But if you want to bring your boyfriend to the house, no. Why? Because it's wrong. Because this area in your life is wrong. Instead, friends, family, will compromise the truth, in order to maintain a happy relationship. That's a very short-sighted strategy. And when you do that, you're not loving that person's soul, because the only thing that will save that person's soul is if they finally accept the truth and deal with it. And I mention homosexuality, but any other bad habit is the same thing. Another motivator, love. 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 other people. Some people give up booze because it's ruining, not just themselves, but it's ruining their families. Some give up tobacco, in all of its forms: smoking, chewing, whatever. They give it up, not because they don't like it anymore. They give it up, because all of a sudden they see their son pretending he's got that or pretending he's smoking, like a candy, but he's pretending it's a cigarette. I've told you before, children don't do what you say, they do what you do. Other people will get help for their outbursts of anger, because they see the frightened look on the faces of the ones they love. They finally say to themselves, man, I get I get a hold of myself. I've got to stop scaring my children half to death every time I lose my temper. Those who refuse to break habits, even with the pleadings of their loved ones, really love their bad habits, more than they love their loved ones, no matter what they say. Talk is cheap.

Another motivator to deal with that habits: pain. Sometimes your bad habit turns around and bites you. You get sick because of it. I remember as a little kid, my cousin came to my house, to babysit. He was like 18, and I was just a little kid, 11 or 12. And he smoked. And I, oh, I wanted to try it. He said sure. And he let me smoke four, five, six cigarettes that night. My parents came home and my mother's question was, why is Michael green? I was so sick. Or you hurt somebody because of your bad habit; or you get in trouble because of your bad habit; or you lose your job; or you lose your reputation, your money, your family.

Eventually your bad habit ruins you. 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 believe it or not, they deserve the condemnation that they're going to receive. When the truth doesn't work, and love doesn't work, and pain doesn't work, there's not much left. Well, there is prayer. I could have put that one first. Sometimes you have to ask God to put the desire to break the habit into your own heart. And to put it positively, sometimes you have to pray and ask God, God, please put into my heart the desire to live without this habit. Because one of the reasons people don't let go of the bad habit, is because they don't think that they will be able to live without it. They won't be able to live without the comfort, whatever, the excitement, the pleasure, that their bad habit gives them.

I remember when I gave up smoking cigarettes when I was thirty years old, the thought was, I'll never smoke again. I can quit for today, tomorrow, but I will never have that feeling again? I'll never had that - I'll never get that nicotine smack ever again. Life is long. I'm only thirty, what if I lived to be 90? Well, if I keep smoking, I'm not going to make it to 40, but I wasn't thinking that in those days. David said, "Create in me a clean heart, oh, God; and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10.

Notice, he says - not increase in me a clean heart, create in me this thing that I don't have, that I need. David was asking God for something which he, himself, did not have - the strength to produce within himself. And that was a steady faith that resisted doubt and failure to do God's will. He looked inside himself and he saw, I don't have that kind of heart. I need that kind of heart. Sometimes the prayer we have to make is, God I don't have this thing within me. I don't even want to do the right thing I know I should do. Please, can you not just give me a desire to want this? Is anything too difficult for God? This might be the first prayer to make when deciding to embark on the long road to ridding ourselves of a bad habit. Prayer. So how do we get rid of them? Just to review here, if we've kind of lost track. Number one, you have to want to. And I've given you a couple of things that might motivate you to want to.

2. You have to 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 honestly. The hardest thing to do is to acknowledge the fact that we have a bad habit, not just a habit, a bad habit. It is difficult to admit to yourself that you are a wasteful gambler. That's hard to admit. It's not just, I just do it to relax. I go to the casino. I never spend more than fifty bucks. No more. But I do it every week. And if I could, I'd do it twice a week. Very hard to admit, I'm wasting. Very hard to admit that you are impure, sexually. Very hard to say, Dear Lord, I noticed this about myself, I continually entertain impure images in my mind and in my heart. That's a hard one. It's a very humbling thing to say to God, please give me the desire to want to be pure, sexually. Very hard to admit, I lack self-control. Whatever I think, I say. Whatever I want to do, I do. There's no filter.

It's very hard to acknowledge that you're a gossip. Or you criticize, or you're lazy, or negative. Very hard to acknowledge those things. I mean really acknowledge it. It's difficult, because you know that when you admit fault, you can no longer participate in it without guilt. If I finally say, this thing I'm doing is wrong. Well, then, every time I'm tempted, every time I'm thinking of doing it, I know that what I'm going to be doing is wrong. It's difficult because the moment you admit this bad habit and try to leave it, you must anticipate a life without a habit that you enjoyed. We love our sins.

Isn't that what John tells us in John 3:19, "The light came into the world, the world rejected it." Why? Because the world loved the darkness, not the light. We'd rather defend our sins and keep our sins, then abandon them. So the best way 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. I am a gossip. Because of this, I stir up trouble. I can't keep my mouth shut. I can't keep a secret. I can't be trusted. If push comes to shove, I'll always think of myself first, before someone else. That's hard to acknowledge.

3. Share your problem with somebody else

We confess our sins to God, but in order to stay away from them, we need help from other people. Sharing our burden with someone else, a spouse, another Christian, a trusted friend, a family member, minister, whatever. Doing this creates in us the things we need to deal with our bad habits. For example, sharing our bad habit humbles us and in so doing prepares our soul for God's blessings. "He lifts up the humble, He brings down the proud," Luke 14:11.

That's the way it works. It strengthens our bond with people who can encourage and support us, through the times that we withdraw from our bad habit. I mean, the 12-step program, alcoholics anonymous, and all of the other blank anonymous: one-click shopping anonymous, I may join that group. They all think - they all have the same thing in common, right? Every one of those self-supporting groups, support help group, all have the same thing, the same program: you have to acknowledge - Hello. My name is Mike Mazzalongo, and I am a one-click, Amazon shopping addict. Hello, Mike. What is that? That's acknowledging to another person that you're weak. It also strengthens our bond with those people. Because they can encourage us, and we can encourage them. Have you never felt the - what's the word I'm looking for - the relief that comes when you share something, and the person you've shared it with - and it doesn't have to be at a counseling session, you're having coffee with a friend or something and at some moment, you just realize you're going to own up to something.

So you get to that sharing moment, what a relief after you've said it and that person says, you too? You feel like that, too? Man, I thought I was the only one. Thought I was the only one that felt like that, or struggled with that. Sure glad to know, I'm not the only one. What a sense of joy you have.

Sharing our problem with another cuts it in half. It makes it manageable. The reason we have the bad habit and that it is ripping us up, is because it's bigger than we are. It's stronger than we are, so when we share it with someone else, it cuts it down to size. And then the fourth thing, In this process of trying to break bad habits, fourth thing to do, let God heal you. Let God heal you. In the end, only God can heal our wounds and make us whole again, spiritually. 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 the sinful desire that is at the root of this evil. He does this in several ways. First, He heals us through His word.

Lord, speak only your word and my servant will be healed.
- Matthew 8:8

The centurion said to Jesus. Speak only your word. Have you never said that very thing to the Lord in your prayer? Lord, just speak the word and I'll be okay. Give me a word, Lord. 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 it convicts our consciences. His word fills the void left by the elimination of the bad habit. If not, that bad habit is only replaced by another bad habit, whatever it is.

This is why regular worship, and Bible study, and prayer, leads to a lifestyle that contains less and less bad habits. A lot of people, they say, well, how come sister Josephine's not coming to church anymore? Because she probably doesn't like what's being said from the front. Because she's tired of going to class and being reminded, through various Bible classes, that a Christian woman's life is one of purity and Godliness and service. Woman or man, it's the same thing. She's tired of hearing that message. She can't hear that message and continue in the bad habit at the same time. That's why she's not coming. He's not coming.

God heals us through His holy spirit. The Bible calls Him, The Comforter. Paul tells us that we overcome the sin in 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 that the word shows us our faults and the holy spirit gives us the strength to do what the word requires of us. They work in concert.

And God heals us through people. If you want to let go of bad habits, you need to be with people who will not encourage you in evil, who are themselves filled with the holy spirit, who will confront you with the word of God, who have overcome the bad habit that you're trying to overcome. I'm inspired by seeing older Christians who have overcome the things that I'm still dealing with. And where do I see those older Christians or more mature Christians than I? Where do I see them? Not at Lowe's. Not at work. Well, my work is different, but you know, not at Tinker. I see them here. They're congregated together, several hundred of them, several times a week. 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, through His spirit, and through the love of His people. It's easy to shrug off this lesson.

I mean, you can say, well, it's Sunday night, the sermon counts for less, Sunday night sermon. Or you can say, well, everybody's got bad habits. You know, so what? The question is, however, what about your bad habit? Pretend the only person to show up tonight was you? I would have preached this sermon anyways. I tell people, 50 people, 500 people, 5,000 people, you get the same sermon. Are you ready to deal with your bad habit? Are you ready to admit it, to share it, to give it to God? One thing's for sure. We all need to break our bad habits. The problem is, when? When do we begin the process? Because when you begin the process, you are on the road to victory. So I hope today will be that day. For many of us here, in this congregation, of course, those who watch online, if you need to break the habit of disbelief and refusal, to obey the gospel, because if you haven't obeyed the gospel and every time you hear it, you put it off, well, that's the habit of refusing to obey the gospel. That's your bad habit. Your number one bad habit.

So if you need to break that habit by coming forward and confessing Christ in repentance and baptism, let's do that. If you need to be restored or if you need the prayers of the church to break that bad habit, if you need an elder to pray for you, so that you might begin to have the desire to break all of your bad habits, whatever it is, we've met here tonight for that very purpose, to minister one to another with God's word and through the fellowship of the saints and through the ministry, one to another. So if you are in need of ministry, I encourage you, come forward now. Come receive God's gift of forgiveness as we stand and as we sing the selected song.

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Barry Day,
Pulpit Minister,
Houston, TX - Pasadena Church of Christ