March 17, 2017 Brethren Letter
Tonight, I’m sending an article I wrote several years ago, entitled, “Building Suitable Habits.” We’ll be observing the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread soon. Hopefully, we’re examining ourselves and rooting-out ANY habit that God would not be pleased with.
Please have a wonderful Sabbath!
Your Brother in Christ,
BUILDING SUITABLE HABITS
Have you ever heard the old saying, “Human beings are creatures of habit?” Consider that statement for a moment. Is it true? If it is true, what kinds of habits might that saying imply? What causes us to develop a habit, and what can we do to make sure we develop good ones?
I’d like to look at a story by James S. Hewett, from Illustrations Unlimited, to show an example of how human beings can become so entrenched in certain habits, and how those habits can actually affect our lives each day.
A man who flew his own plane got tired of the long auto trip from the airport to his country place which was situated on a lovely lake. So, he had the idea of equipping his plane with pontoons so he could land right in front of his cottage. However, on his first trip up to the country with his newly-equipped plane, he headed for a landing at the airport just as he always had done in the past. Old habits are hard to break. But, as he was going in for the landing it dawned on his wife what was happening and she hollered, ‘What do you think you’re doing? You can’t land this thing on the runway. You don’t have any wheels; you’ve got pontoons on it!’
…her warning shout was in time and he pulled up from his landing pattern and swung the airplane around and headed the plane for a landing on the lake. After the plane landed safely on the lake, he heaved a really big sigh of relief and turned to his wife and said, ‘That’s about the stupidest thing I’ve ever done!’
Then he turned, opened the door, stepped out, and fell directly into the lake.”
What an excellent illustration of the basic fact that old habits are hard to break! The American Heritage Dictionary lists various definitions for the word habit, including “a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition; an established disposition of the mind or character; customary manner or practice;” and “an addiction…” Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), one of England’s best-known literary figures declared, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”
In reproducing Himself, God requires righteous character development. That necessitates that we evaluate our lives and make changes. As we approach Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, we understand through I Corinthians 11:28 that we are to EXAMINE ourselves. We as individuals must consider the depth of our faith, the amount of spiritual fruit being produced in our lives; the magnitude of our spiritual understanding of God’s Master Plan; our responsibilities in that plan, and the extent to which we are eliminating sin and replacing that sin with the righteousness of God. Perhaps we have never thought about or considered in this self-examination process, the inclusion of discovering and examining habits that influence the way we live our lives each day. If we don’t conquer our habits, they WILL conquer us!
So Just What Is A Habit?
A habit is a learned pattern of acting, thinking, or feeling. We have some good, some questionable, and some plainly bad ones! Although not genetically inherited, we begin developing patterns of behavior almost immediately after birth through association — praise and rewards for good behavior, or scolding with perhaps unpleasant consequences for bad behavior. If we think about it, we can notice that it is often easy to acquire WRONG habits, because they lie within our natural-born tendency toward selfishness. The more frequent the occurrence, the more firmly established the habit or behavior becomes. The longer our habits endure (good or bad), the more they DEFY change. The Plain Truth Magazine (October/November 1980), in an article entitled, “Me? A Creature of Habit?” shows us:
Learning patterns, at first, go into the brain’s short-term memory system. As they become more established they move over into the brain’s long-term storage center. … Then the brain activity at which humans excel – memory — goes to work so that a specific message or stimuli triggers an automatic response, thought, or feeling. We call a lesson that the brain’s cells have learned well enough to accomplish automatically, without thought, a habit. Good habits and bad habits are formed essentially the same way.
We have numerous physical habits, such as the time we eat dinner, which streets we use to go to work each day, which day we decide to do the laundry, or even the position in which we fall asleep. Obviously, some of our acquired habits are good. For example, eating the right kinds of foods, making sure we exercise daily, as well as showing the proper love and respect for our family members on a daily basis are all illustrations of excellent habits. But, other habits we develop are bad ones, such as becoming junk food “junkies,” or consistently eating snack foods and drinks with dubious nutritional contents.
Likewise, we also have spiritual habits, both good and bad, in our day-to-day lives. Proper spiritual habits would include close, daily contact with God through abundant prayer, Bible study, meditation and occasional fasting; or a genuine eagerness to serve God’s people. Bad spiritual habits could include going to work each day without praying, or fasting only on the Day of Atonement, or perhaps a reluctance to serve any of the brethren unless you are “IN-CHARGE.”
As we enter into the Holy Day season, we must examine our spiritual habits. What are those habits in our lives like? Look at them honestly, discover the bad ones, root them out and replace them with habits that produce growth, abundance and joy!
Recognize and Admit Your Wrong Habits
We cannot change anything in our lives if we don’t recognize what is wrong. This is the first key in our ability to make changes. Do we realize that our spiritual attitude is plainly indicated by the excuses we make? We can all become complacent, ignoring the signs and begin downplaying the seriousness of poor habits. BUT, GOD DOES NOT. In Jeremiah 17:9-10, we read, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” We need to make it our goal to see ourselves as God does and to recognize the same flaws He sees. Weak and wrong habits are the enemies of change and hinder spiritual growth. Once a habit becomes ingrained in us, it becomes virtually invisible to our minds. We begin to become comfortable with our incorrect habits, ignore them and simply co-exist. Where Job could not recognize the weakness lying deep within him (Job 13:23), the apostle Paul did recognize the battle taking place in his mind (Romans 7:13-25).
As we examine ourselves, we should consider our programmed, or habitual, responses to stress, emergencies, correction, criticism, authority of others, and the everyday encounters we all face daily, in an unconverted world. Here are some questions we should ask ourselves. Just how DO I react to stress, for instance? Do I eat several chocolate bars, or do I go to God on my knees for help? Does my normal response revolve around physical gratification? Or, do I respond positively, using the power of God’s Holy Spirit? Do I go to God for strength and deliverance, in earnest prayer? The custom of both King David and Daniel was to go before God three times in prayer each day (Psalm 55:17, Daniel 6:10). Recognizing and admitting our wrong habits is the first step in building right habits!
Once we recognize our “less-than-perfect” habits, we must find ways to change those unacceptable patterns of behavior! Motivation is paramount! Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in the Good News Magazine (August, 1985), “How to Be an Overcomer”:
…perhaps you are struggling with some habit that holds you as its slave — struggling, wrestling, always fighting it, yet somehow never able to conquer it. These things are serious. We must overcome these sins, these habits, these sudden temptations — be cleansed from them thoroughly — if we expect to get through to the Kingdom of God and inherit eternal life.
In the booklet, The Seven Laws of Success, (Pages 28-29) Mr. Armstrong again wrote:
Half-hearted effort might carry one a little way toward his goal, but it will never get him far enough to reach it.
You will always find that the executive head of any growing, successful organization employs drive! He puts a constant prod on himself. He not only drives himself, he drives those under him, else they might lag, let down and stagnate.
He may feel drowsy, and hate to awaken and get up in the morning. But he refuses to give in to this impulse.
I remember the struggles I once had with this situation. … I was having quite a struggle with drowsiness. Yet I acquired the habit of sleepily answering the morning telephone call and promptly going back to bed and to sleep. Then I bought a “Baby Ben” alarm clock which I carried with me. But I found myself arising to turn it off, then plunging back into bed. I was too drowsy to realize what I was doing. I was not sufficiently awake to employ willpower and force myself to stay up, get under the shower and become fully awake and alert. It had become a habit.
I had to break the habit. I had to put a prod on myself. I needed an alarm clock that couldn’t be turned off until I was sufficiently awake to get going for the day.
So one night at the Hotel Patton in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I called a bellboy to my room. In those days the customary tip was a dime. A half dollar then had about the same effect that a $20 bill would have today. I laid a silver half-dollar on the dresser.
“Do you see that half-dollar, son?” I asked.
“Yes, Sir!” he answered, eyes sparkling in anticipation.
After ascertaining that he would be still on duty at 6:30 next morning, I said, “If you will pound on that door in the morning at 6:30, until I let you in, and then stay in this room and prevent me from getting back into bed until I am dressed, then you may have that half-dollar.”
I found those bellboys would, for a half-dollar tip, even wrestle or fight with me to prevent my crawling back into bed. Thus I put a prod on myself that broke the morning snooze habit and got me up and going!”
We can see by example that Mr. Armstrong realized what his bad habit was. He was motivated to take strong action in order to break it. If we are to have spiritual success, we, too, must be motivated — CONTINUALLY motivated.
Proverbs 12:24 shows us that “The hand of the diligent will rule. …” Without energy, drive, and constant propulsion, a person need never expect to become truly successful. We must motivate ourselves to realize our goal of developing righteous character!
Use the Power of God’s Spirit
In order to be effective in overcoming wrong or bad habits, we need the power of God’s Holy Spirit. We cannot do it alone. We must beseech God in earnest prayer for the help and spiritual power to overcome. With His help, we can grow in spiritual knowledge, develop character, and overcome the incorrect habits, weaknesses, and faults. We are talking about true spiritual SUCCESS here!
Romans 12:2 shows us to, “… not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” We know that God’s Spirit imparts power and a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7). It will help us in obeying God’s laws (Ezekiel 36:27), and helps us in developing the fruit of righteousness (Galatians 5:22-23). God is ready and willing to fight our battles for us. We need the power of God’s Holy Spirit to eliminate undesirable habits. All we have to do is ASK Him!
FINALLY, it is practice and repetition at intertwining the right habits in our lives that will bring about happiness and joy. Just as we remove leavening from our homes
during this time of year and replace it with the unleavened bread, which symbolizes the righteousness of God, so should we start to work immediately to eliminate habits God would consider improper, and replace them with good, suitable and uplifting ones. Root out the bad spiritual habits; habits such as repeated sins, lack of prayer, lapses in fasting, uncontrollable anger, gossip, vanity — the list is virtually endless! Bring every thought into the obedience of Christ (II Corinthians 10:3-6).
In conclusion, applying these four keys to building suitable habits will help us to overcome and develop spiritually, the way we should. Start working immediately, like the industrious ant of Proverbs 6:6-8. In Matthew 24:45-47 we read, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, shall find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.”
As we approach Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, let each and every one of us examine ourselves even more deeply this year than any other year before. With God’s help, we can eliminate wrong spiritual habits and begin to build suitable and GODLY ones!