Breaking habits in our life
Habits can be like driving on a freeway – once you are on the freeway, it can be difficult to get off.
Habits are patterns of behaviour that are regularly repeated and often occur without any conscious thought. Expressed in another way, a habit is an activity that has been commenced by a person and then is done regularly or repeatedly, quite often as an automatic process and is found challenging to stop. When someone has this habitual behaviour they may not realise they are actually doing it. This is because it has become so routine in their life that it has become a sub-conscious activity.
We do not inherit habits of our parents but rather we learn them as we go through life. From the earliest years of our life we all have taken on habits. When we are child it might be sucking a thumb or biting finger nails. When we grow older, it may be eating breakfast at a particular time each day, overspending at the shops or procrastination.
We can have good habits and bad habits. Some people describe themselves by listing their character traits and habits – as though this is what they are and it can’t be changed. But we should always remember that habits do not control us but rather we control the habits. So good habits can be learned and bad habits unlearned.
Habits are a very strong influence in our lives. This is because they are consistent, frequently unconscious activities that continually influence our behaviour. As a result, how successful or unsuccessful we are depends on these habits.
The Bible does not mention habits as such, but it does talk about the behaviour which goes with habits.
We need to examine all the activities in our life to identify which are bad habits. Bad habits are anything which is seen a negative behaviour or undesirable. Examples of bad habits are sexual immorality, smoking, excessive drinking of alcohol, taking of illegal drugs, gossiping, procrastination, impatience, criticalness, selfishness and so forth. For the follower of God bad habits are anything that turn our hearts from God and lead us to doing wrong.
Fighting bad habits – remove it or change it
What do we do with bad habits? Consider this example:
You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. Deuteronomy Ch.12 : 2-3
God instructed the Israelites when they took over a nation to completely destroy every pagan altar and idol in the land. Why did God want everything destroyed? Because he knew that their beliefs could change if they started worshipping at the altars or the idols. So he didn’t want anything to remain which might tempt the Israelites to worship idols. In other words, the bad habits of the conquered nation were to be completely erased so that these same habits would not pass onto the Israelites.
In the same way, we need to completely remove bad habits from our lives so that they don’t drag us down. We need to look at the underlying cause of the bad habit whether it is an attitude we have, activity we do, a relationship we have with someone or a possession. Once we have identified it we then need remove it or change it so that the temptation is no longer there that turns our heart from God leading us to do wrong.
Fighting bad habits – replace it with a good habit
Whenever we have identified a bad habit in our life one way to combat it is to replace it with a good habit. If you spend one hour a day doing a bad habit then spend that same hour each day doing a good habit.
God told Moses to do this:
But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. Moreover it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them.’” Numbers Ch.33: 55-56
God told Moses that he had to remove the wicked inhabitants and destroy their idols before he let the Israelites settle in the promised land.
We likewise have to remove the bad habits in our life and not just settle down and live with them. Any sinful bad habits we have need to be replaced with a new life of good habits. Paul encouraged this same thing by telling us to throw out the old way of living and bring in the new life where we are obedient to God.
Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, Colossians Ch.3: 9-10
Fighting bad habits – don’t fight it alone
We may be motivated to remove the bad habit from our lives. However, we may be tempted to do this by ourselves without any help. This makes the process so much more difficult! We need to look to others to help us. The best source of help is from God. In relation to this, John wrote these words:
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 1 John Ch.3:9 NIV
When each of us examines our lives we probably find that we have habits which are difficult to overcome. Rather than trying to defeat these things ourselves we can go to God and ask for his assistance to overcome the bad habit.
So overcoming the bad habit involves seeking the power of God to help and staying away from the situations that cause the bad habit.
Good habits are those that are worth repeating on a regular basis. Believers in God can do well to develop good habits. The following are examples of some the good habits that can be developed:
Good habits – regular prayer
One of the great privileges which we have is that we can approach God at any time in His Name. There are therefore no set times for prayers. It seems to have been the practice in Old Testament times to pray three times a day, morning, midday and evening:
Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice. Psalm 55:17
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. Daniel Ch.6:10
This was still the practice in New Testament time.
Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. Acts Ch.3:1
The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Acts Ch.10:9
Paul, however, says:
Pray without ceasing 1 Thessalonians Ch.5:17
When Paul urges us to “Pray without ceasing”, he does not mean that we should spend all our time praying, but that we should live lives of prayer, never giving up praying, always being ready to pray.
Though there is no obligation on us to pray at any fixed time, many believers pray each night when they go to bed and many will also do so at the beginning of the day. Few, pray regularly in the middle of the day, though this might be a good discipline, especially for those whose daily tasks take them away from the things of God.
These regular good habits of prayer are a necessary discipline for us, as long as our prayers are not mere recitations of fixed forms of words with little thought given to what we are saying.
The best time to pray is when we have the time to devote ourselves properly to it and the ability to concentrate on what we are doing, and this must be a matter of individual choice.
Good habits – working hard
Another good habit to get into is trying your best in everything we do. This is what the Bible says about it:
Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men. Proverbs Ch.22: 29
This proverb tells us that we need to try to do our best, regardless of what our occupation is, and this aptitude will receive recognition.
Joseph, Nehemiah, and Daniel—all diligent in their work—did stand before kings. This is what is written about Ezra:
Ezra 'was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses ... and the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the LORD his God was upon him' Ezra 7:6, NASB.
‘Diligence’ (AV), even without godliness, is often the way to advancement in the world we live in. Jeroboam owed his rise in Solomon’s court to his ‘industrious’ habits.
The man Jeroboam was very able, and when Solomon saw that the young man was industrious he gave him charge over all the forced labor of the house of Joseph. 1 Kings 11:28
We should serve the Lord in fervency of spirit:
Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; Romans 12:10-11
Using all the talents we have to their full:
Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’ Luke Ch.19:11-12
For this good habit will lead to the hard worker standing before the King of kings with unspeakable honour:
Well done! good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy lord Matt. 25:21-23.
Good habit – daily reading of the Bible
One of the good habits to nurture is daily reading of the Bible. By reading the Bible you get an understanding of godliness. This understanding is extremely valuable:
Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding; for her  proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She  is more precious than rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. Proverbs 3:13-15
 “her”/”she” personifies wisdom
The Bible offers plenty of examples of people whose lives were ones of faith. Yet, today, how often are prayer and Meditation or discussion about daily readings neglected in favour of something more ‘valuable’ or ‘enjoyable’? Such habits are enacted by people to their peril. It may mean a bit of careful domestic planning, and personal sacrifice; it will certainly mean discipline and determination to adhere to a pattern of daily Bible readings, prayer and meditation; but these things:
…are life to those who find them and health [medicine] to a man's whole body" Proverbs 4:22, NIV
They are simply too important to forget or ignore—and anyway, when the habit has been established, it becomes a positive delight and necessity.
Good habits – regular attendance at church
We should make regular worship a part of our life.
So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. Luke Ch.4:16
Jesus went to the synagogue “as was his custom”. Jesus attended the service every week. If he has done this because he felt he needed it, then how much more important that we make, going to church each Sunday, a good habit to follow.
Bad habits which have been around for a while like procrastination and selfishness will be difficult to break. But with effort and time they can be replaced with more effective behaviours. Of considerable help in overcoming these bad habits and improving life in general is to develop good habits like prayer, reading the Bible regularly and working hard.
How effective we are in life is greatly controlled by the habits we have.