October 29, 2009

The bottom line of beating bad habits

Today’s average person is bombarded by attention-grabbers: movies, television, books, music, food, clothing, advertisements for goods, the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and so on. For those who are easily distracted, this plethora of external stimuli could keep us off track for years.

In fact, I remember when we first signed up for Internet service. I was afraid to go there because I know myself — I might never come home. I’m thankful that aside from a few flights of fancy looking for images of art quilts, etc., my surfing is limited and I can stay focused. Email and Facebook offer similar challenges, but these two still have me looking for a way of maximum use in limited time.

As a Christian, I must guard my mind, emotions, and will. I need to continually seek the will of God. The best way to do that is by meditating on His Word and letting His will become mine. I know that an unprotected, uncontrolled, and unyielded mind is going to be invaded by selfish desires that will result in sinful actions. Part of the task is controlling how my emotions and thoughts respond to the tempting bait that continually dangles in front of me.

Two passages of Scripture are helpful. The first is a warning and offers one step in beating temptation. The second offers me the resources in how to win this battle of the mind and heart.
Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:23-27)
Of course temptation is easier to avoid if I don’t go there. If I was not on Facebook, I would never waste any time with it. If I never bought a chocolate bar, I more easily could avoid eating one. If we did not have a television set, I would not watch it too much.

Yet these verses are talking more about the heart. The desires of the heart make life happen and are at the root of sin. If I want to waste time, I will find a way. If I want to indulge, I will find something, perhaps not in the pantry, but somewhere. Moving far from the temptation will not change my “I-wants.”

However, from these verses and from my own battle, I can see the need for focus. The writer of Proverbs says to think about what I do and form good habits. Stay away from the bad stuff and move on without thinking about what I might be missing. That is good advice.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
This passage is about where my strength comes from. Avoiding sinful pleasures and indulgences is not about a steely, self-determination. Turning away from lifelong bad habits (strongholds) cannot be accomplished by sheer determination. God offers His power for these things, which makes winning the battle one that begins with humility.

I need to be humble because all selfish and sinful bad habits are a resistance to the plan and will of God. Whenever I do something that indulges me, I am shaking a clenched fist at God. If I want to overcome that indulgence, I need to bow my knee and open my hands to receive. Humility recognizes that I cannot win the battle by myself. I must be willing to cast down all my arguing with God and instead bring every thought into obedience. That makes humility the bottom line in overcoming sin and bad habits.

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