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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

03 Jan '12

Our habits and a long view of life

Living in the "instant" world of the west where we love immediate results, quick fixes and instant gratification, we often forget that the Christian life is a marathon rather than a sprint and that long term results are the product of long term rather than short term thinking. The Apostle Paul talks about "running the race with our eyes fixed on the prize." He also often speaks of endurance and perseverance. Eugene Peterson rightly called it a "long obedience in the same direction."


The key to a long view of life is the development of habits that will sustain us over the long haul. Habits are long term disciplines or practices rather than short term "resolutions." They form a personal frame or infrastructure that the rest of life connects to. Just as the hidden steel frame of a large building holds all the component parts together, so the habits we develop are the invisible underpinnings of our lives which everything else is connected to and influenced by.


There is good news and bad news in this. The bad news is that unhealthy habits have long term ramifications for our lives if not corrected since our life infrastructure touches everything else. That is why it is so important to deal with sinful habits rather than to ignore or nurture them. But the good news is that the development of healthy habits has long term healthy ramifications and gives us the means of going the distance well and living out that "long obedience in the same direction:" in the power of the Holy Spirit. And, it is never too late to develop new and healthy habits.


Practices become habits when they are practiced long enough that they become second nature. For instance, many people have a habit of spending money they don't really have thanks to the ease of using a credit card. That habit over the long term leads to a life of debt and dependence on others. Others never spend what they don't have. They have practiced a healthy discipline long enough that it is second nature to them. Over the long term it leads to financial health.


Habits we form in our marriages determine the quality of our relationship with our spouse. Habits in our devotional lives form the quality of our relationship with God. Habits in our professional life form the quality of our work. Habits in our hidden life form the quality of our moral architecture. Habits in our relation to our health form the foundation for good or poor health. In every instance, habits contribute either to long term health or to long term dysfunction. 


Studies have shown that our long term practices or habits actually cause changes to our brain. The reason new habits are hard to develop is that our brain is trained to respond in an alternative way (like the urge to purchase on credit). Every time we engage in a certain practice, our brain chemistry strengthens the chemical connections that encourage that particular behavior. The good news is that we can retrain our brain with the practice of new habits which in the long term sustains us in that practice. 


As we think about our lives we ought to be aware of the habits that underlie our actions. Which are healthy and helpful? Which are problematic and hurtful? Which are pleasing to God and which are not? In relation to the former, working hard on making these central to our lives becomes our goal and as to the latter, they become those things that the New Testament says we need to "take off" and discard. 


When Paul talks about old things to take off and new things to put on (see Ephesians 4-5 for instance) he is talking about practices which are habits. The old are destructive and the new reflect the character of Christ. When we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, He gives us the ability to discard the old and put on the new.  Remember these habits are the invisible framework that make up our lives and contribute either to a long and healthy view of life or a dysfunctional view of life.