The Power of Habits

“For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”                         Hebrews 5:13-14    NASB

Habits can be leveraged for good or bad.  Anything we repeat enough becomes easier to do the next time.  We then will be more likely to do it.  It becomes the path of least resistance, since it is the most comfortable choice, the one that takes the least amount of energy.  It becomes like a well-worn path across a field.IMG_0004

Eventually, a habit is formed.  The athlete and soldier take advantage of this truth to prepare themselves for effective action.  We can do this as disciples of Jesus, each good choice bringing us closer to Him and strengthening our inner man, that we might more easily choose it again at the next similar crossroads.

“This has been my practice:
I obey your precepts
. ”                     Psalm 119:56. NIV

This same principle can also work against us, causing us untold damage.  Habitual sinful patterns of thinking lead to repeated harmful actions.  Repeated acts lead to habits.  Habits eventually define our character and our life’s outcome.  Such is the unfortunate phenomenon of addictions, such as pornography, alcoholism, habitual drug use, shoplifting, lying, and those with reputations for anger.

Lord, help us to use this principle of repetition to form habits in our character that will bring us closer to You, more like Jesus, and more effective for Your kingdom purposes.

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“I will hear from heaven.”

If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”                                           2 Chronicles 7:14

Gratefully, our God is a God who hears — the very name given by God to Ishmael, to compensate for the harsh treatment of Hagar by the jealous Sarai — “because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.”  Hagar thankfully praised Him, “You are a God who sees.”                                                    Genesis 16:11, 13;  21:17

This same attentive Father-God who cares about the needs of His followers saw and heard and acted on behalf of His people during their suffering in Egypt:

The Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”                                                                               Exodus 3:7-8

He cares for us in the way, hearing our pleadings, as we groan under the trials of life.  The Good Shepherd is especially attentive to His sheep who are humble and aware of their brokenness, eager for their Maker to fix them.

““For My hand made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being,” declares the Lord.
“But to this one I will look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word
.”           Isaiah 66:2

Dear Father who cares for us, we thank You for hearing the crying of our hearts, for hurting with us, for seeing the troubles we face, and doing what is right and best for us.  We mentally throw the arms of our hearts around Your strong neck and cling tightly to  You for the strength we lack.

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Ambition for the quiet life

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands. . . .”                                                                             1 Thessalonians 4:11

When I first read this, I wondered, “What does ambition have to do with leading a quiet life?  Isn’t that a contradiction?”  I think of ambition like an eager runner at the starting block of a race.  But if we do not have this wise ambition, our lives will be anything but quiet.
 
Running on through life in our default mode, without saying no to things, we are like a rock rolling downhill, accumulating a ton of things that stick to us as we go.  Our default mode is a very busy life.  It takes ambition to lead a quiet life.  To shed some of the baggage that is slowing us down and making us less effective for what the Lord put us here to do.  The writer of Hebrews said, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. . .” (12:2)  Even things that are not sin can be encumbrances to God’s best life style for us.
It takes stepping back and assessing why we’re doing what we’re doing.  Asking ourself some important questions like, “Am I the right person for this job?  Or would this be better done by someone else?”  Or, “Is this opportunity coming to me at the right time in my life?”  Saying no is not always a cop-out.  Sometimes it can be the way of preserving our optimal usefulness
 
It’s good to think about what we are teaching others around us, like our children, spouse, and friends.  Do they admire us for our devotedness to service?  Or do they see us as driven and breathless and perhaps not very happy?
A parallel passage is Hebrews 4:9-11.  This speaks of the necessary choice to stop hoping our frantic efforts will make ourselves acceptable in God’s sight and trust wholly in Jesus’ death in our place to accomplish that.  However, the principle of giving up our busy efforts in favor of a life of trusting rest is the same.
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.
child on mother's shoulderThis decision to pursue the quiet life is illustrated in a word picture from Psalm 131:
O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.
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Empowered to be ambassadors of God

Our appointment to be ambassadors for God should not be intimidating to the believer.  It is an unequal partnership with God Himself in His family business — that of kindly reconciling the world to Himself.  Note that it is His involvement that results in fruit from our efforts.  He opens the door.

. . . praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.  Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.   Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”          Colossians 4:3-6

activity adult barbecue bbq

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

Our part is to pray, turning the key for God to act, and to speak His truth clearly.  We are to be alert for the opportunities that He provides for us to tell others about Him, and to do it with grace and saltiness.  Some of God’s truth may be surprising to people, contrary to what they had previously thought.  It may challenge their misconceptions and convict them of sin.  And what we say should be appropriate for the present needs of the individual and timing of the moment.

God will provide the words for us to speak, appropriate for the need of the moment.  Our part is to speak it boldly, confident that, despite our feelings of inadequacy, He will use what we say to accomplish His purposes.

and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”                     Ephesians 6:19-20

We speak because we have to.  This is such good news that we just cannot hold it within.  It has changed our lives, and we speak as those back from the dead.

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died”                                                                                                           2 Corinthians 5:14

Lord, we trust You to make our feeble efforts fruitful for Your kingdom.

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The wealth of contentment

Ich habe genug.  Bach’s cantata by this title says in Recitative B:

“I have enough.  My comfort is this alone, that Jesus might be mine and I His own. . . Ah!  Were only my departure here, with joy I would say, world, to you:  I have enough.”

Central in accepting that we have enough is in trusting that God is good, that He loves us, and that He knows what’s best for us.  We often cannot distinguish between our wants and our needs.  He is not confused by that.

Eve offers a negative example to us in Eden.  She buys the lie of Satan — that God is really not good, that He is actually hold back from her something that is truly desirable and good, and that, for selfish reasons, He does not want her to know all that He knows.  In the desert, despite being miraculously provided with water, manna, and quail (and clothes that would not wear out), Israel grumbled about not having more.

We’re the same way.  We think that we need more sex, more attention, a lake house like our neighbors have, a promotion at work, more money, or more exotic travel.

The wise writer of Ecclesiastes says, “All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them.  I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor.  Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.”            Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

The apostle Paul offers wise advice:

poor but contentNot that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”                                                              Philippians 4:11-13

.girl chillin', looking over cityBut godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”                   1 Timothy 6:6-10

Lord, protect me from the damaging snare of always wanting more than You give me, as though I know best.  Help me to trust You, thanking You with a grateful heart for providing generously all that You want me to have — acknowledging that this is all that I need.

 

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The cleansing power of seeing the Unseen

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the men of old gained approval.”                                                                  Hebrews 11:1-2

 These died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”                                                                                                    Hebrews 11:13

The author of today’s encouragement comes from Thomas Manton (1620-1677), an English Puritan pastor, was also chaplain to Oliver Cromwell.  This is from Manton’s By Faith, Sermons on Hebrews 11.

We should have such a faith to substantiate our hopes and to check sensuality, for we find the corrupt heart of man is all for present satisfaction. Though the pleasures of sin are short and inconsiderable, yet, because they are near at hand, they have more influence than the joys of heaven, which are future and absent. We wonder at the folly of Esau to sell his birthright for a morsel of meat (Heb. 12:16). When lust is up and eager for fulfilment, all considerations of eternal glory and blessedness are laid aside to give it satisfaction. Many part with the joys of Christianity for the vilest price. A little pleasure, a little gain, a little happiness in the world, will make men part with all that is honest and sacred. A man would wonder at their folly, but the great reason is, they live by sense: ‘For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me’ (2 Tim. 4:10). Here lies the bait, these things are present; we can taste the delights of the world, and feel the pleasures of the flesh, but the happiness of the world to come is unseen and unknown. ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’ (1 Cor. 15:32). This is the language of every carnal heart. Present advantages and vanities, though they are small and but trifles, have more power to pervert us than good things at a distance, and the promises of God, even, to allure and draw our hearts to God. Here lies the root and strength of all temptations; the inconveniences of strictness in religion are present, and they may have present distaste and present trouble to the flesh, and our rewards are yet future. So, how can we check this living by sense? Why, faith, substantiating our hopes, provides a remedy. Faith makes things to become as real as if they were already enjoyed. Where faith is alive and strong, and is ‘the conviction of things not seen’, it baffles and defeats all temptations.

Edited by Richard Rushing, p. 23 of “Voices from the Past.”

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Bold Ambassador

As God adopts us as His own children (as flabbergasting as that is!), He puts us to work in the family business, as agents of reconciliation.

man speaking to ladyNow all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”                     2 Corinthians 5:18-20

Of course, we do not feel adequate to perform this function, not least because of our acute awareness of our bad record of holy living and obedience.  It seems unlikely that we could influence anybody to consider repentance and being restored back into a close walk with the Sovereign they have offended.  But this is what He charges us to do.  He does not appeal to our ability to accept this job description, but to our availability.

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”                                                         2 Corinthians 3:5

christ helping relationshipAnd Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the   age.”                                     Matthew 28:18-20

Our confidence and effectiveness will not be in our own cleverness and eloquence, but in the miraculous, supernatural power of God’s presence and direction in our lives.

“. . . but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”                             Acts 1:8

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”                      Romans 1:16

Lord, help me to humbly and confidently accept the job You gave me to do in Your family business, that of being a cheerful and enthusiastic ambassador for Your kingdom, inviting others to consider joining Your family and taking their place beside us in Your team of reconciliation.

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