Habits: Success

This morning, we continue our new message series entitled, “Habits.”   Through this message series, we’re learning about how to do small things consistently, which ultimately leads to an abundant life of integrity.

Small habits lead to big change!

So far, we’ve been encouraged to develop the habit of seeking God and the habit of reconciliation.

According to the Harvard Business Review about 40 – 45% of what we do every day is done out of habit.  Think about how much time we spend every day as a result just automatically doing what we do without thinking about it.  It’s not a surprise, then that small habits lead to big change!  Our daily habits end up defining who we are and what we do given any situation.

Habits are a critical key to success.  This is true for a business and the habits of its employees.  This is true for a team and the habits of its players.  This is true for a church and the habits of its attendees.  This is true for a family and the habits of its members.  This is true for your life and mine and the habits that we choose to establish within them.

Consider fast food restaurants.  Their tremendous success is not based on hiring the best chefs or most hospitable cashiers.  Their success is based on their ability to form easy-to-reproduce habits in their employees.  Whether you to go a McDonald’s in California, Montana, or good old western Pennsylvania, you are extremely likely to receive the same welcome, see the same menus, and eat the same food.  Franchises rely on the ability to form good habits.

The assembly line was developed with this same concept in mind.  Each individual develops a habit to do the same individual task over and over again with excellence.  Then, through the work of those individuals coming together, greatness is achieved.  Henry Ford is most noted for leveraging our God-designed default to habits to achieve incredible success.  If we were wise, we’d take time to intentionally develop our habits to work to our advantage as well.

Psychologists found that habits exist as three components.  There is a cue or trigger, followed by an action, followed by a reward.  Most of us are extremely dependent and stubborn when it comes to our habits.  If we miss them, then we feel off or incomplete.  For example, having a cup of coffee as soon as you wake up.  Or perhaps brushing your teeth before bed.  Or maybe a quick kiss from your spouse before you part ways for the day.

Changing our habits begins with understanding our cues and rewards.  We have to understand what triggers us to do a certain behavior and also what reward we receive from doing it.  It’s often easier to get advice on what these things are from an outside observer.  After all, the habits that we have developed happen unconsciously to us.

It can be almost humorous to mess with people’s habits.  There are so many that we develop that we’re completely unaware of!  Try flipping the toilet paper roll so that it faces the opposite direction.  Place the hand soap or toothpaste on the other side of the sink.  Swap the position of the spoons and forks in the silverware cupboard.  Pull the car into the garage instead of backing it in.  Habits are then quickly revealed!

Have you ever drove down the road on the weekend and begin taking the turns to go to school or work?  You do it without even thinking because it has become a habit.  Several steps triggered or cued you to begin driving that direction without ever stopping to consciously decide to do so.

Life consists far less of huge decisions and far more of little ones.  Aristotle said that we are what we repeatedly do.  Developing Godly habits in the little decisions are what help us to be successful.  Small habits lead to big change!

If all of this is true, then God must have intentionally created us in this way.  He designed us to be creatures of habit.  This ability to develop habits makes it possible for us to more easily live lives of integrity.  The good news this morning is that God has set us up for success!

No athlete walks out onto the court or field and plays with excellence no matter how talented or gifted they may be.  Successful athletes spent countless hours doing the same things over and over and over again.  They sacrifice to train themselves.  Then, when they are out there in the game, their body just does what it has been trained to do because of these habits that have been established. 

A skilled player doesn’t have to stop and think about whether to pass or shoot, whether to throw the ball to first or third, whether to approach the ball overhand or underhand, or whatever the case might be.  Their habits established through training guides their decisions.

Paul wrote to Timothy, a young leader of the early church and encouraged him to:

1 Timothy 4:7-10;15-16

…train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. 10 That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God…

15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Placing our hope in God isn’t often viewed in this way.  We often consider hope to be a mindset where everything is in God’s hands and whatever happens must be His will.  We have the mindset that if it’s meant to be, then it will simply be.  However, the Bible teaches us a vastly different view of hope.

Biblical hope in the one, true, living God is a motivator.  Hope in God isn’t just kicking back and waiting for God to do something.  Biblical hope is an eager anticipation of receiving God’s promises that motivates us to serve Him, to worship Him, to brag about Him even in our lack.  It motivates us to do our part trusting in God to do His.  Biblical hope trusts in God so greatly that our lack is swallowed up by our gratitude for who He is and what He has already accomplished.

After all, Jesus said, “It is finished!”  We now labor and strive not in order to gain anything from God, because it has already been paid for in full by Jesus.  We now labor and strive from a place of victory!  Jesus didn’t say that the fields are ready to be plowed.  Jesus didn’t say that the fields are ready to be planted.  Jesus didn’t say that the fields are ready to be watered.  Jesus didn’t say that the fields are ready to be weeded.  Jesus said that the fields are ripe for the harvest! 

This changes the way that we labor and toil.  We do it out of gratitude for the harvest and not to gain it.  We labor out of gratitude for our salvation, not to earn it.  We do it because Jesus has already filled us with His Holy Spirit and not to clean up our lives so that He might fill us up someday.  We do it with the resources of God’s Kingdom and not to earn our place within it.

Paul taught that because our hope is in God, we labor and strive.  Because our hope is in God, we train ourselves to be Godly.  Paul explains that in the same way that an athlete trains themselves to develop good habits and to break bad habits in their sport, so we ought to train ourselves in godliness.  This isn’t something that automatically happens because God has given us free will.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t override our free will, we still choose whether to cooperate with Him or resist Him.

We train ourselves to be Godly, breaking the habit of living by our flesh and developing the habit of being lead by the Spirit.  We do this with diligence, not just from time-to-time or on occasion. Not just on Sunday mornings.  Not just when we step through the doors of a church building.  Wherever we go and whatever we do, our thoughts are on God in the same way that an athlete’s thoughts are on their game.

Like an athlete in training, we persevere.  Opposition only makes us stronger.  No pain, no gain!  When our faith is put to the test, when temptation comes on strong, when the enemy comes in like a roaring lion, we roar back in His face with the voice of the lion of Judah the praises of our God. 

When we overcome a tiny obstacle like a 5 pound dumbbell, we don’t walk away content with the puny amount of muscle that we built.  No, we say bring on the 15 pound dumbbells!  I did ten reps last week, I’m gonna do twenty reps this week.  I still have room to grow.  I can still become better.  I can still become stronger.  There is still improvements to be made.  I’m still a work in progress.  However, Jesus is going to finish the good work He started in me and I’m going to do all that I can to cooperate with Him to see it through.

We keep our eyes fixed not on the difficulty of the path directly ahead of us, but on the finish line awaiting us.  We pace ourselves with the mindset of following Jesus for the rest of our days and not only here and now when we need Him most.  We praise Jesus when life is good and blessings are abundant.  We praise Jesus when life is challenging and lack swallows up the little we have.  After all, we have a promise and an award awaiting us ahead.  However, we won’t ever receive it if we give up now when things are tough!

Why have Christians today become so nimble and feeble?  Why are Christians so quick to walk away from the destiny which God has called them to?  Why are we so easily drawn away from Jesus and toward the things of this world?  Where are the Godly men and women like the days of old?  Where are the people like this?

Joshua 14:10-12

10 “Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! 11 I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. 12 Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”

What God is looking for today is a people ready to follow Him wholeheartedly.  God is searching for people with the soul and desire and determination of Joshua.  Joshua came back with a good report back when he was a young buck along with Caleb alone.  So as long as he has breath, he is going to see the work of God through to receive every inch of His promises! 

Those ten naysayers are long gone and forgotten about.  God preserved Joshua’s life and renewed his hope and strengthened his resolve so that he was able to labor and strive to walk into the very promise denied to those around him.  Joshua’s life is an incredible example of what it means to have Biblical hope in God’s promises.  We trust that He will enable and equip us to receive them as we do our part to walk into them.

In the same way that you can observe an athlete and track their progress and improvement in their game, so others ought to be able to observe our lives and track our progress and improvement in living Godly lives.  Joshua is exactly that.  Even to this day, we can read the account of his life and see his progress. 

From fighting the Amalekites while Moses’ hands were lifted to remaining in the presence of God long after Moses left it to trying to encourage a nation of rebellious people to trust God to succeeding Moses as the leader of God’s people to the great success he achieved with God’s help.  We can track the progress of his faith and hope in God because it is clearly revealed through his life.  So it ought to be in our lives as well.

Hebrews 12:11-12

11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

Training ourselves diligently in godliness required discipline.  Discipline keeps us on God’s path for our lives and God uses it to correct us when we wander from it.  Discipline is not meant to harm us or discourage us, it is meant to encourage us and to guide the course of our lives.  It’s not pleasant, but if we are trained by it, we will be better people for it.  Discipline is not meant to weaken us, but to strengthen us; not to break us, but to build us.

Like athletes, we choose to labor and strive.  We break ourselves of the bad habit of living by our flesh and we develop the habit into our lives of keeping in step with the Holy Spirit.  We train ourselves in godliness with fullness of hope of receiving every one of God’s promises.  Small habits lead to big change!

Small habits developed in our lives lead to godliness with benefits for the present life and the life to come!  Small, daily habits define who we are and how we will respond when faced with any situation.  Small, Godly habits lead to success!

This morning, God wants to encourage and strengthen and embolden us.  God wants to set us up for success!  How do we accomplish this?  By establishing Godly habits into our lives.  We train ourselves in Godliness in the sight of everyone around us.  Daily, we crucify our flesh and we choose to walk in the Spirit.  We persevere.  We have hope that motivates us to labor and toil to serve and to worship God trusting that we will receive every one of His promises.  We discipline ourselves knowing that these Godly habits will reward us both in this life and the life ahead of us.

We end this morning with God speaking to us the same words of encouragement that He spoke to Joshua long ago:

Joshua 1:5-9

5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous…

7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Small habits lead to big change and Godly habits lead to huge success!