Good habits aren’t natural

I’ve been sick since February 15. That’s coming up on a whole month. One of the hallmarks of this particular bug is that it just saps every ounce of strength, and all you feel like doing is sitting on your backside.

That’s where I’ve been since February 15. But something wonderful started happening in the last few days. I started feeling better. Sure, I’m still coughing like a fiend, but I feel fine. I feel like getting up and doing stuff. But it’s so much easier just to stay put.

I’ve gotten in the habit of doing nothing. It was good to do nothing when I was sick, but I’m not that sick anymore. I’m not 100% yet, but I’m not so sick that I can just lay around all day long.

Do nothing for one month, and what happens to you? You get used to doing nothing. Isn’t it funny that good habits aren’t natural? Bad habits are. You don’t even have to try to develop a bad habit. Bad habits happen on their own. It’s the good habits you have to build.

habitsToday’s verses are Ephesians 4:21-24.

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

When we choose to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us. The Holy Spirit gives us access to God and gives us the strength to make the same choices Jesus did.

Our human nature is broken. It will always lead us to make choices that will eventually hurt us. But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we don’t have to follow our human nature any more.

The thing about following Jesus is that it’s all or nothing. The language in this verse isn’t lukewarm. This verse tells us to “throw off” our old life. That’s not neutral. Don’t creep away from it. Don’t take it down a piece at a time. No, throw it off. Toss it out. Get rid of it wholly and immediately.

If you have developed bad habits in your life, change the way you look at them. Now, if you’re sick and need to rest, that’s one thing. But you know when you’re better. And when you’re better, you need to get back on your feet again.

Bad habits are easy to learn. They’re dangerous, because the more bad habits you have, the less good you’ll accomplish.

So identify them, and once you’ve done that, throw them out. Don’t be kind about it. Don’t think twice. Kick those bad habits to the curb, and then you can start rebuilding your good habits again.

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The dread mulberry bumper smasher at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Anger causes more trouble than it fixes

My driveway is still full of snow. I guess 17 inches doesn’t go away as quickly as you’d expect. The road graders have come through at least, so the dirt road and the blacktop are clear, but to get out of my driveway you have to plow through a drift as high as your waist.

I tell you all that to explain the photo I picked to go with the devotional today. Because my driveway is still covered in knee-high drifts of snow, I can’t get back into my garage. So I’ve been parking under the tree in the photo. It’s a lovely male mulberry (yes, trees can be male or female, did you know that?). And yesterday morning, in the dark and the subzero temperatures, I struggled out to my car and got in. And it still takes some doing to escape, so you have to go forward and go backward. Well, because it was dark and early and my coffee hadn’t started working yet, I neglected to remember that there was a tree behind me as I was backing up.

Yup. Backed right into it. Put a nice big old dent in my trunk and a crack in my bumper. This makes the second stationary object I’ve backed into in a year. There’s nothing that makes you feel like a worse driver. And there’s nothing that can make me angrier at myself.

Everyone has their buttons that shouldn’t be pushed. Everyone has that breaking point in their lives that just requires the right amount of prodding to send them into a fury. Do you know yours? Some anger is okay. Anger on its own isn’t a sin. On the contrary, anger can sometimes be useful in getting things done. But lingering anger? Lasting anger? Not such a good idea. And anger shouldn’t be our main motivation anyway.

The dread mulberry trunk smasher at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The dread mulberry trunk smasher at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are James 1:19-20.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.

I was so angry at myself yesterday, but my first inclination is to do what everybody does. Not blame myself. I don’t want to take the blame for neglecting to notice that tree. So I started hurling accusations, but that didn’t last long because the only others that could possibly be blamed for the whole thing was whoever manufactured my car with such a small back window and God for making it snow. So as you can imagine, my accusation hurling didn’t last very long before I realized I was being ridiculous and just needed to accept responsibility.

But that’s what anger does. It sharpens your tongue while it dulls your mind. You don’t think about the blame you’re placing; you just don’t want it to be your fault. And that’s where we lose track of God’s righteousness.

The trouble with anger is that developing the wisdom and patience to overcome it takes a long time. Anger is like a fire or like a blizzard–it’s overwhelming, relentless, and usually shouldn’t be braved alone. Being slow to anger, as James puts it, is a habit. It doesn’t happen automatically. It’s a choice you have to make over and over again until it becomes second nature.

It’s not impossible. It’s just hard work.

So the next time you’re tempted to get angry, take a moment and think. Ask yourself what you’re really angry about because half the time our anger stems from something completely unrelated to our current situation. So identify it. Figure out what’s making you angry. And then face it. Don’t hide it or stuff it in a closet. Don’t deny it. Deal with it. Understand it. And if it really is something you have done, don’t shift the blame to someone else. Don’t pass the responsibility on to another person if it’s yours.

We all make mistakes. That’s how we learn. Getting angry about those mistakes turns you into a fool because you’re too busy trying to pin the blame on someone else unfairly to learn the lesson you need.

What did I learn? Check the flippin’ back window before I back up. We’ll see how well I learned when I go to work this morning because I’m still parked in the same place.

Don’t get angry. Learn your lesson and move on.

 

Full moon at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

The habit of justice

It’s easy to roll with the crowd. Making decisions because the majority approves is easy. Going with the flow and talking like everyone else and never rocking the boat is easy. But when you start making choices that contradict the popular majority’s ideas, that’s when you stand out.

When you step back and refuse to do what everyone else does on a matter of principle, that’s when people start looking at you differently. That’s when you get blacklisted and made fun of and even verbally abused now, in our “tolerant” 21st Century culture.

Doing what’s right isn’t easy, and it doesn’t come naturally to us. We naturally want to be accepted by the crowd, but the crowd rarely does what is right.

Full moon at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Full moon at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 106:1-3.

Praise the Lord!
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord?
Who can ever praise him enough?
There is joy for those who deal justly with others
and always do what is right.

Whether you’re talking about your physical health or your mental health, everyone needs good habits. Habits don’t just appear in your life overnight, though. Habits are something you have to build, and building them can be time consuming and challenging.

Eating balanced meals (eating at all) is a healthy habit. Exercising is a healthy habit. Drinking enough water is a healthy habit. And none of those habits are instinctual, at least not for me. I have to do these things over and over until they become a habit in my life.

And the same is true for choosing whether or not to do the right thing. Doing the right thing rarely comes naturally to us. We are fallen, broken people, and our instinctive reaction is to look out for number one. And that’s when the Holy Spirit comes alongside us and reminds us that we belong to Christ now, and we should act like it.

But listening to the Holy Spirit is a habit. Just like reading the Bible. Just like choosing to do the right thing even when the rest of your crowd refuses.

You have to do the right thing over and over and over again. You have to choose to do the right thing constantly, and eventually you’ll get to the place where choosing to do the right thing is natural for you. It will become a habit.

But why is it important? Why can’t we just do whatever we want? God will love us anyway, won’t He?

Here are today’s verses in The Message:

Hallelujah! Thank God! And why? Because he’s good, because his love lasts. But who on earth can do it—declaim God’s mighty acts, broadcast all his praises? You’re one happy man when you do what’s right, one happy woman when you form the habit of justice.

Why is building the habit of doing the right thing important? Aside from the fact that it’s what God has called us to do because we are His representatives on earth, doing the right thing will bring you joy.

Ever wonder why people are so sour? There are a lot of reasons I’m sure, but how many people are weighed down by unhealthy habits, like going along with the crowd? How many people make bad decisions just because it’s the popular thing to do?

If you’re a Christian and you make a bad choice because it’s the “in thing” to do, the guilt is indescribable. Not because God is angry but because He is sad. And because you knew better.

Anyone brave enough to admit they know what I’m talking about? I’ve been there before. I’ve gone along with crowd because it was popular, and I’ve even made decisions that the Bible says are wrong because I didn’t want to push back. But the guilt that followed that decision was worse than any shunning those “friends” could have levied.

Make a habit of doing the right thing. Make a habit of making wise choices. Make a habit of rightness. And you’ll have joy.

Fountain at night

Continually

My coffee pot doesn’t regenerate automatically. Does yours? Probably not. Whenever I want (or need) a cup of coffee, I have to make it myself. I have to pour in water and measure out coffee grounds. I have to push the start button. It something I do every morning, part of my routine, because if I want to remember how to spell, I need coffee in my system before I start working on this devotional!  Maybe you have a swanky coffee pot with a timer that will make coffee at a certain time so it’s ready when you wake up. But I don’t. And until I get one, I have to make it myself.

That’s a lousy illustration, but the point is there. Some things in our lives can’t be set on cruise control.

Fountain at night

Fountain at night - Bradley Fair Shopping Centre, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Chronicles 16:11.

Search for the LORD and for his strength; continually seek him.

Life is constantly changing. I blogged about this earlier in the week, but it is an inescapable truth. Our lives change. Our circumstances change. We as a people change. The one Person who doesn’t change is God. And in the midst of all the changes we must experience, the only way to stay steady and solid is to hold on to Him.

This verse says that we should continually seek Him. That just means that our relationship with God isn’t something that can be set on auto-pilot.

There’s an old movie, Airplane, that had a funny joke about the auto-pilot system. When they switched it on, this inflatable person appeared in the pilot seat (his name was Otto, of course). But he flew the plane and left the others free to roam about the cabin, doing all the ridiculous things that made the movie so funny.

But when I start thinking about how that applies to my own life, it’s not so funny anymore. Because I have an auto-pilot system. And the more tired and more stressed out I get, the more I use it. It’s easier when I don’t have to think. It’s easier when I don’t have to delve too deeply into my concerns or examine my motives. I just drift through life on cruise control. And while I don’t rock the boat, I don’t catch any fish either.

Our relationship with God is just like any other relationship. If you don’t spend time investing in it, you’ll be strangers. It you aren’t willing to sacrifice your time to get to know Him, He will feel like a distant, impersonal God who only demands obedience and who is no longer relevant to your life.

But that begs another question. If He’s so steady and stable and unmoving, why do we have to search for Him continually? Why is it something that we have to do every day?

Well, we change. We move. We leave. We wander off on our own, even if it’s just a day’s journey. And if it’s longer than a day’s journey, it just takes that much longer to get back.

So is it even necessary to go back?

No, of course not. You don’t have to. If you want to wander off on your own, that’s your prerogative. Even if you’re a follower of Christ, you can go off by yourself. God is a gentleman, as my pastor likes to say. He won’t force Himself on anyone. But there’s a reason God is called the Rock of Ages. When everything else in the world is spinning out of control, He doesn’t move. He’s the anchor that keeps the ship secure in a storm. He’s the solid foundation that keeps the house standing when everything else falls apart. I don’t know about you, but I’m not that strong.

Seeking God continually is something every believer needs to do. It’s a habit we all need to develop, whether it’s daily Bible reading or a special time set aside every day for prayer. Whatever works for you, and if you don’t like structure (like me), do something else. Make something up. But whatever you do, seek God. Continually. Because if you aren’t anchored to Him, you’ll drift away. And before you know it, you’ll be so far away you won’t be able to see Him anymore.