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.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Making God a priority is an attitude

Life is always busy, and I find myself constantly embroiled in a conflict between priorities. I remember being told that God should be my priority. Period. Nothing should come before Him, and I agree with that and believe it.

But what does that look like? How do I live that day by day? And how to I juggle all the other responsibilities I have with that one priority? Making God the priority in life has to be practical somehow, otherwise we couldn’t do it. Right?

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:33.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

I don’t know how many times I sang the old chorus that goes along with this verse. We’d sing it all the time at church. In a round. And as much as I loved the song, I never really thought about its application.

Seeking God above everything else means putting Him first. Yes. I get that. But what does that look like?

Is it simply doing what Jesus would do? Is it obeying the Ten Commandments? Is it changing something about yourself in order to make God happy?

I haven’t got this figured out yet, which is one of the reasons I’m blogging about it. That’s why I blog about these things, in case you didn’t know. These are things I’m working through. These are things I want to remember as the day goes on. All of these posts are letters to myself in hopes that I can get my head out of the clouds and into life where it belongs. And this is one I struggle with because I don’t always know how to apply it.

The best I can do in seeking God and putting Him first is to make the choices the Bible says are right. But the Bible isn’t a 12-step book to living. You have to understand the Bible as a whole to even begin to grasp who God is. And there are areas where the Bible doesn’t specifically tell us what to do. That’s why we have the Holy Spirit, God Himself living in those who have chosen to believe in Christ.

When we face choices in life, seeking God first means doing what the Bible says is right and/or listening to the Holy Spirit’s voice and obeying.

What does that look like practically? An example from my own life deals with my work habits. I have a million things I have to get done. I work full time. I have my own writing business on the side. And I’ve started a small press with some friends. Just those three things are enough to keep me busy enough I hardly have time to sleep. And I am called to do all of those things. They are opportunities God has put in my life.

But what about my family? What about my friends? What about the personal relationships God has given me? Are they less important? God gave them to me too. So which comes first? The opportunities God has given us or the people God has given us? There isn’t always a simple answer.

I have been so fortunate in my life to have friends and family who see what God has called me to do. And I’m doubly blessed to have friends who are willing to work alongside me to make some of it happen.  But there comes a time when you have to make a choice, even between the opportunities God has given you.

And what I’ve learned is that it’s not what choice you make that matters. It’s why you make it.

Seeking God first, making God a priority, is an attitude. If everything you do is for the glory of God, every choice you make will reflect that.

So stop worrying about what choice you’re going to make and instead focus on the why behind it. Look at your motivation. Why are you making that choice? Is it out of fear or worry or pride or anger? If you’re making a choice for any reason other than God’s glory, you aren’t putting Him first.

We all face choices every moment of every day, and God has given us everything we need to make the wise choice. So do it.

Life is busy. It’s always busy, and it will keep getting busier. But if you can keep your motivation simple, it’s easier to choose what path to take. And if your choices glorify God, He’ll take care of the details.

Dead sunflower - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New life, old choices

What does it mean to live a new life? The Bible is full of examples and statements about becoming a new person and living a new life and all that jazz, but what does it actually mean? How do you actually do it? Do you just trade out your current life for a new, shiny one?  It’s a great thought, being able to stop living the life that you’re living and move on to something better. But is that really how it works?

Dead sunflower - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflower – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:1.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.

This is just one example of many verses that talk about living a new life. When I was little, I really didn’t understand the concept. I didn’t really understand what was wrong with my life that I had to start living a new one. It seemed fine to me.

Of course, as an adult, I can see the parts of my life that I wish I could change. But you don’t get to just switch lives, like in those “reality” TV shows where two different moms trade places or whatever. You only have one life, and that doesn’t change. What changes is your perspective and your motivation.

I love the Message paraphrase. It often grasps in concept what the original language is trying to communicate better than the literal translations, mainly because Greek is so complex that it’s impossible to exactly translate it into an awkward, indolent, lovable language like English without losing some meaning. But this is the same verse (in context) in the Message, verses 1 and 2 actually:

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

I think where a lot of the “new life” confusion comes from is that our American culture has been so steeped in Eastern mysticism that we get the idea that something magical happens when we accept Christ. Maybe we’re not expecting bright lights or ringing bells, but many times I know people do expect to feel something. And they are disappointed when they don’t.

The honest truth about following Christ is that there’s nothing magical about it. It’s a simple choice.

People sin. We do things that make us imperfect. We’ve been imperfect since our first Father, Adam, chose to disobey God’s Law. And because God is perfect, we can’t have a relationship with Him. Perfection can’t remain perfect if it’s tainted by imperfection. But God loved us so much, that He sent Christ, His own perfect Son, to die for us, in our place, so we could be made perfect. So when we choose to believe that Christ did this for us, Christ gives us His righteousness so that when God see us, He doesn’t see our sin, He sees Christ’s perfection. That’s how we’re able to have a face-to-face relationship with God. Through Christ and Christ alone.

A simple choice.

The choices that follow, however, aren’t that simple. Because even though God has forgotten our sins, right now we still have them and we will continue to struggle with them until we die or until Christ comes back for us. Part of being a Christian means that you have a choice, to sin or not to sin. Christ gives you the power to choose not to sin. Before you had Christ, you didn’t have that power.

Living a new life means choosing not to sin.

That’s what the whole concept of “new life” is. You aren’t stuck living the same old life you always were. You have the power through Christ and through the Holy Spirit to choose not to sin. It’s all about choice.

Well then, how do you make choices?

Choice is determined by motivation and perspective. That’s what this verse is talking about. Living a new life means turning away from the things you use to pursue. It means stepping away from the situations and circumstances in the world and getting involved in what Christ is doing. It means paying attention to where God is working and jumping in with both feet. It means learning Scripture and applying it to your life. It means seeing the world and your life through Jesus’ eyes.

If you have new life, that means you have a new perspective. Or at least, you should have a new perspective. Because now you can see the world and everything in it (including yourself) through the filter of real Truth.

So, Christian, when you’re tempted to backbite and bicker and lie and cheat — when you’re tempted to grumble and complain and focus on the negative, recognize that those are old choices. Those are old perspectives, stemming from old motivation. And even though you are free to choose those things, you don’t have to. And they don’t add anything to you or to anyone else. It’s so much better to make a new choice, one that matches your new life. It makes all the difference in the world.