Defeating Unwanted Habits and Developing Good Ones

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Someone told me, “I will never make another new year’s resolution because I fail at keeping them.” A question that has been bothering me is this, why do I fail at doing things I want to do and know I need to do? This tendency does not allow me to accomplish things I know are important for me. It’s not that I never do them, I start, but then fail to be consistent, and before long, I am losing the battle. I am talking about things like maintaining a healthy body, or overcoming a sin or a bad habit. For example, I need to keep doing back exercises to strengthen my back, for at times, I overtax it, experience excruciating pain, and can’t walk. Concerning the moral realm, I need to change some of my thinking and behavior to get along better with others.

I do not think I am alone in struggling to change something. I have a friend who wants to quit smoking, but hasn’t been able to. There are those who want to overcome life-dominating habits like alcohol, porn, overeating, or anger, but cannot get it done. To paraphrase the words of Paul, an apostle of Jesus, “The good I want to do I don’t do, and I do the things I don’t want to do” (Romans 7:19).

“The good I want to do I don’t do, and I do the things I don’t want to do” (Romans 7:19)

It’s not that I haven’t tried. At one time I had a sign on my desk to remind me DO IT NOW. One time a person gave me a round coin-like object with the letters tuit printed on both sides. I asked, “What’s this?” He said, “Put it in your pocket and stop saying you’ve never gotten a round tuit.” Good intentions do not seem to work. Sheer will power does not seem to work. So seriously, I would like an answer to my question: Why do I put things off, and what will enable me to be consistent? Being a Christian, I decided to look into the Bible for answers.

From the Bible I read, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness, for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8). This passage says a healthy body is good; but even more so, is the goal of becoming a godly person. Notice there is a reason or purpose for this goal; there are benefits for this life and for the life to come. I learn from this scripture to choose a worthy goal, something that pleases God, something he wants me to become or do; also, to see God’s reason for the goal.

Ok then, here are two goals I am setting, along with the reason why. First, I will do my back exercises because God’s Spirit living in me wants me to be healthy enough to live out his purposes for my life. Second, in relating to people, I want to develop a gentle and understanding manner. The reason is, I assume things without understanding and am often harsh with people, which results in hurtful relationships. Furthermore, failure to be gentle and understanding does not help others want to know and honor the God I profess to believe in. Okay, there are my two goals, now what?

Jesus’ words tell me not to rely on my own strength; not my good intentions, not my will power. I need God’s help.

From the Bible I learn from Jesus, “Keep watching and praying; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). In this context, Peter had a goal never to deny Jesus, yet Jesus knew that under pressure, Peter would deny him three times. Jesus, Peter, and other disciples then proceeded to enter a garden where Jesus asked them to pray with him, but they fell asleep. The flesh is weak indeed. Jesus’ words tell me not to rely on my own strength; not my good intentions, not my will power. I need God’s help. Anyone familiar with the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous knows that the first step in successfully overcoming your weakness and bad habit is to admit you are powerless.

As soon as I sense my thoughts or feelings are tempting me to go against what God’s Spirit wants for me, I yield to his Spirit, say no to the temptations, and remind myself of my goal and God’s reason for doing it.

To receive needed help, Jesus tells me to watch and pray instead of trusting my willing spirit. So, I watch for fleshly temptations like “I don’t feel like it now”, or “I’m too busy”, or “I am being lured away by distractions, or laziness”. The Bible teaches me it is God’s Spirit that enables me to overcome my fleshly human nature (Galatians 5:16-17). So, I pray to the Spirit of God who resides within me. As soon as I sense my thoughts or feelings are tempting me to go against what God’s Spirit wants for me, I yield to his Spirit, say no to the temptations, and remind myself of my goal and God’s reason for doing it. I may say, “I choose to follow God’s Spirit and not my opposing desires”, or, whenever needed, I may simply repeat the words “understanding and gentleness.”

Two other things I learned from the Bible that will help me reach my God-given goals. It helps immensely to have an honest yet non-judgmental spouse or friend, to whom I can report my progress, and from whom I can receive encouragement (Proverbs 27:17; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). Second, by believing God’s promised love and forgiveness, I can avoid beating myself up over failures to perform (1 John 1:9; 4:16; Romans 8:1). Eliminating those feelings of failure and guilt, I am motivated and empowered by God’s love to keep going. Ok, I am determined now to put all the above teachings in place and see how they work. Why not, my way hasn’t worked.

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Jay Ashbaucher
Jay Ashbaucher is a native of Northwest Ohio and is currently a retired pastor and published author. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and has been a pastor and teacher in Montana for over 44 years. Jay taught grief classes in a hospital setting, and worked for twenty years as a fifth-step counselor and lecturer in an alcoholic-drug treatment center getting to know the hearts of people struggling to get well. While pastoring in Montana, he had enjoyed racquetball, hunting, fishing, and traveling the Big Sky State. Now living in Southeast Michigan, Jay enjoys his family, reading, hiking, golf, time with friends, and time with his fun-to-be-with wife. They have two happily married children and seven grandchildren.

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