Sunday, March 4, 2012

Diagnosis: Habit Resistant

How long does it really take to form a habit? "Thirty days to a better you" seems to be the mantra of glossy magazine covers at every checkout counter.

Yet, a 2009 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology concludes that the answer isn't nearly that swift. There is no magic day that once you reach it, you're home free. Instead, "it depends."

On average, forming a new habit takes 66 days. Simple habits like "drinking a daily glass of water became automatic very quickly but doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast required more dedication."* It makes sense that the more the new habit requires of us, the longer it takes to become second nature.

What interested me, though, was one of the researchers' conclusions: "A sub-group took much longer than the others to form their habits, perhaps suggesting some people are 'habit-resistant'."*

Ouch. Habit Resistant.

I've felt this resistance. It's especially strong when the new habit I wish to form involves overcoming my flesh?

Being in the word daily. Bending the knee in my prayer closet. Fasting. Ministering to others. Doing physical, intellectual, and spiritual exercise. It's these good habits that strengthen my relationship with God, that improve my mind, body, and soul.

But these are also the habits I'm most resistant to, when I must die to self, sacrifice something else to cultivate the new habit.

God's Word recognizes this. The New Testament constantly encourages believers to form good habits, even when the resistance of the flesh seems overpowering.

Paul said, "Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude...For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete" (Col 2:6-7,9-10).

Here, Paul reminds us that a Christian is already complete in Christ when he became "firmly rooted" in Him. Yet, Paul also emphasizes that a Christian is still becoming complete, is still being "built up" and "established."

To be built up in Christ, to be established in Him requires what others have referred to as "spiritual disciplines,"** the practice of which is for our sanctification, to make ourselves more like Christ. These spiritual disciplines (prayer, fasting, confession, frugality, etc.) don't come easily. We must intentionally, habitually strive to be more like Christ--not in an "Uh, it's time to do that again" type habit, but in a habit that we desire to practice, striving to overcome the flesh and create a deeper relationship with Him.

Cultivating a habit can make our relationship with God second nature, automatic, like breathing.

Paul again tells the Colossians of this need to become complete in Christ: "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Col 1:28-29).

Here, Paul emphasizes that becoming complete in Christ isn't easy but requires "labor" and "striving," not in our own power, but in His power.

And therein lies the key to overcoming habit resistance--Christ, Himself, who works within us.

When we find it difficult to cultivate habits that we know God's word commands, that we know will bring us into a deeper relationship with Him, then, we must ask the Spirit within to help us overcome our fleshly resistance. And we must not give up.

God's word says that "a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again" (Prov. 24:16). Our flesh is weak. It is resistant to habits that don't feed it. Yet, in Him, we can be strong enough to dust ourselves off and keep going.

* "How Long to Form a Habit." PsyBlog: Understand Your Mind. 21 Sept 2009.
**For a discussion of spiritual disciplines, see: Charles R. Swindoll. So, You Want to be Like Christ, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN. 2005.

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