Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Creating Great Habits for the Year

I have always known that having good habits in life is important. Just that I didn’t know exactly why except for the fact I don’t have to think much about my habitual actions as I go about my daily life. By virtue of its definition, a habit is simply a process by which our brains convert a sequence of actions or tasks into an automatic routine. Examples of that are instances when we comb our hair, brush our teeth, drive our cars and put on our socks! Interestingly, a lot of my creative ideas materialize when I am in my daily shower! I thought to myself maybe I am one of those odd ones until I hear others talking about it as well. We don’t think much about our actions there because we do them automatically. Turn on the tap, wet and shampoo our hair, soap our body, rinse away the soapsuds, wash our face with cleanser, towel dry our hair and body and out we go.

Normal stuff each day, right? Until I began to observe a pattern over the years that many of my creative ideas, insights and thoughts come from that habit. There were times, after my showers, I would quickly write my thoughts down on my notepad before I forget them. I notice the same when I drive. My smartphone with a voice recording feature is a great tool to have in place of the notepad, especially when my hands are on the wheel!

I learnt recently that habits are simply the wonders of our brains designed by God in such a way that they drive us to be more productive and efficient. When tasks and behaviours are automated, meaning we do them without much thinking and effort, we free our brains for other creative work. We don’t usually think about them until something disrupts that pattern. Even my habit of going to the gym is programmed into my brain with the ultimate reward of an endorphin rush that my body looks forward to. This is a good habit to have in order to push me towards greater body fitness. When I skip my gym sessions, there is that uneasy and discontented feeling. Pianists understand this principle in their daily disciple of practicing their scales. This fundamental habit and skill must be in them before they can be great musicians because it frees up their brains to be musically creative and expressive without worrying about hitting the right notes.

But what about spiritual habits? Working on the same principle, if we can inculcate some great spiritual habits with automatic routines, our minds can be freed up to be spiritually creative and receptive in our life. Some great spiritual habits are our daily quiet time with the Lord which allows us to learn intimacy with Him. Cultivating a habitual heart of thanksgiving removes the complaining spirit in us. Regular church and cell group attendance encourage accountability and growth. Consistent service in ministry increases our capacity in our spiritual gifting and call.

Often I see Christians struggle in these basic habits. Much of their energy is spent on pushing themselves to do them. For e.g. in something as simple as attending the regular church celebration, they struggle to make time knowing that it is the right thing to do yet not discipline enough to make it regular. Even if they end up going, much of their energy is expended by the time they get to church and the whole exercise becomes an obligation rather than a time of anticipation and intimacy with God. No wonder the Christian life is so burdensome. Multiply that into the various Christian disciplines of daily devotion, tithes and offerings, cell group, ministry, etc., no wonder so many are ineffective for God because their minds are not freed up to be creative in the way they can grow in intimacy with God and love for others.

In many sense, good and bad spiritual habits are well illustrated in Romans 7:7-25: the colossal struggle between the spirit and the flesh. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) Good habits feed the spirit and bad habits conversely feed the flesh. In the simplest of terms, in our daily lives, if we are not feeding the spirit through good habits, then we are feeding the flesh through bad ones. Victorious Christian living is premised upon having a stronger spirit that will force the flesh to succumb to what the Spirit desires for us. This is the fruit of the Spirit, especially in self-control. Fleshly desires are what the Bible calls carnal, worldly or unspiritual. Many are not aware that their spiritual growth is stunted as a result of bad spiritual habits inculcated over the years.

Systemic cultures grow out of the keystone habits in every organization. By encouraging healthy habits, an organization grows strong. Good habits of every member are foundational to the life of the church. Can I encourage you to spend some time to reflect your past year on this matter? If you can be brutally honest and examine all your habits to see what feed your spirit and flesh and determine whether to keep, drop, enhance or even add a new one, you will be working towards a more fruitful year. Remember, habits take time to form and do persevere until you know it is almost automatic. We have often been told we are creatures of habit and it is so true. The most basic of all spiritual habits must include our daily devotion and prayer, our weekly celebration and cell group, our tithe and offering, and most of all our time with our loved ones. These habits free us with an inadvertently greater energy to be creative, productive and fruitful in many other areas of our life because the important and vital basics are covered.

This is a great book to read if you want to develop this further.

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