Habits, good and bad
David Taylor, Kirknewton
WE DO NOT FIND THE WORD 'habit' in scripture, but we have a similar thought suggested in words like custom or manner. We all know that habits good and bad have some importance in our lives, and we want to learn what the bible has to say about them.
(1) Good habits.
In Luke 4. 16 we have an example of a good habit. It was our Lord's custom to go into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He did not tell others to go there, but He set them an example. We do not know if He always stood up to read as in Luke 4. 16, but no one seemed surprised at His doing so, and we know He was always about His Father's business. We all may follow Him in this respect and give attention to reading the word of God. In Acts 17. 2, when Paul went to Thessalonica, he went into the synagogue of the Jews. This was a habit to which he adhered in all his journeys. The gospel was always to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. This habit he kept up until the very end, and in Acts 28 when he went to Rome, although a prisoner, he called the chief of the Jews together to make some explanations. Usually it was only when the Jews refused the gospel that he turned to the Gentiles, Acts 9. 15. Circumstances in our country do not make it possible for us to follow him in this well established habit, but we can always bear in mind the apostle's practice.
(2) Bad habits.
In 1 Samuel 2. 13, we have an example of a bad habit. The sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were really bad men although they were priests, and when men brought their offerings for sacrifice, it was their habit to take to themselves whatsoever they desired. They had a given portion of the sacrifices, but they insisted on having what they desired and ignored divine instructions. When resisted they resorted to force, and sinned so grievously that men abhorred the offerings of the Lord. The high position they held, made their sin all the more repugnant, and by their evil habits brought the service of the Lord into disrepute. Today it is still true that christianity is judged by its exponents and representatives, and we should pray for those in prominent places in our christian gatherings that they may be kept from evil or unbecoming habits, indeed all true Christians are under observation by the world and should maintain commendable habits.
In Hebrews 10. 25, we have another example of a bad habit. The writer says, 'Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as the manner (or habit) of some is'. Obviously those referred to here not only missed one or two meetings but absented themselves till they became confirmed in the habit. Meeting together with God's people is a privilege that should be prized. One little hymn says,
How sweet when we mingle with kindred spirits here,
To tell of Jesus and His love.
When by faith we can see Him, and feel His presence near,
And lift our longing souls above.
In John 20. 19, when the disciples were gathered together, the Lord appeared unto them and showed unto them His hands and His side. Thomas missed that meeting and so missed seeing the Lord. When we stay away from a meeting we miss the help, comfort and uplift the Lord meant us to enjoy, and also deprive others of the blessing of our presence. In Ephesians 4. 11, we are told that God has given gifted men to the church for the work of the ministry, for the perfecting of the saints and the edifying of the body of Christ. We are meant to be like a mutual-aid society, loving one another, and exhorting and comforting one another. The meeting should be like a school where we learn, a banquet where we feast on divine food and a hospital where we are comforted.
(3) The formation of habits.
It has been said that 'The diminutive chain of habit is scarcely heavy enough to be felt, till it is too strong to be broken'. It is easy to form a habit, indeed we can do it almost unconsciously. One great preacher said that if for a few Sundays he used more detailed notes, he began to feel that longer notes were necessary. There is a need for constant watchfulness. The old saying that 'The price of liberty is eternal vigilance', could quite well apply to habits. It has been said that, 'Ill habits gather by unseen degrees, as springs make rivers and rivers run to seas'.
(4) The breaking of bad habits.
W. COWPER, the poet, is reputed to have said, that the breaking of a habit is like being flayed alive. Someone has said, 'If you want to break a habit, drop it'. That sounds very simple, but bad habits cling tenaciously, and have to be torn asunder. Viewed from a human standpoint, it seems very much a question of the intensity of desire. A person in the habit of smoking may want to give it up, but only when the desire to be free is stronger than the desire to smoke, will it be given up. It needs the expulsive power of a new desire, and for christians this new desire is created by the Holy Spirit in their hearts, and God gives not only the desire but also the power. Romans 6. 14 says 'Sin shall not have dominion over you'. This subject calls for great care, for it is possible while indulging a good habit to act automatically and do things with little or no thought. It is possible to read a portion of scripture every day as a routine duty without letting the word of God dwell deeply in the heart, as Colossians 3.16 says.
Prayer may become a meaningless repetition. We do well to keep in mind the verse which says,
'I often say my prayers, but do I really pray?
And do the wishes of my heart go with the words I say?
I might as well bow down to gods of wood or stone,
As offer to the living God a prayer of words alone'.
Also it is possible to be in the habit of attending Sunday services without any real interest in them. Something like this was true of the church at Ephesus, Rev. 2. 4, where their meetings went on as usual but their love had evaporated. Established custom kept the wheels revolving after the power had been switched off.