The “Habit Forming” Sermon Rewind

Finally, a normal Sunday.

The last three:  Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and then on January 8, Faux Snow Day.

So we were back a full strength yesterday with high attendance, great enthusiasm, and attentive ears.

The message started right with the message and an almost bottom line.  But then it weaved through Paul’s first communique to Timothy and landed here:

Spend your life reacting and you’ll be full of regret.

Spend your time preacting and you’ll rise above.


So I want to tell you something you probably know from experience but probably haven’t had it explained to you this way; something you know deep down but have never really put words to.  Here it is.  And it’s kind of heavy here at the start.  Decisions you make in the heat of the moment are decisions you come to regret.  Decisions you make in emotion or based on emotion are those decisions you wish you could take back.  You know this.


            It’s why you can’t un-say that thing you said in the heat of the moment.  And though the marriage or relationship might have survived, it still suffers.  Memories linger.  It’s why that email you sent IN TRIUMPH!  (Boom! when hit SEND!) is the email that has come back to haunt you.  And you can’t hide that particular digital footprint.  It’s why in that retail job when you finally let that irate, annoying customer have it, they didn’t get in trouble; you did. It’s why in the heat of the moment you gave yourself to that guy or that girl and you relinquished your purity or lost your marriage or even your health as a result.  Goodness, I remember years ago during a series on secrets a guy shows up, unannounced & in the dark, stops into my office and says, “I’ve got an STD.”  Never met him before and the story has a glorious ending, but it started because of decisions he’d made in the heat of the moment.  Come to regret.


            And the reason those heat-of-the-moment decisions are so damaging is this:  you’re REACTING.  To words, to the screen, to seduction, to your boss, to the customer, to life.  And a posture of reacting, of deciding things in the moment and based on the situation and determined by the stimuli inevitably leaves your full of regret and coulda woulda shoulda.  You’re always catching up because your fundamental posture of living is something HAPPENS, you’re not prepared, and you react.  And chronic reactors end up bouncing from one crisis to the next.  For most of us, our reactions in those moments are all wrong.  It’s like our willpower muscle stops working, our instincts take over, and there you go.


            “Well, that’s all well and good,” you’re thinking, “but I thought this was about habits. What in the world do decisions, heat, willpower, and REACTING have to do with habits?”  Only everything.  Look at I Timothy 4, a section of a letter written BY Paul who at this stage is an older, wiser, Obi Wan Kanobe figure, and he is writing TO his son in the faith, Timothy.  We figure Timothy was probably 30 & the church he was leading (Ephesus?) was plagued with all kinds of false teaching.  What we’d call heresy.  And Timothy has to address it.  You’d think Paul would say to him, “Gird your loins, pick up your sword, arm yourself with truth, start a Twitter account, and GO GET ‘EM!”  Nope.  Because that would be reacting. 


Instead, look at 4:7:

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.


 It’s so interesting . . . TRAIN there comes from the word gymnaza (AV) which is where we get gymanasium!  (Worth coming to church for!)  But training for godliness.  Oh yawn.  We rarely want to be godly, much less train for it!  We prefer to be wordly and just hope we get away with it!  Then, further, look at 1:8-10: 


For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. 10 That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.


 Labor, strive, along with train.  This does not sound like much fun.  Hmmmmm.


 And then check 4:13-16 and circle all the imperatives:


13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.


 Devote, do not neglect, diligent, watch, persevere, see progress.  Looks like a sense of routine, ritual . . . HABITS.  Oh Lord.  Timothy is in this combustible situation; Paul knows what reacting will get him – heartache, regret, pinballing from crisis to crisis.  It’s also interesting that he implies that you battle heresy no so much with truth (like I would) but with godliness.  With the kind of habits that lead to – dare we say it? – a living relationship w/ Jesus Christ.


            But it’s really clear what Paul is doing:  Timothy, develop habits —  Scripture, prayer, generosity, community – when it’s CALM.  That way, your good & honorable behavior will be automatic when the crisis comes.  You won’t lash out, you won’t fall prey to flattery, you won’t REACT because you have PREACTED!  Yes!  I made up a word!  Planning, preparing, preacting as opposed to reacting.  You spend time in the calm preacting and then when crisis hits – you want to lash out, you want to hit send, you want to compromise your beliefs – your habits take back over.  Your willpower leaves but your habits take over.  Here’s what it is:  Spend your life reacting & you’ll be full of regret.  Spent time preacting & you’ll rise aboveYeah, that’s it.  We’re serious about you becoming creatures of habit here because we know crises will come and when they do we just want you to be ready instead of reacting.  Decisions based not on emotions, but on patterns of behavior you’ve set deeply in your brain and your soul.


            It kind of like the preacher who was at the hospital blessing a new baby.  “You have a cute baby!”  the preacher said to mom and dad.  “Oh, I bet you say that to all the parents,” mom answered.  “No,” the preacher came back.  “just to those whose babies are really good looking.”  “So what do you say to the others?!”  “Oh,” the preacher answered, “That’s easy.  I always say, ‘why that baby looks just like you!’”  That’s some PREACTING there!   Spend your life reacting & you’ll be full of regret.  Spent time preacting & you’ll rise above.


            Or it’s like what studies have shown about families and dinner: READ Power Of Habit, p. 109. 


Studies have demonstrated that families who habitually eat dinner together see to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence.  Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget.  It’s not that a family meal or a tidy bed causes better grades or less frivolous spending.  But somehow those initial shifts start chain reactions that help other good habits take hold.


Oh Lord!  All you let’s stop for pizza people are in it now!  Spend your life reacting & you’ll be full of regret.  Spent time preacting & you’ll rise above.


            Or it’s even like that time I may have told some of you about before when in Monroe, doing a day camp way out in the country and I was not only day camp founder and director, but I was van driver as well (violins, please).  And so one afternoon, I was dropping some kids off at their home in the woods (literally) and something had happened the mom didn’t like, and she just went off on me.  I’m sitting in the van and she is launching in to me.  Primo stuff she’s laying out!  And even though I was 29 or 30 at the time, somehow I had PREACTED by memorizing a few bible verses.  Like turn the other cheek.  Like don’t repay evil with evil but repay evil with good.  Like know when to shut the h up (Ok, I added that one).  But I didn’t react. I just took it.  And the funny thing (25 years later) was the more I DIDN’T talk back, the more frustrated she became.  “And you’re just TAKING this!” she said, as if my silence and my refusal to engage her anger was somehow WORSE than what had happened at camp.   Spend your life reacting & you’ll be full of regret.  Spent time preacting & you’ll rise above.


            In those cases and others, your habits are a preactionary force.  Not reactionay.  Preactionay.  You develop those habits in the calm, before the storm, and when the tornado hits you respond, appropriately, almost without thinking.  You are able to put things on autopilot, which is so much better than decisions in the heat of the moment, which as we all know now, are decision you come to regret.


            See this is why you don’t decide in the middle of flirtation not to have an affair.  You decide not to flirt in the first place.  It’s why we on staff don’t compromise our ministry by even riding in a car alone with someone of the opposite gender.  You do THAT and all of a sudden you’re REACTING to all the ppl who saw you!  You make it a policy NOT TO, EVER, and it’s preactionary and it’s safe.  It’s why those of you in recovery might well remember when you first got started, what did they tell you?  90 mtgs in 90 days.  Why?  You had to form new habits, when sober, when not as tempted to drink, so that when the temptations came (as they do), your patterns would stay healthy.  Spend your life reacting & you’ll be full of regret.  Spent time preacting & you’ll rise above.


            See, I Timothy 4 lets us know that godliness (strength, maturity, a lrwJC, the ability to go to bed at night with a clean conscience) doesn’t just happen.  It doesn’t emerge.  It’s the result of a process of habits that you actually stick with.  I love that in 4:15 about “progress.”  Think of it this way: if you take one step, are you walking?  Of course not!  Is one push up exercising?  No!  That’s why this stuff happens in patterns.  Today is not so much about stopping bad habits (that’s next week) as it is about adopting good news.  Because when you get in the heat of the moment – an argument, in romance, on email or Facebook – I don’t want you to decide.  I don’t want you to react.  I want you instead to be on autopilot, to rely on your preactions.  Your willpower is weak but your habits take over and you’re living a life where you don’t regret but you rise above.


            Can I show you one that leads to a habit we’ll establish and reinforce this week?  It’s called #First15 and it will help carry us through the rest of the series.  Because EVERY habit comes from this loop:  (AV)  CUE – ROUTINE – REWARD.  So walk by a desk, see a box of donuts . . . that’s the cue.  Pick one up and bite into it even if that glaze will go directly to clogging your arteries . . . that’s the routine.  The sugary loveliness on your tongue . . . that’s the reward.  Do it 2-3 times and BAM! You got a donut habit!


            Well think of how MOST of us begin our day.  The alarm goes off (do sound).  That’s the cue.  What do a lot of you do 1st?  Check your phone for messages, emails, news updates.  That’s the routine.  The hit of dopamine as you see messages – you’re LOVED and REMEMBERED – & connect with the world – you now KNOW EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED OVERNIGHT!  That’s the reward.  And what does it do.  It immediately puts you in reactive mode.  You react to emails.  You react to texts.  You react to the endless stimuli from the world.  And what happens when you start the day in reactive posture?  You continue it that way.  And you know by now: if you’re always reacting, your deciding in the heat of the moment and those are decisions you’re going to come to regret.


            So . . . the cue stays the same but to grow a NEW HABIT, change the routine.  Here’s the new & the next:  Alarm goes off; that’s the cue.  Instead of phone in hand, locate a good chair, the kitchen table, the back porch.  You read the Scripture we’ve given the church for the day.  You pray thanks over it.  You pray for the people in your family.  If you don’t know how to pray, you pray the prayers we’re providing for you in the Creatures Of Habit book.  You pause, reflect, breathe, confess, praise.  It’s 15 minutes. Not reacting.  Preacting.  Forming a new habit that, when crises come later, you respond with serenity and maturity. 


            Hey – and if you don’t believe what many of us believe about God, faith, Jesus, bible, you can still do this.  Think for 15 minutes about what is right in your life (you might want to look at the dawn sky & ask where’d that come from? but that’s just me . . . )


            All of you, you know when you begin this habit?  TONIGHT.  Not tomorrow. TONIGHT.  Get your Creatures Of Habit book & your bible out, by your bed or on that chair TONIGHT.  Your morning routine actually begins with an evening routine.  And I’m not asking you to do this for the rest of your life.  Just the rest of the series.  Because doing it ONCE or even FIVE times doesn’t make a habit any more than one step makes you walk or one push up makes you exercise.  The rest of the series, until February 5 and you gauge the difference in your life.  And don’t worry . . . I may just pop up in your email box first thing in the morning to tell you:  (VIDEO of ah ah ah, you’re not supposed to be here yet! Did you do your #First15?).


            Why so specific? Why so invasive?  Because this is bigger than you.  Here’s an email I received this week from a woman who attended last week & got her COH book.  She did not know my topic today:

Walmart parking lot, a woman was in the driver seat of her car, door open, oxygen tank, panting, panicking,I asked her if she needed help.  She accepted, helped her de-escalate, changed out the tank, asked in the process if she wanted to invite God in to help her.  Said yes.  Prayed the Phil 4:6,7 with her, she cried, I got teary, waited with her a bit, sent her on her way.  She thanked me for the prayer and said she lived alone, and,was grateful for the scripture.  


I read that passage this week in the habit book. Point is, we not only build our own habits, we have it at our fingertips when least expected.  I’m glad to add the booklet to my morning routine… thought you might want to hear about a ripple effect….


Yes I did want to hear that ripple effect because my GS friend in the crisis did not react.  She preacted. And rose above.