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May the force (of habit) be with you

by Arnold Machel, CFP

“Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”   Jeremiah 13:23 (NIV)

I believe that God’s main purpose for the Bible is to reveal Himself to us. But when He gave us His Word, He gave us more than a revelation. He also gave us words of wisdom. He gave us ways to behave.

Some equate those with rules to live by. Others treat them like they are just suggestions or best practices. It seems to me that there are both: firm rules (e.g. don’t kill others) and gentler admonishments that leave room for interpretation and/or require wisdom and discernment (e.g. don’t cause others to stumble).

Generally, I believe that some (likely all) of those words of wisdom encourage us to develop healthy habits. In these articles, I usually talk about financial habits. And it is God’s desire that we develop healthy financial habits; however, it is also His desire that we should develop healthy mental, physical and spiritual habits. Today’s article is a broader commentary that encompasses financial matters, but also much more.

It’s important to differentiate between having good habits and being good. Having good habits in and of itself doesn’t make us good people. But good habits do help us to become better people. What kind of habits am I talking about?

 *   Being truthful

 *   Forgiving others

 *   Fellowshipping with believers

 *   Generosity (and tithing)

 *   Exercising regularly

Becoming better

These are all good things to do… and we should all be doing them, but doing these things (even doing all of these things) doesn’t make us good.  However, they do help us to become better. Having a habit of attending church regularly won’t get you into heaven, but it will expose you to good teaching on a regular basis, it will help centre your heart and mind and soul on eternal things rather than the day to day, and it will facilitate relationship with other like-minded people.  All of these things help you become the person God wants you to be.

I remember a time when I was in church four days each week: Sunday morning service, Sunday evening service, Tuesday night youth choir and Wednesday night Bible study. It was probably good that I was so involved. Unfortunately, we humans have this terrible habit of wanting to create rules for everything. What was initially a healthy spiritual choice became tainted when some in the group treated the meetings as though they were law. When others assumed one was back-slidden for missing the odd time, it became a burden, not a joy.

I can’t stress enough that God likes it when you have good habits (such as attending a worship gathering). It’s not about feeling guilty when it doesn’t work out the odd time. It’s about making it the default and considering it a priority. Sometimes though, we may not feel like attending (or saving, or giving, or exercising). We maintain the habit though, because we recognize the value of the behaviour and also understand that sometimes that feeling is fleeting.

For example, studies have shown that it is possible to change our endorphin levels – those ‘positive vibe’ chemicals in our brains. We may not feel like singing, but often if we make ourselves sing, then we start to feel like singing. That’s one of the values of habit. Habits aren’t about locking us in to activities – rather they are about creating defaults that we know are healthy and that we are likely to carry through with, even when we don’t necessarily feel like it.

In a similar way, He wants us to develop a habit of generosity and of taking our responsibilities seriously. Our churches need income to pay our pastors, to run children’s programs, to run our Sunday service, to reach out to our communities and so on. In the same way that He expects us to pay our hydro bill, He expects us to support our church. And so, we build a habit of paying God first.

Two great books on the subject of habits (and ones that I highly encourage you to read) are…

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People written by Stephen Covey – a classic from way back in 1989. In this book the author reveals seven high level habits that he encourages us to develop. Some of the exercises in the book significantly changed the direction of my life and so I especially recommend it to people going through change in their life, but it’s a valuable read at any time.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Written more recently, it explores the core of where habits come from and how to develop them. Written for individuals and organizations alike, it goes into the interesting story of how an ad-man took tooth-brushing from an obscure practice to a daily habit around the globe. Most valuable to us as individuals, I think, is the concept that bad habits are much easier to amend than they are to break. In addition, the book provides tools to help us amend them.

God wants us to develop healthy habits in all aspects of our lives, and generally we’re also personally and corporately better off for it, so it’s truly for our own good.  Consider your life. What one habit do you wish you could develop or change that would give you the biggest impact spiritually? Physically? Mentally?

Pick one. Focus on it. And let me know how it goes.

Arnold Machel, CFP(r) lives, works and worships in the White Rock/South Surrey area.  He attends Gracepoint Community Church where he serves on the Leadership Team.  He is a Certified Financial Planner with IPC Investment Corporation and Visionvest Financial Planning & Services.  Questions and comments can be directed to him at dr.rrsp@visionvest.ca or through his website at www.visionvest.ca.   Please note that all comments are of a general nature and should not be relied upon as individual advice. While every attempt is made to ensure accuracy, facts and figures are not guaranteed.

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