Let Force of Habit Work for Your Good
THE man had lived in a suburb of Athens for 12 years. Every day, he took the same route home from work. Then he moved to another suburb across town. One day after work, he set out for home. Only when he found himself in his old neighborhood did he realize that he had gone in the wrong direction. By force of habit, he had gone to his former home!
Little wonder that force of habit is sometimes called second nature, an influence that affects our life in powerful ways. In this sense, habits could be likened to fire. A fire can be a welcome light in the dark, and it can warm our body and heat our food. Yet, fire can also be a ferocious enemy that destroys lives and possessions. The same is true of habits. Properly cultivated, they are of great benefit. But they can also be destructive.
In the case of the man mentioned at the outset, force of habit cost him only some time stuck in city traffic. When it comes to more important things, habits can reward us with success or lead us to calamity. Consider a few real-life examples found in the Bible that show how habits can help or hinder our service to God and our relationship with him.
Bible Examples of Good and Bad Habits
Noah, Job, and Daniel were all blessed with a close relationship with God. The Bible extols them “because of their righteousness.” (Ezekiel 14:14) Significantly, the life course of all three men showed that they had developed good habits.
Noah was told to build an ark, a vessel longer than a football field and higher than a five-story building. Such a tremendous project would have overwhelmed any shipbuilder of ancient times. Noah and his seven family members constructed the ark without the help of modern equipment. In addition, Noah kept on preaching to his contemporaries. We can be certain that he was also providing for the spiritual and physical needs of his family. (2 Peter 2:5) To accomplish all of this, Noah must have had good work habits. Furthermore, Noah went down in Bible history as one who “walked with the true God. . . . Noah proceeded to do according to all that Jehovah had commanded him.” (Genesis 6:9, 22; 7:5) Since he was pronounced “faultless” in the Bible, he must have continued to walk with God after the Deluge and even after the rebellion against Jehovah reared its head at Babel. Indeed, Noah kept on walking with God right down till his death at 950 years of age.—Genesis 9:29.
Job’s good habits helped make him a man “blameless and upright.” (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3) He customarily, or habitually, acted as the family priest in offering sacrifices in behalf of his children after each one of their banquets, in case they had “‘sinned and [had] cursed God in their heart.’ That is the way Job would do always.” (Job 1:5) In Job’s family, customs that centered on Jehovah’s worship were undoubtedly prominent.
Daniel served Jehovah “with constancy” throughout his long life. (Daniel 6:16, 20) What good spiritual habits did Daniel have? For one thing, he prayed regularly to Jehovah. Despite a royal decree against this practice, “three times in a day [Daniel] was kneeling on his knees and praying and offering praise before his God, as he had been regularly doing.” (Daniel 6:10) He could not forgo his habit of praying to God, even when that proved to be life threatening. No doubt this habit strengthened Daniel in a life course of exceptional integrity to God. Evidently, Daniel also had the good habit of studying and pondering deeply the thrilling promises of God. (Jeremiah 25:11, 12; Daniel 9:2) These good habits certainly helped him endure to the end, faithfully running the race for life to its very finish.
In contrast, Dinah fared poorly because of a bad habit. She “used to go out to see the daughters of the land,” who were not worshipers of Jehovah. (Genesis 34:1) This seemingly innocent habit led to disaster. First, she was violated by Shechem, a young man considered “the most honorable of the whole house of his father.” Then, the vengeful reaction of two of her brothers led them to slaughter all the males in an entire city. What a terrible outcome!—Genesis 34:19, 25-29.
How can we be sure that our habits will benefit us and not harm us?
Putting Habits to Work
“Habits are destiny,” wrote one philosopher. But they do not have to be. The Bible shows very clearly that we can choose to change our bad habits and cultivate good ones.
With good habits, the Christian way of life becomes more efficient and easier to keep up. Alex, a Christian from Greece, says: “The habit of sticking to a schedule for accomplishing various tasks saves me valuable time.” Theophilus, a Christian elder, points to planning as a habit that helps him to be effective. He says: “I am fully convinced that I would not be able to handle my Christian duties successfully without the habit of good planning.”
As Christians, we are urged to “go on walking orderly in this same routine.” (Philippians 3:16) A routine involves a “habitual . . . performance of an established procedure.” Such good habits benefit us because we do not have to spend time in deliberating each step—we have already established a good pattern that we follow by force of habit. Strong habits become almost automatic. Just as safe driving habits may guide a driver to make instant lifesaving decisions when facing dangers on the road, good habits can help us to make appropriate decisions swiftly as we walk in our Christian course.
As English writer Jeremy Taylor put it: “Habits are the daughters of action.” If our habits are good, we can perform good things with little difficulty. For example, if as Christian ministers we have the habit of regularly sharing in the preaching work, it is easier and more enjoyable to go out in the field service. Regarding the apostles, we read that “every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.” (Acts 5:42; 17:2) On the other hand, if we share in the ministry only occasionally, we may feel anxious, needing more time to get into the rhythm before we feel confident in this vital Christian activity.
The same is true of other aspects of our Christian routine. Good habits can help us to be regular in ‘reading God’s Word day and night.’ (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2) One Christian has the habit of reading the Bible for 20 to 30 minutes before retiring for the night. Even when he is very tired, he finds that if he goes to bed without doing the reading, he cannot sleep well. He has to get up and care for that spiritual need. This good habit has also helped him to read the whole Bible once a year for several years.
Our Exemplar, Jesus Christ, had the habit of attending meetings where the Bible was discussed. “According to his custom on the sabbath day, he entered into the synagogue, and he stood up to read.” (Luke 4:16) For Joe, an elder with a large family who works long hours, habit has helped to create in him a need and a desire to attend meetings regularly. He says: “This habit keeps me going, providing much-needed spiritual strength so that I can face challenges and problems successfully.”—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
Such habits are indispensable in the Christian race for life. A report from a country where Jehovah’s people have been persecuted noted: “Those with good spiritual habits and a deep appreciation of the truth have no problem in holding firm when tests arrive, but those who in ‘favorable season’ miss meetings, are irregular in field service and compromise on small issues often fall when under a ‘fiery’ test.”—2 Timothy 4:2.
Avoid Bad Habits, Utilize Good Ones
It has been said that ‘a man should cultivate only those habits that he is willing to have master him.’ Bad habits are indeed an oppressive master. Still, they can be broken.
Stella was for a time a compulsive TV watcher. She admits: “Behind every bad habit I have succumbed to, there is usually an ‘innocent’ reason.” This was the case with her habit of excessive TV watching. She told herself that she would watch just for “a little relaxation” or for “a change of pace.” But her habit went out of control, keeping her in front of the television for long hours. “At the least, this bad habit delayed my spiritual progress,” she says. With determined effort, she finally reduced the time she spent watching TV and became more selective. “I always try to remember why I wanted to break this habit,” Stella says, “and I rely on Jehovah to keep my resolution.”
A Christian named Charalambos points to a bad habit that hindered him from making spiritual advancement—procrastination. “When I realized that the habit of putting things off was harmful, I began working to turn my life around. When setting goals, I planned specifically when and how to start working toward them. Regularity in the application of my decisions and plans was the antidote, and it remains a good habit till now.” Indeed, good habits are the best replacement for bad ones.
Our associates can also cause us to develop habits, good or bad. Good habits rub off, just as bad ones do. Even as “bad associations spoil useful habits,” good associates may provide us with examples of wholesome habits to imitate. (1 Corinthians 15:33) Most important, habits can strengthen or weaken our relationship with God. Stella says: “If our habits are good, they make our struggle to serve Jehovah easier. If they are harmful, they hinder our efforts.”
Establish good habits, and let them guide you. They will be a powerful, beneficial force in your life.
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Like fire, habits can be beneficial or destructive
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It was Jesus’ custom to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath for the reading of God’s Word
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Good spiritual habits strengthen our relationship with God