Spiritual Practices – Forming HABITS*
Sycamore Creek Church
September 13, 2009
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Peace friends! We’re beginning a new series today on HABITS. Usually when we think of a habit we’re talking about a bad habit. What bad habits do you have? One website lists the top ten:
2. Spitting in public
5. Not washing hands
7. Cracking knuckles
8. Biting your nails
9. Talking with mouth full
But not all habits are bad. Some are good as illustrated in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. These seven habits are:
1. Be Proactive
2. Begin with the End in Mind
3. Put First Things First
4. Think Win/Win
5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
7. Sharpen the Saw
Habits simply shape our lives. They are patterns of behavior you get into and they move you in one direction or another. The big question is, which direction are your habits moving you? When my wife walks in the door after having been gone for the day, I have a habit of getting up and giving her a hug and kiss. This habit is moving me toward a deeper and more loving marriage. I am often tempted to remain in my chair and say, “Hey,” which would be a habit that would lead me away from a deeper and more loving marriage.
Over the next seven weeks we’re going to be talking about the good habits, the kind of habits that move you toward a deeper and more loving relationship with God and those around you. These kinds of habits are only acquired through practice. Well, actually good and bad habits come through practice. But usually bad habits come through easy practices while good habits require a kind of determination, effort, and some good ole fashioned elbow grease.
Let’s see what the Apostle Paul has to say about these kinds of habits:
24 Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. 25 All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NLT).
Here Paul compares these kinds of habits to the practices that an athlete does to prepare for a prize. What is the prize that Paul is talking about here? What prize are we training and practicing for? Where are we heading?
I think there are two ways we can think about this prize. The first is that the prize is heaven, eternal life with God. This is usually what we think about when we think of the prize of Christianity. But if we stop there, then we’ve made the prize of Christianity only fire insurance. When does eternity begin? Eternal life begins right now. The prize actually begins now in this life! It’s not just something we wait for after death. In that sense then, the prize is holiness, or victory over sin in our lives right here on earth. When Paul talks about the prize he is training for, I believe he is speaking about heaven and holiness.
God has the power through the Holy Spirit to make us holy right here in our life times. You have power over sin when you join the work that God is already doing in and through Jesus by trusting that Jesus’ death and resurrection saved you and made you a new creation. Paul puts it this way elsewhere, “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT). And again, “No, despite all these things [which look like they might separate us from Christ’s love], overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us” (Romans 8:37, NLT).
So the prize is heaven and holiness. But what is holiness? Let’s flesh that out a bit more. Holiness is, at its best, perfect love. It is when we love God with everything we’ve got, and we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Perfect love looks like how Jesus loves. It is in the words of a popular phrase, “what Jesus would do.”
This whole WWJD kick that comes and goes from time to time is at once both simple and true, but also somewhat misleading. Let me illustrate. I’d like to invite Brian Eddy to come up. Among other things such as being a school principal, husband, and StuRev leader, Brian is also a wrestling coach. Brian and I are going to wrestle. We all saw Brian wrestle earlier in the worship service with one of our StuRev students. So now that Brian has demonstrated perfect wrestling, all I need to do in order to wrestle Brian perfectly is ask myself, “What would Brian do?” OK. Here we go…
[Brian and Tom wrestle. Brian takes Tom to the mat.]
Something went wrong here. Maybe I didn’t exactly get all the details of what Brian did. Brian, can you explain to me some of the techniques of what you did when you just took me down town?
[Brian explains the technique of posture, hands, and going for the legs.]
OK. Now that I know the technique that Brian uses, I can certainly wrestle perfectly just as Brian wrestles. What would Brian do? Let’s wrestle again.
[Brian and Tom wrestle. Brian easily takes Tom to the mat again.]
Something has gone wrong here. I want to do what Brian does and I even know his technique but something is still missing because Brian manhandles me every time. The thing that I’m missing with Brian is the practice that Brian has put into wrestling so that his muscles and body have certain habits. Brian, how long have you been wrestling and how much time have you spent practicing over your lifetime?
[Brian describes how long he’s been wrestling (since age eleven) and how much time he has spent practicing (thousands and thousands of hours so that he has a kind of muscle memory and doesn’t even have to think about all this anymore).]
Ah. So here’s the kicker. In order for me to wrestle like Brian wrestles, to do what Brian would do, it’s not enough for me to want to be like Brian or even to know Brian’s technique; I have to practice like Brian in order to have Brian’s habits. The same thing happens with Jesus. If you want to be able to do what Jesus would do, you can’t just think that when you come to a situation you can ask yourself what Jesus would do and then think you’ll be able to do it. That’s as absurd as thinking that this morning I would pin Brian in a wrestling match simply by wanting to be like him and knowing his technique. No. I have to practice like Jesus to get Jesus’ habits into my life.
So how does this happen? Have you ever spent time with someone and had their habits, good or bad, rub off on you? Sarah and I have been married now for twelve years. They’ve been the best twelve years of my life. When we first got married, I wasn’t much of a chick flick kind of guy. After twelve years of marriage, I hate to admit it, but I kinda like chick flicks now. In fact, I’ve gone so far as to even enjoy Jane Austen movies. I actually looked forward to the new version of Pride and Prejudice that came out in 2005 (and that isn’t just because Keira Knightley was playing Elizabeth Bennet!). This is even a little embarrassing for me to admit, but when Bride and Prejudice, the Bollywood version (that is India’s version of Hollywood), came out several years ago, I watched it once with Sarah and then I watched it again by myself! Sarah’s likes and dislikes have rubbed off on me over time. It goes the other way too. Recently I’ve introduced Sarah to the Rocky films. She was skeptical at first, but she admitted this weekend that she has been surprised at liking them.
When we spend time with God, God’s habits rub off on us. When you put God’s habits in the flesh, it looks like Jesus.
I’m going to fly high here for a second. Christians understand God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God in three persons. We refer to this as the Trinity. How is something one and three at the same time? Think of fire. Fire is always light, heat, and flame. Take away one and you no longer have fire. Or think about speech. Speech always requires a speaker, words, and breath. Take away one and you no longer have speech. So within this one God is a loving community of three persons. When we spend time with God, the Holy Spirit, God’s presence with us, invites us into this loving community. When we spend time with God, we join in this community of love that exists within the very nature of who God is. That character of love rubs off on us and we too become more loving.
So how do we spend time with God? We’re going to be looking at how Jesus and others spent time with God over the next several weeks, how they trained to win the prize, what habits and practices they had. Specifically we’re going to look at six HABITS:
H – Hang time with God
A – Accountability with others
B – Bible study and memorization
I – Involvement with the church
T – Tithing our money
S – Serving our community.
Before we conclude today I have a couple of thoughts that might be helpful to keep in mind as we move through this series. First, practices or HABITS can be life-giving but they can also kill the spirit. When I tried out for my high school baseball team against ninety other people (I went to a high school with 3000 people!), I made the team my sophomore year as a practice player. That meant that I practiced with the team, but I never played. I sat on the bench each game in uniform. I was guaranteed a starting position my junior year on the J.V. team, but by the time my junior year rolled around, I had lost the love of baseball. It was all practice and no fun. As you begin to spend time practicing being in God’s presence, don’t confuse the practice with loving God. That confusion can kill your spirit.
Second, while we’re going to be talking about six habits that God usually uses to form us into the kind of loving people that Jesus was, God can use just about anything. Our choice of six has more to do with our own attempt to be clever with an acronym. We don’t want to neglect any of these habits, but we also don’t want to put limits on God.
So how do you begin? Today is Group-Link. It’s an opportunity for you to find a small group to join. A small group is a great place to begin forming habits and practices. At the beginning of each of these small groups, there will be some time for each member to share a habit that they’d like to work on in the coming months. Then each week, the beginning time of the small group will be given to sharing how that habit is going. You begin this journey of practicing habits by doing it. Set time aside each day: regular unhurried time with God. John Wesley said it this way: “O BEGIN! Fix some part of every day for private exercise…whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days.”
May it be true in our lives not just through our own power to practice habits, but through the power of God whom we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
This is a manuscript and not a transcript. While I prepare a manuscript, I don’t preach from it. All the major points are here, but there are bound to be some small differences from the sermon as it was preached live. Also, expect some “bonus” material that wasn’t in the live sermon.