A wise old man was once taking a stroll through a forest with a shiftless young fellow by his side. Seeking to teach him an important lesson he stopped and pointed to four plants close at hand. The first was just beginning to peep above the ground, the second was a little larger with some roots, the third was a small shrub, while the fourth had grown into a small tree.
The tutor said to his young companion, “Pull up the first plant.” The boy did so eagerly, using only his fingers.
‘Now pull up the second.’ The youth obeyed but found the task more difficult.
‘Do the same with the third,” he urged. The boy had to use all his strength to uproot it.
‘Now,’ said the instructor, “try your hand with the fourth.” The pupil put his hands around the young sapling and pulled with all his might, but couldn’t budge it. “I can’t do it,” he said.
“This, my son, is what happens with our habits. When they are small and young, we can easily remove them. But the longer we let them live, the deeper their roots grow, and the more difficult it is to uproot them.”
John Maxwell was right when he wrote, “We first form our habits, then our habits form us.” While the word habit is rarely used in standard English translations of the Bible, the concept is embedded in numerous commands and scriptural concepts.
Paul’s personal practice in 1 Corinthians 9:27 speaks to the importance of good habits. “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
In Peter’s exhortation to personal growth, he challenges us to add to our faith “moral excellence.’ And then to add knowledge. Self-control. Perseverance. Godliness. Brotherly kindness. And finally, love. (2 Pet. 1:5-7). But where do these wonderful virtues begin? How do they grow? And what makes them a permanent part of our character?
The answer is habit.
The ancient Aristotle once observed that “moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”
All habits begin with a single thought and then proceed to an action. But repeated again and again, soon become ingrained and define who we are. Solomon said, “As he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov 23:7).
The importance of our thoughts and actions is well summarized in a quote credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
This is why the Bible advises us regarding our thinking. We are admonished to think on things that are true. Right. Honorable. Pure. Lovely. And of good repute. (Phil 4:8). Dwelling on virtues that are praise-worthy leads us to better behavior. And ultimately good habits.
Our good habits, however, can become corrupted by improper influences. The Bible warns, “abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thess 5:22). Our habits may be negatively impacted by internet usage, TV shows, literature, and even people. The Bible warns, “Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor 15:33).
The power, impact, and influence of our habits cannot be over stated. As author Burke Hedges succinctly expressed it, “When you gain control of your habits, you gain control of your life.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman