Almost nothing causes more regret than bad habits. Not silly bad habits like biting your nails, because there’s no real regret with that. We’re also not talking about addictions. That is a deeper level of enslavement than what we are addressing today. We are talking about the bad habits that in retrospect, we wish we had not ever let get started. That when we look back, we wish we could go and tell our younger selves, “Don’t even start down this road because you’re going to regret it.” The reason we even start down that road is because we don’t think we will regret it. We don’t think we are causing any real harm. We might even know it’s wrong, we might know it’s even a bad idea, but we just do it anyway. The problem with bad habits is that we are dulled to the dangers they pose and the pain they inflict because we can go a long time before we see any consequences that we regret.
It’s only after someone overhears us that we regret talking bad about other people. It’s only after the doctor says we are prediabetic, that we regret the bad habit of overeating. It’s only after I have pushed everyone away—friends, family, maybe even a marriage—that I finally regret not controlling my temper. It’s only after I get in a wreck and the other person is now in a wheelchair that I regret driving so fast. It’s only after my 7-year-old blurts out her first curse word at the dinner table that I regret using the language that I do. It’s only after I realize I’m more current with the people I went to high school with than I am with my own kids, that I regret the bad habit of checking my social media every chance I get. It’s only after I get busted by my spouse and must have a talk that I’m ashamed about, that I regret the bad habit of just looking over other people. Some of us regret that habit because we know if we had stopped it at that point, we never would have had that affair that caused way more hurt and shame.
That’s the problem with bad habits. We are lulled to sleep because we don’t see any real harm at the start. And that’s the devil’s strategy. He limits any real harm at the start, because otherwise nobody would ever become a slave to any bad habits. The evil one allows us to be lulled to sleep, to become dull to the dangers, until we end up piling up regret. We end up towing around the consequences of those regrets for a lifetime and it’s all because we didn’t take our bad habits seriously enough, early enough, to stop it. To hopefully shock us into waking up so that we will take it seriously, God gives us a great word picture of what it’s like when we habitually do the same wrong thing over and over again thinking it has no consequence. Here’s what God says:
Proverbs 26:11 (NIV)
“As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.”
Success in breaking a bad habit is not centered around willpower, it is centered around Christ.
I’ve been 20 to 25 pounds overweight for about 10 years now. I’ve tried all kinds of crazy things over the years and I would lose some weight, but then I would gain some weight… lose a little and gain it back. My problem is just careless eating. I’ll just drive through Sonic and get a Vanilla Coke, eat dessert, or justify another cheat day. Then, pretty much every day becomes a cheat day. It really wasn’t a matter of willpower. That didn’t seem to change much for me but here’s what has. About two months ago, I was just talking to God more about how frustrated I am once again about the kind of shape I’m in. Then God convicted me about my careless eating. Not that it’s a sin, but that it’s just a bad habit. The Lord told me, “You are the only one who decides what you put in your mouth. There’s no one making you, nobody is forcing you, you decide all on your own what you put in your mouth. If you want to honor Me, you have to decide differently.”
So now, it’s not about just getting in shape. It’s not about just breaking a bad habit. It’s not about mustering up more willpower. Now, it’s about obeying Christ and honoring Him. So, I’m down 8 pounds, feel better, and not piling up health regrets one Sonic Slush at a time! I know, there are lots of bad habits that carry a lot heavier consequences than just a few pounds around the middle but those few pounds can lead to diabetes, which runs in my family. I don’t want to be lulled to sleep and later regret it. I have not had any real success in breaking that bad habit until it became centered around my relationship with Christ. To live with no regrets, it must start there. In fact, that’s what James, the half-brother of Jesus tells us. Check it out:
James 1:21 (TEV)
“So get rid of every filthy habit [those are bad habits of all kinds] and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you.”
Until you submit your bad habit to God and make it about being obedient to Him, your willpower probably won’t be enough. Part of the reason why is because the evil one is working on a spiritual level to enslave you to that bad habit so that one day you will pile up regret behind you.
So, how can Jesus lead me to say goodbye to bad habits? Well, here’s the first thing that Jesus tells us through his half-brother, James:
Don’t just learn more, obey more.
James 1:22 (NIV)
“22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
James says that when we merely listen to God’s word, that we deceive ourselves. How is that deceiving ourselves? Well, it happens each week at church. Somehow, we think that our Heavenly Father is glad that we are just in the building. That when God looks down from Heaven He says, “Oh good! He is in church today. She’s there with the family today. They’re in the building. What a relief!” I do know that for some people, just coming to church today is a first big step. If that’s you, then I’m super proud of you and God is too. However, don’t think for a moment that just being in the building is the end goal. We are deceiving ourselves if we think that is what checks the box for God.
We also deceive ourselves if we think that if we leave church feeling guilty, that’s what God really wants. That after church you would say, “Hey Pastor Mike, I feel really bad about myself now. Great message!” That somehow if I leave feeling guilty, I’ve been to church today! I got my church on! We are deceiving ourselves at that point. Being in the building or feeling guilty doesn’t change our lives. It doesn’t change the pile of regrets, it just calls attention to the pile! It doesn’t reduce the pile, nor keep us from making it bigger. We are deceiving ourselves. How many times have you come to church, heard a good message, read some great passages from the Bible, maybe even felt a little guilty, but didn’t actually change much? I know I have! If we want to break some bad habits, we have to quit deceiving ourselves into thinking that just showing up or feeling guilty is God’s endgame. It’s not. It never has been. Our Heavenly Father doesn’t want us just to learn more, He wants us to obey more.
Look at what James continues to say:
James 1:23-24 (NIV)
“ 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
This requires a little explanation. When you first look at yourself in the mirror in the morning, what do you typically say? You probably say something like, “Oooooo, I gotta do something about that!” Right? Remember what you were like when you were a teenager? Remember how long you stood in front of the mirror and you looked at every little detail? Guys, you member standing in front of the mirror and flexing? You pushed that muscle up to see what you would look like? Gals, how long did you stand in front of the mirror making sure that every hair was in the right spot? Ever stand in front of the mirror and make ugly faces so that you can remember not to make that face in public? Yeah, because you wanted to look your best when you left. How silly would it be to look at yourself in the mirror, to spend all that time looking at all the details about how you look, and realize, “Man, I gotta do something about that! I need to fix that. I gotta remember not to make that face in public,” and then walk away and change nothing! Who does that? Nobody! The whole reason you even look in the mirror is so that you can make some changes before you go out in public.
The changes God asks you to make have nothing to do with hair, makeup, clothes, or muscles. God’s word, like a mirror, shows you changes you need to make in your character. You need to be kinder. You need to be more thoughtful of other people. You need to tone down your anger. You need to be more forgiving when someone hurts your feelings. You need to have integrity when no one is looking and when everyone else is taking shortcuts. You need to not just attend church but get involved in church. You need to put an end to the relationship that causes you to compromise Godly standards. It could be anything! Look into the mirror of God’s word and see the changes that He wants you to make; don’t walk away and do nothing about it, that makes no sense! The whole reason you look into the mirror is to make changes before you go out in public!
Making a change is what makes a difference.
When you look in the mirror of God’s word, when you study the Bible at a Small Group or at church, and God shows you something to change, God doesn’t want you to go, “Man that’s right. I really should change that. In fact, my life would be better off if I changed that.” And then you walk off, you walk out of this room, you walk out of Small Group, you walk out of whatever Bible study and make no change—that is how you pile up regret. I’m willing to bet that whatever regret you have in your past, whatever it was you did on that spring break, where ever you were when you said that thing you wish you could take back, whatever happened that you would give anything to go back and undo, I’m willing to bet that on that day you looked great. I’ll bet your outward appearance was spot on. When you looked in the mirror, you looked good but it’s not your outward appearance that makes the difference. Your character does. To walk out of church with no intention of changing what God shows you needs to change; it’s like looking into a mirror and forgetting how you really look. Don’t let that happen. Don’t let regret pile up that way.
James wraps up by saying:
James 1:25 (NIV)
“25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
James tells us that if you look into God’s law, the Bible, you see what it says and you make the changes God asks you to make, that it gives freedom. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking- “How? How in the world do more rules bring freedom? Isn’t that the opposite of freedom?” I can see why people think that, but the truth is that when I change the things I habitually do, to the things that God wants me to habitually do, it actually brings more freedom, not less. The key is I have to continue to make those changes.
I didn’t understand this for a long time, so let me give you some examples. I’m so glad that growing up, I was taught that God says that whenever I make money, I’m supposed to give some, save some, and then live on the rest. More specifically God says to give him 10% of whatever I make, then save some of what I make, and then live on the rest of what I make. God doesn’t tell us how much we should save, so I just decided that I was going to try to save the same amount I gave God. So, I gave God 10%, saved 10%, and lived on 80%. That seemed super restrictive and controlling when I first started. If all I ever did was look at the amount I was making at Albertson’s grocery store, it would’ve seemed restrictive and controlling. However, by continuing to give to God, He blessed the rest of what I made and my savings accumulated over time and it allowed me to buy some things I never could’ve bought if I just lived paycheck to paycheck. After I learned to adjust my lifestyle to 80% of what I made, it didn’t feel restrictive it all. In fact, it’s given me more freedom to live. Our family still lives this way!
I’m also glad that I was taught as a teenager that sex was something God intended only for marriage and I need to be sexually pure until then. Which I did. Which might seem restrictive and controlling, but I didn’t bring any regrets or any memories or any history into my marriage. Neither did my wife Amy. That has led to more freedom and greater intimacy in our marriage.
I’m so glad that when I was young that I was taught to seek God first in everything and trust God to take care of everything else. That’s straight out of the Bible in Matthew 6:33. I struggled for years to develop a habit of getting alone with God every day, especially in the morning, to seek God first. Starting out, that discipline was hard and required some sacrifice, but it brought me to a point in my life where I now walk with God. I have a relationship with Him that’s real and I can’t imagine my life any other way. It brings me a sense of peace, a sense of comfort, and a sense of security that I would not have any other way. That is freedom. If you were never taught any of those things and you have some regrets in those areas, God can still bring freedom to you if you will start to follow Him today. I didn’t gain any of those freedoms overnight, they all happened over time.
My freedom is won over time, not a weekend.
Some people make the mistake of thinking that if you make immediate changes, that it results in God’s immediate blessing on your life. While that sometimes is true, that’s not generally how freedom works. Freedom is won. There is always a battle for freedom, and it is won over time, not in a weekend. God is not asking you to follow Him for a weekend. He’s not asking you to follow Him for a month. He is asking you to follow Him for your life. And over time, as you make changes and develop new habits, you’ll say goodbye to old bad habits, and you will stop piling up regret and start piling up freedom.
Now, here’s the biggest irony of ironies. The biggest irony is that your freedom from sin was actually won in a weekend. Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday, and He was crucified so that His death could pay the consequence for your sin, my sin, and for the sins of anyone who would be willing to accept His forgiveness. Then, He was placed in a tomb and a stone was rolled over the entrance. On Sunday, at the end of the weekend, Jesus rose from the dead, rolled back the stone, and proved that He alone has the power to forgive your sin and lead you to a new way of life that brings freedom.
How amazing is that? Only Jesus is so incredible that He can purchase my freedom from sin in a weekend! While Jesus purchased that freedom in a weekend, you can take hold of that freedom in a moment. You do that by praying a prayer. So if you have never received the forgiveness of Jesus, if you have never asked Him to come into your life to set you free from the slavery of sin so that you can have a relationship with Him and go to Heaven when you die, then you can receive His forgiveness in a moment. You do that by praying and asking Jesus to come into your life to forgive you and commit to following him, but you don’t follow Him for a weekend. You follow Him for your lifetime and if you’re willing to pray that kind of a prayer, do that right now.
If you have already prayed that prayer, here is what I want you to do this week. When you are getting dressed and getting ready for the day, look into the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I willing to work on my inward character as much as my outward appearance?” Then, ask God to show you what part of your character He wants to start to change. Commit to make that change not just for the weekend, but from this time on. I’m here to tell you, you’ll never regret it.
by Will Tucker