The turn of every new year is a time for making resolutions–promises to ourselves, aimed at reforming our shortcomings. Losing weight, saving money, watching less television, are usually ranked first among many such well-intended promises. All too often though, most of those new year’s resolutions fail to go the distance–it just ‘seems’ the contingencies of life ‘take over’.
On the surface, a lack of genuine resolve to carry through or an actual inability to perform the task is often blamed. Yet, most resolutions fail not because of a lack of ability, lack of time, lack of resources, or even, initially a lack of genuine desire; rather, they fail because of an correct understanding of discipline, and what is really involved in overcoming bad habits.
Now, when I refer to discipline, I am defining it as self- imposed or self-allowed restraint, the voluntary constraining of one’s natural passions for the express purpose of obtaining a more desirable, productive, successful, peaceful ‘lifestyle’. Moreover, from a Christian perspective the outcome of this ‘lifestyle’ is ideally aimed at conforming to the character of Christ– in obedience to the will of God.
Strangely enough, it seems that many fail to carry through on their initial resolutions because they actually have too stringent a view of discipline. In assuming that disciplined life is one of laser-like focus on specific goals or tasks, much like a concert musician, professional athlete or special forces soldier, they set themselves up for failure. Why? Because, when this incredibly focussed and rigorous form of disciplined approach to one’s bad habits is taken, other areas of life invariably fall into neglect, and very soon the negatives outweigh the positives and the noble reform endeavour is abandoned entirely. Sadly, the old habits return, often being reinforced.
Indeed, the shortcomings of such an approach, at least from a religious perspective, was identified by the Apostle Paul: ‘ Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.’ Col 2:23 (NIV)
Of course, this is not to say that overcoming bad habits, self-indulgence, and sinful behaviour is not without its challenges–it is. However, repetitive harsh self-denial rarely produces the burden free life desired.
What is the way ahead?
To overcome those bad habits we have to he honest and realistic. Firstly, be honest that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, and secondly be realistic that a problem that has been ingrained for years is not going to be conquered in a day–even if you gain some ground every day! In being honest and realistic, we also must understand there is an appropriate time for everything: A time to feast and a time to fast, a time to work and a time to rest, a time to laugh and a time to cry, a time to rebuke and a time to encourage and so on–in life every thing has its time and place.
Therefore, a better approach the self-disciplined life is simply this: Doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons.
The truly disciplined person is the one who knows what to do, when to do it, how they should do it, and why they are doing it. They are fully self-aware, and see the issue needing resolution as one part of their whole life.
Moreover, as Christians, we have the great advantage of being endowed with God’s Holy Spirit; a personal guide to enable discernment and conviction in moral and practical matters. However, it is imperative that the Christian understand that the efficacy of the Spirit’s guidance is also contingent on one’s moral state. What I mean is, don’t expect the Holy Spirit to endow you with sage advice, if you continue to live in wilful disobedience, or are unwilling to address moral problems in your life–remember the Spirit is a person that can be ‘grieved’ (Eph 4:30).
That said, no matter how far a person has strayed, no matter how corrupted their moral nature may be, the Spirit’s presence, like a pilot light in a gas stove, still burns just waiting for you to respond to that ‘still small voice’ of moral conviction, and begin to journey back on the road to moral conformity to God’s will and the concomitant fullness of the heat of the Spirits’ ever empowering presence.
Of course, the Apostle Paul was an expert in living the life that God desires. His advice to to the Galatian Christians, and indeed to us, is simple, ‘ Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.’ ( Gal 5:25 NIV) He is suggesting, that since the Holy Spirit has awakened us to new life through faith in Jesus, then let us continually walk in the presence of that same life-endowing Spirit–let us draw on God’s divine power and guidance as we endeavour to life out a life that honours and pleases our lord and saviour.
Therefore, for the Christian, overcoming ingrained bad habits, begins with an understanding that God is on your side, and his Spirit is right their with you to give you the resources to overcome–you don’t have to do it in your strength. Indeed, this notion is behind Paul’s famous saying, ‘ I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’ Phil 4:13 (NIV)
Now, for a practical example of how the Spirit might assist us overcome a bad habit.
Remember the principle: Doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons. Let us now consider this as applied to the example of food and eating…
Firstly, it is right and necessary to eat. However, when our eating habits lead to over- indulgence or unhealthy deprivation, we are no longer doing the right thing. So, we have to recognise that eating is right, but eating in an unbalanced way is not.
Secondly, restoring the balance involves looking at process. We now move to timing, eating at the right time. This is where discipline comes in, you need to establish a program that enables you to have enough to eat, that doesn’t allow for over indulgence or neglect–most good diet programs work like this ( remember I am not offering a dietary plan, but simply an example).
Thirdly, having established that eating is right, that eating at the right time ( or in a timed manner) is helpful, we be mindful of our eating–having a right disposition. Which, might involve being thankful for your food while you are eating; perhaps being mindful that others in the world don’t have enough to live on, and that ‘apparent’ small amount you are eating, is more than adequate to meet your needs, and should be received with thanksgiving.
Finally, eating for the right reasons. For many, this is the heart of the issue, the very cause of the problem in the first place. Many eat out of boredom, for emotional comfort, or simply out of a desire to satiate cravings, in this case eating is merely a material gesture attempting to meet a deep need, lust, or hurt. Thus, to overcome any eating ‘disorder’, the fundamental issue behind the problem needs to be addressed.
Consequently, this question needs to be asked,’ What deep longing or hurt in my life am I trying to fill or ignore with food?’ Most practical problems come from deeper issues, and this is where the ministry of the Holy Spirit is most efficacious–helping us see the deep problems, prompting us to repent and forgive!
A person who is a peace with God, who has their deepest needs met in him and their deepest hurts addressed through him, who walk in step with the Spirit, is rarely plagued by addictions.
So there it is. What I am suggesting is not not a final solution, but simply somewhere to begin that is both honest and realistic. Making resolutions to change is a good thing, being able to carry them out requires more than just good intentions, it requires understanding of what is involved, embracing wisdom to frame the reform program, and drawing on God’s empowering presence to actually enable it.
God bless you in all that you resolve to do this year, may your desires and his be as one.