Habits: The Fruit of Our Hearts1
by Anne Marie Owens
“Consciously create habits because habits unconsciously dictate your life.” (Anonymous)
It’s for good reason that human beings have famously been called “creatures of habit.” Our actions, words, thoughts, and even our feelings are often the product our subconscious habits. For example, you may have found yourself making a wrong turn to a familiar destination simply because it deviated from your usual morning commute. Or maybe you have found that you routinely avoid certain people because you always feel uneasy around them. Whatever your daily habits consist of, whether they can be easily identified through your actions or they operate more subtly in the attitudes and thoughts of your mind, habits are the essence of your character and the foundation of who you are becoming. As Will Durant said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Unfortunately, we don’t often recognize the habits that entrench us until life hits us with the unexpected. Whether we find ourselves suffering under the weight of unplanned tragedy or simply experiencing conflict in a relationship for the first time, the unexpected has a way of revealing the habits we have built our lives upon.
So as followers of Jesus, what are we to do with our habits? Is turning from a destructive habit and re-orienting our mindset even possible? Believe it or not, the Bible has a lot to say regarding both habits and mindsets. God’s Word tells us in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for EVERYTHING you do flows from it.” Translation: every habit formed within you, whether in word, deed, thought, or attitude originates in your heart. Knowing this reality has tremendous implications in our lives because Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the “heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” So we have a major problem on our hands because, unless we have the ability within ourselves to heal our sin-sick hearts, any hope we may have for real change is futile. It’s like this: unless you dig up the root of a weed, pulling off its leaves gives only the illusion of a solution. When the rain comes you can be certain that same weed will pop right back up. Embracing the reality that we are hopeless without a heart transplant is the only way we will ever embrace our desperate need for Jesus. In fact, the Gospel won’t even be good news until we see it is the ONLY news that can up-root our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. Author David Bowen put it this way, “The problem isn’t just the ACT of sin. The problem is the DESIRE for sin.”
But who can bend our un-bending desires? And who can re-orient the twisted affections of our diseased hearts? The Gospel’s answer to this seemingly hopeless problem of the heart is nothing less than astounding! Jesus’ remedy for our heart condition is the very definition of grace and mercy. We learn of this grace and mercy in Ezekiel 36 where God promises, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a NEW HEART, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will REMOVE the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Is the beauty of Jesus becoming more clear? Do you see why the Gospel is such good news? As Bowden writes, “The Gospel alone is effective enough to change the will because it changes the heart. That is because the gospel alone does not come to you and say, ‘Do!’ The gospel comes to your weary and burdened heart and says, ‘Done!’ Only the free grace offered through Jesus is sufficient to change your untouchable wants, elevate your sagging affections, and change your wayward will. Only Jesus is beautiful enough to capture your heart so fully that your hands will inevitably follow.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, be encouraged by the power and the sufficiency of the Gospel in 2019. If you are a trusting in the work of Jesus, it has been declared over your life that you are no longer a slave to your sinful habits. Real and lasting change IS possible. But what is even more amazing news is that, not only have you been freed from the power of your sin, the new heart you have been given finds its greatest satisfaction and delight in obeying the law of God! So when those familiar temptations rear their ugly head, stand firm in the grace of God and trust (even when you cannot feel) that your Spirit-empowered obedience to Christ will reap far more joy than you could ever dare hope or imagine.