I am picturing the path that Samson walked, more than 50,000 steps along that road to Gaza (Judges 16:1). In my imagination, each time his sandal hits the ground, a little puff of dust floats into the air like a sigh. I wonder what he was thinking about as he walked headlong into sin. Did he go boldly toward it, as though daring God to stop him? I wonder if he thought about it at all, or if he had tucked his intentions into a dark corner of his brain, where he thought God wouldn’t notice.
I think our bad habits creep up on us over time in this way. We don’t set out to ruin our lives in Gaza, but with each small action — each step along the way — we give up with a sigh, we resign ourselves to what we have always done instead of working diligently toward change over the long term. We indulge in the easy pleasure of the present moment, and most importantly, we justify, justify, justify.
That’s what makes our bad habits so insidious. They seem so small and harmless, or easy to keep hidden, or else easy to ignore, until they are completely out of control or desperately embedded in our lives. How did we let things go this far? Simple: step by step. On the other hand, building good habits requires so much strength of mind, being present and persisting in the face of difficulty or monotony. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that they were “taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Every thought! How exhausting!
But look back one verse and see why we do not lose heart. 2 Corinthians 10:4 says, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” It is the Holy Spirit that empowers us to stop “every filthy habit,” as the Good News Translation puts it in James 1:21. We are not just white-knuckling our way through this life; we have the transforming power of the Holy Spirit within us. Though outwardly we are wasting away — outwardly we are battling sin, and often losing, sin against us and sin within us — yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). We may have messed up today, and yesterday, and the day before that, but tomorrow is another opportunity to let God work in our lives and make something new.
Our habits are either giving life or bringing death. They are either moving us closer to our creator or leading us away from him. Nothing is neutral. If it is not making you more of the person God wants you to be, what part does it have in your life?
The heart of the gospel is that our God is in the business of bringing dead people back to life. So if your habits are killing you — literally or figuratively — if they are bringing death instead of life, remember that the Holy Spirit transforms us by renewing our minds. He changes the very way we think, the way we see the world, so that we can learn to know God’s will for us, his good, perfect, and pleasing will (Romans 12).
God told his people through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (36:25-27).”
You see, God’s people had messed up big time. They had fallen into the same old patterns of sin, they had walked themselves step by step into bondage, and they were living in exile in Babylon. They had to suffer the consequences of their disobedience. But Ezekiel also had a consoling word of hope for them, that God would one day restore and redeem his people.
Believe that God can do this incredible work in you. He can make you clean and give you a new heart. He can give you his Spirit and the desire to obey him.
If you are like me, then you already know what bad habits God wants to break you from. But if you’re wondering what habits God wants to weed out of your life, or if you want to know what habits and qualities he wants to grow in you, the answers are found in the same place: in the word of God. James talks in chapter 4 about the desires that battle within our hearts, and in verse 6 we get a glimpse of hope: “But God gives us more grace.” Don’t let past failures define you. You can do this. We can do this together, as a community, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Whatever your sin, God’s grace is greater.
James goes on to say,” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Admitting that we’ve messed up is hard. Admitting that we have a recurring pattern of sin that we can’t stop doing on our own is even harder. But it’s one step in the right direction, one step closer to God, and God promises that he will meet you there.
Samson’s 50,000 steps toward death were 50,000 opportunities to stop and turn around. God doesn’t care if you take 49,000 steps in the wrong direction before turning back to him. He is always waiting and ready to give the abundant life that he has planned for us. All you have to do is take that first step. So what’s it gonna be?
Written By: Jess Upshaw Glass