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Develop Great Habits, Part 1

From the series Good to Great in God's Eyes

Chip shares an ultra-practical message: how to develop great habits - ones that cultivate grace and produce a life of lasting impact, and deep personal satisfaction. Join Chip and learn how to begin developing great habits!!

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Message Transcript

Well, we are wrapping up our final, final session on Good To Great in God’s Eyes.  And I’d like to give you a quiz, but I’m not going to, of what are the first nine practices of great Christians.  I can start with think great thoughts and read great books and empower great people and pursue great people and dream great dreams and take great risks and make great sacrifices and all.  But I’m not going to do that.  I’m not even going to quiz you.  I want to ask a question, instead.  You’re all busy people.  You all have a lot on your plate.

I mean, this is a fairly long series.  I mean, 10 sessions.  I would wonder, six months from now, how many of us could even remember what the 10 practices are, let alone really incorporate them in our lives.  And remember the little illustration I said, that God wants to give us?  He’s so good He wants to give us something wonderful.  But when we talked about making great sacrifice, we always see sacrifices as, oh, I’m giving up so much.  And the real key to making great sacrifices is focusing on the reward, how much more I’m getting.

And I talked about the story of the little girl who had to take off her plastic beads so God could give her real pearls.  See, I think these first nine things are pearls from God.  But here’s how it works.  Here’s what I want you to hear.  He wants to put the pearls of making you great in his eyes around your neck but the necklace isn’t done.  You don’t give him your pearls and He clicks them on around your neck.  What He does is He gives you these nine pearls in a little pouch.  And now what you need to do, over time, is go into the process of making a necklace. Iit takes a lot of diligence to drill tiny little holes through each one so those practices become a part of your daily life.

And then you need to take a string or a thread and connect all those pearls.  So that instead of thinking, okay, am I making a good sacrifice?  Am I pursuing great people?  Am I empowering great people?  Am I thinking great thoughts?  Oh, I should do that.  No, no, no.  That’ll never work.  This’ll just be something in a notebook that you have a year from now.  What we need to do, as we close, is to develop the thread so that you begin to unconsciously, automatically, without thinking, develop the kind of lifestyle that the way you live is thinking great thoughts.  The way you live is you read great books.  The way you live is you are unconsciously gravitating toward great people.  The way you live, you’ve developed, literally, the habit of taking great risk and making great sacrifices and enjoying great moments.  And if you listen carefully, there’s a key word.  That string, that thread that takes all those practices of great Christians in the Old and New Testament and church history, is something I call a habit.  I want to talk, in this final session, about how to develop great habits.  Great Christians develop great habits.

I love it.  Benjamin Franklin gave an equation.  He said, “If you take all your good habits in your life, subtract them from all your bad habits, it equals your contribution to society.”  It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it?  All your good habits, minus all your bad habits, equal your contribution to society.  A definition of a habit is a behavior that is done so often it becomes automatic or it’s done without thinking.

A fellow here, Ted Pollock, is an expert in time management and behavior psychology.  And he says, “Deliberately training yourself into good habits requires stern self discipline at first.  But since those habits become second nature, the payoff is considerable.  Good habits save effort, ease routine, increase efficiency and release power.”  See, what you need to grasp, what I need to grasp is you are today, the total of your good habits and your bad habits.  And who you will become, the product of the kind of man, the kind of woman you’re going to be 5 years, 10 years, 20 years from now, by and large, will be the habits.

And the habits are things you do without thinking.  I mean, God has made us this way.  I didn’t this morning go, okay, brush your teeth.  This is a tough one.  Let’s see.  I think I raise my lips and then I – remember when you first started doing it?  Remember a five-year-old learning to tie his shoe?  What if you had to think that hard every time?  See habits are the ability to take complex functions, simplify them and over multiple repetitions, do them automatically or without thinking.

When you first learned to drive, remember when your forearms would be all tight?  And how do you look at all these mirrors at the same time?  Now you’re on the cell phone, you have a cup of coffee, driving, switching lanes and disciplining the kid in the back seat.  I mean, all of us have had the experience when you arrive in your driveway, right?  And you realize, I don’t remember driving home.  That’s scary, of course.  But see, you habitually can do a number of things.

But what I want you to know is that you can habitually learn to be kind.  You can habitually learn to think great thoughts.  You can habitually learn to pursue great people.  You can habitually learn to empower great people.  You can habitually learn to take great risks.  But you have to cultivate habits, cultivate a lifestyle where that can occur.  If you think I’m kind of just turning to psychology now, instead of scripture, open your Bible, if you will, to 1 Timothy 4 and the Apostle Paul will talk about the power – he uses a different word – about the power of habits.

1 Timothy 4 – and notice this is the older apostle talking to the young pastor.  And he wants the young pastor to be successful.  So he talks in the first chapter about don’t be afraid and God hasn’t given us the spirit of timidity.  And he wants to reawaken his spiritual gift and he talks about leadership.  And then in Chapter 4, Verse 7, he says, “Have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women.  On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”

The word discipline also is translated, practice, go into training.  It’s a word that we get our English word, gymnasium.  “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.  For bodily discipline is of little profit but godliness is profitable for all things since it holds a promise, not only for the present life, but also for the life to come.”  He says, Timothy, just like you see an athlete go into training and practice and develop the habit of running or lifting weights or getting stronger, you need to practice or develop the habits of becoming a godly person.

Skip over to Hebrews, if you will, Chapter 5 and verse 11.  Very, very interesting concept.  This is a group of people that are fading in their walk with the Lord.  Persecution is coming and they’re shrinking back from their commitment.  And the writer here is talking about the supremacy of Christ over everything.  And now he reproves them in Chapter 5, beginning at Verse 11.  He says, “Concerning him, we have much to say.”  He’s talking about Melchizedek and this high priestly order.  “And it’s hard to explain it, since you’ve become dull of hearing.  For though, by this time, you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you some elementary principles of the oracles of God.  And you have need for milk and not solid food.”  So basically, you ought to be teachers by now.  You ought to be mature by now.  You ought to be reproducing, empowering great people by now.  We can’t talk to you like that.  You’re a spiritual baby.

“For everyone that partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”  There’s our word.  “Because of practice, have their senses trained.”  Over a period of time, people who are mature have gone into a habitual practice so that their lives are righteous.  Their senses have been trained in such a way that they know good from evil.  This sounds crazy but you have habits you’re totally unaware of.

For major changes in your life, one of the things you need to do, is to begin to question your habits.  Some of you eat a snack before you go to bed.  Some of you watch a certain TV program every week.  Most of you get up in a certain way, either grab a cup of coffee, eat a certain breakfast, and have some sort of a juice drink.  Some people take vitamins on a regular basis.  Some people – I mean, you have habit after habit after habit after habit after habit.  You do it without thinking.

They’re your best friends and your worst enemies.  And if you want to be transformed, if you want a change, you gotta – look, I still remember, when I saw the habit I unconsciously, maybe my parents did it.  You know?  But I remember, growing up, the majority of my early adult life, somehow always watching the 11:00 news and then going to bed.  Somehow I felt like the world wasn’t okay until Chip Ingram watched the 11:00 news and then at 11:30, went to bed.  Well, if you only need six and a half or seven hours sleep, if you go to bed at 11:30 you can’t get up until 6:30 or 7:00.

And I remember thinking one day, what is the 11:00 news?  I mean, I can read the headlines tomorrow.  And anything that’s really important, I can scan.  And I realized that often, I was getting a little tired by 10:00 or 10:30.  And I remember deciding that was not a profitable habit.  The names change but just different people were killing different people and different crises were up, right?  And so I decided to break that habit.  And I remember another habit we had is after dinner we would just watch a little TV.  I decided to not watch the 11:00 news.

And I decided, as an experiment for six weeks, when my kids were young, to not watch any TV on school nights.  For two or three days it was bedlam in my house.  Everybody was on each other.  The fourth day we’re playing games.  The next week they’re playing the guitar.  The next week we’re working out outside.  And then pretty soon, we had a great family time and its 9:00, 9:15 and I go to bed.  Well, you go to bed at 9:15, guess what?  4:30 or 5:00, you’re ready to roll.

I gained two and a half hours in my day every week.  And it began to change everything that it did.  Some people say, you seem to juggle a lot of balls and I guess I do.  But part of it is, for the last 22 to 24 years, God gave me back about two and a half hours more a day because I changed one habit.  All my kids are musicians because we changed one habit.  All my children love to read books because we changed one habit.  Do you get it?  So let’s develop great habits.  Here we go.

How do you do it?  Six habits that cultivate grace.  Would you jot Titus 2:11-12.  There’s a danger here.  So let me tell you, a big danger.  I’m going to give you very practical habits that you cultivate.  And when you cultivate them, you will end up getting all nine practices as a part of your everyday life.  But if you’re not careful, you’ll think it’s about trying hard and working hard.  And I’m going to do this habit.  And then when I do it, I’m going to be holy.  And consciously, I’m going to earn and work my way toward God.  That’s bad.  That’s wrong.  And it never works.

Titus 2:11 says, “It is the grace of God that brought us or led us to salvation, that teaches us to say no to worldliness and all ungodliness and yes to upright, righteous, living.”  It’s the grace of God.  We think grace is over here and effort is over here.  Wrong.  Grace is over here and merit is over here.  The antithesis of grace is not you don’t try.  It’s that you don’t gain brownie points.  It takes great effort – the grace of God is both the desire and the ability to be righteous, to follow Him and do what’s right.

And so, you notice I said six habits that cultivate grace.  This isn’t six habits to be a Christian self-help expert.  Six habits so that you experience God, realize your dependency.  And like these habits, think of them as a big white PVC pipe that connects into your heart.  And that PVC pipe goes all the way to heaven.  And you cultivate these habits so God can give you unmerited grace and favor and pour grace into your heart and to your mind.  So by His power and His grace, you become more and more like Christ.  So get that down.

With that then, let’s go to habit number one.  Habit number one, put God first.  Put God first.  Develop the habit of giving God the very first portion and the best part of your day.  It is the principle of priority.  It says, “But seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you,” Matthew 6:33.  And I want to give you a visual for each one, what I would say to you.  Habit number one, now good Christians can meet with God any time they want.  They meet with him now and then, often in the morning.  If not, they catch Him at lunch.  A little bit of time when they’re a little tired and snoozing and fall asleep now and then with their prayer.  But they are in the Bible and they’re praying and they meet with God on a semi-regular basis.  They’re good Christians.

Great Christians meet with God first.  Great Christians meet with God first.  David hungers and thirsts for the dawn.  When Abraham was going to offer Isaac it says, “And he arose early.”  You go through the scriptures.  You study the life of great men and great women.  You do psychological studies on when people are most consistently working out.  You do the thing that matters most, first.  So what I would say is buy an alarm clock.  Buy an alarm clock without a snooze button.  Okay?  It’s mind over mattress.  We’re talking about a habit.  Alright?

You need to win the very first battle of the day.  Buy an alarm clock without a snooze button.  Put God first.  What’s it say the promise is?  Seek first His kingdom, His rule, His ownership over you life, His righteousness.  I want to be like you.  And what’s the promise?  Everything else you need in your life, He’ll take care of.  I’d like to say that this has been an easy one for me.  This was the most difficult habit in the world for me.  Let me just describe my normal way of getting up all my early years.

I became a Christian just before college.  So I’m not in college, about a year, year and a half, and the alarm goes off.  And I hit it one, two, three, snooze.  I’ve got an 8:00 class.  Now I see, finally, it is 7:55.  So I jump out of bed, put on sweat pants.  You can do this in college.  Put on a baseball cap.  That way you don’t even have to comb your hair.  Throw on a jacket, run as fast as you can, arrive at class only three to five minutes late.  Sit in the back; feel bad for the girl you’re sitting next to because you probably stink.  Take a few notes.  And that’s how I started my day.

And then later a bricklayer, who was trained by The Navigators met me.  And he began to teach me how to have a quiet time.  I’d never heard of a quiet time.  And it was just 15 minutes.  And I’d love to say it was great and I started to spend 15 – I hid about twice a week, at best.  In fact, he would come Tuesday morning and knock on my door.  The first six months I would pretend I didn’t hear it about half the time.  Very, very slow learner.  And then little by little by little, I began to see.  Put God first.  And I said, oh, you can meet with Him any time.

And I love God and I don’t want to be legalistic.  And it wasn’t about being legalistic.  ‘Cause I just found, when I didn’t meet with Him in the morning – I don’t know about you, maybe you’re better than me – I usually didn’t meet with Him very well the rest of the day either.  And then I decided I really wanted to do that.  And so, at first, I put that alarm clock across the room from my bed.  So when it rang I had to get out of bed.  And I found that I could get out of bed, turn it off and go right back to bed.  It was amazing.

Later, I had a roommate who was disciplined, a big wrestler.  He was a heavy weight wrestler.  And I told him, “I’m so undisciplined.  I need help.  I need help.  Just, Bob, would you help me?”  He said, “Chip, I’m going help you, man.  You really want help?”  “  Yeah, no matter what.  Yeah.”  I mean, it’s nighttime you want to get up the next morning, it’s when the alarm goes off that it’s hard.  And so the every next morning – and this guy helped me – and he said, “Chip, it’s time.”  “I’m not – forget it.”  He said, “Remember you asked me.”  “Yup.”  And he goes down to the end of my bed and he grabs my ankle.  He’s very big, about 6’3.  Who knows?  Maybe he weighs 240, 250 pounds, built like a rock.  He just picks me up.  (Laughter)

And I’m upside down.  “Bob, put me down.  Man, what are you doing?”  You know, like this.  He goes, “You want to learn to get up?”  “Yeah.”  “You want to meet with God.”  “Yeah.”  “Okay.”  And then he opens the door.  And remember the community showers they used to have in colleges?  (Sound)  He’d swing me in front of it.  Man, I am so hot.  If I was bigger, stronger and badder, I’d have taken him out.  I didn’t do a thing.  And he came down and threw me back in my bed.  He said, “Now.  You gotta get up now.”  And I just want to tell you that my journey was very, very difficult.  And it took a long time.

Easy habits take six to eight weeks to develop.  Some people say three months and it becomes pretty automatic.  Some very difficult things can take months and even longer.  And I’m not going to say to you that I then did that every morning.  But it got to be four or five mornings a week.  And a lot of times it was duty.  I just did it ‘because it was right.  And I’m not going to tell you that the words jumped off the page and the skies opened and I met with God and everything was wonderful.  It’s like a lot of breakfasts.  I don’t always remember what I ate for breakfast but it does a lot of good for my body.

But I can tell you that over a period of time, it went from 15 to 30 minutes, to an alarm.  And it went from duty.  And then it went from duty to, you know what?  I’m going to be diligent and it’s good.  And then I can’t even tell you how long, whether it’s 10 or 15 or 16 or 17 years ago.  I quit setting the alarm.  I said, “Lord, wake me up whenever you want to wake me up.”  And the first hour, sometimes hour and a half or two of my day, are the best most glorious.  I like meeting with God.

It has been the most powerful habit that has shaped my life.  And I will tell you, not out of self-discipline.  It’s like getting to go on a date with your wife or going to a great restaurant or doing something that you love to do.  The habit, over the last 28 years, to 30 years has been meeting, at least, an hour or so with God, talking to Him, listening to Him, jotting some things in my journal.  Reading through the Bible year after year, studying some things, hearing His voice, sharing my needs, opening up on my frustrations.  And I’m going to tell you, it has been fundamentally the most powerful change agent in my world.