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Develop Great Habits, Part 2

From the series Good to Great in God's Eyes

Habits are powerful things. They can produce unbelievable pain or lasting blessings. So, how do we develop great habits that cultivate the very best that God wants for us?

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Message Transcript

The power of clear-cut objectives. Who do you want to be?  Where do you want to go?  What do you think is important?

I was in a prison sharing Christ with a guy named Bill Glass.  And Bill, just off the cuff, shared how he wrote the desires of his heart or some specific goals on three by five cards.  And he said, “I don’t try and memorize them.  I just want to keep them out there so that my mind and my heart can gravitate toward them.”  but for the last 20 years, I have done that.

And I thought, I’m going to write things down that I know, for sure, that I want.  So I wrote on a card I want to be a man of God and walk before God in integrity, all the days of my life.  I would like to love Teresa in a way that makes sense to her, each day, in some specific way.  I would like to help each of my children discover their spiritual gifts and God’s will for their life.  I’d like to work out on a regular basis and not feel guilty about it and stay in good shape.  I would like to pray for extended times and learn to become habitually thankful about all things because of God’s goodness and sovereignty.

And you know what I did with those three by five cards?  I’d just read them over a couple, three times a week.  In the early years, I did it everyday.  I didn’t try and memorize them.  I didn’t try and work something up.  But you know something?  It got clearer.  This is who I want to be.  This is where I want to go.  This is what I want to do.  Here’s the kind of man I want to be, the kind of husband I want to be, the kind of father I want to be, the kind of person I want to be.  And if you write it down, you will unconsciously gravitate.

How many of you have gone out and looked for a car before?  And decided that you’re gonna – you decide on a model.  I’m going to get a Jeep or I’m going to get one of those new Volkswagen types, whatever it is.  But the moment you decide that that’s the kind of car you’re going to look for, what begins to happen on the road?  They’re everywhere.  Right?  Guess what?  They’ve been there.  When you begin to write down what you really want, your mind and God’s spirit will begin to move and gravitate you toward those goals.

The second power of writing it down – and I hate these.  I’m a very spontaneous, undisciplined person by nature.  And the calendar is the freedom of structure.  And what I mean by that is - I understand why I need a calendar.  And I don’t think the method is all that important.  But I know what I really want to do, just my heart of hearts.  I want to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it.  So I don’t like writing things down because then I feel hemmed in.  Anybody else feel like that?  Now some of you don’t.  You just love – you put color-coded marks on yours.  And you know, tomorrow at 11:11, I’m going to brush my teeth.  And 11:14 – and you write those down so you can check them off.  Different personalities, it’s all good.

But the freedom of a calendar is I took these cards and I said to myself, okay.  You know what?  I’ve been living a long time with a to-do list.  And then I had this amazing ah-ha moment.  I never get my to-do list done.  Do you?  I mean, do you just keep adding to it?  It gets longer, longer, longer, longer.  And then I thought, well, let’s see.  Do I want to be a do-er or a be-er?  What’s more important?  It is the be attitudes or the do attitudes?  And you know what I did?  It’s so simple.  I transformed.

Do I make a to-do list?  Yeah.  I’ll talk about it but I write it down.  I took the goals that I knew were God’s will and I put them on my calendar first.  Okay.  So you want to have a good marriage.  Okay.  I wrote down meet with Teresa every Friday on my day off for three hours.  You want to have a good relationship – I want to be this kind of dad?  Okay.  I wrote in my calendar time with my kids.  You want to work out and stay in shape?  I wrote in my calendar.  Before I wrote my to-do list, I wrote my to-be list.  And I put my to-be’s in my calendar.

And I decided, with a lot of struggle, they were just as important as all these important meetings and phone calls and urgent things that are so important today and then three months later, I can’t even figure out what they were.  And if you will put your to-be’s, who do you want to be?  Do you want to be a woman of God?  Do you want to be this kind of single person, this kind of mother, this kind of ministry?  And you write in the structure.  And then I write a to-do list and I do as many of the to-do’s and I prioritize them as best I can.  And I still don’t get done.

But you know what’s neat?  For 20 some years I’ve been working out, a couple, three or four times a week.  For 28 years I’ve been having a date with my wife.  And I’m not going to tell you that we had three dates and then this wonderful relationship.  But because it’s been built in as a habit, guess what’s happened in 28 years of having three and four hours alone together where you really process life?  It’s built a really good relationship.  It was like taking a string and putting it through that pearl.  And little by little by little – see the problem with habits is you never reap in the same season that you sow.  And so what we tend to do is we want the quick fix.  And that works both ways.  You know?  You put some junk in your mind, in your life, and you wake up five or seven years later and you begin to reap what you were sowing.  And it’s painful.  Or you put some good things in.  You know, sometimes I haven’t seen the fruit of some things for 5, 10 years.  But I’m very, very grateful.

And the final is a to-do list.  The calendars are the freedom of structure.  The to-do list for me is the necessity of focus.  And I don’t know how you live without it.  But this is my journal ‘because I kind of put it altogether.  And I just make my to-do list.  And then at the beginning of every week I write in my knowns, then I write my to-do’s.  Then I put stars by the ones that are going to have the greatest impact that I know I really want to do.  And then I put stars next to the ones that I’m going to put in big trouble if I don’t get done.  And then I prioritize them and I write out and ask God for help.

And then the final thing, in terms of writing it down, is journaling.  And this is the need for reflection.  I just – when you begin to write things down you get clear.  You get structure that produces freedom.  It gives focus about what you’re going to do.  Then you need to write out your dreams and your thoughts and your fears.  I pray that no one ever reads any of my journals for at least like 50 years after I die.  ‘Cause people would be just – you know what, how many times are you going to start your journal with, Lord, I’m really tired today.  I feel really overwhelmed.  I don’t know how I’m going to do it.  I’ve got six things on my mind.  And I can tell I must be angry about something but I don’t know what it is.

And do you know how I figure out what it is?  I keep writing until He shows me.  Lord, I’ve got a dream on my heart.  Last night, this thought came to me.  And I don’t know if you’d ever allow me to do it.  But as I think about this, if there’s anything you could ever give me, as I was sitting around the table with my kids, Lord, would you please?  And you begin to reflect.  We get so busy doing, doing, going, going.  Clarity; the purposes of a man or a woman’s heart are like deep water but a man of understanding, a woman of understanding draws it out.

Habit number five is, do it now.  I’ve never had a coach who said – and I ran a little track.  And I wasn’t very good, so I changed sports.  Those other guys were way too fast.  But when I ran track, you know, the coach has this thing.  And you line up for a race and everyone gets right, like here.  Okay.  On your mark, now get set – and he’s got the stopwatch.  And I’ve never heard him go, later.  You know there are certain things – what you need to understand is, do it now.

Notice what it says, this is the principle of inertia.  A lot of things don’t get done ‘because you never get started.  There’s a power, tremendous power in getting started with things.  Listen to what it says in Proverbs 24:30-34, “I passed by the field of the sluggard,”  That means the lazy person.  That’s one of those Bible words.  “and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense.”  And so he’s walking by and he sees the field of a lazy person.  “And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles. Its surface was covered with nettles and its stone wall was broken down.”

What are all those things a sign of?  Neglect.  Right?  I went by the field of a lazy person and I can tell no one’s done anything here, as evidence.  When I saw it – what’d he do?  I reflected on it.  I pondered.  See, God’s going to speak to him through this picture.  “I looked and then I received instruction.”  By the way, God wants to speak to all of us everyday, beyond just the Bible.  Reflect, receive instruction.  And here’s his instruction, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man.”  Notice, a little, a little.  I’m just going to take a little nap.  I’ll do that later.  This is just a little thing.  I think I’ll watch just a little bit of this game.  Oh, we’ll discipline the kids later.  We’ll do our bills later.  Anything that’s hard.  Anything that’s difficult.

The great majority of people that walk on this planet end their life filled with good intentions and broken promises.  The great majority of people intended to be this.  They intended to do this.  Someday they were going to go here.  They were going to invest in their kids this way.  They were going to someday, someway, somehow.  And you know what?  Do it now.  Do it now.  Stop procrastinating.  Attack life.  Does that sound crazy?  Attack life.  Build into the habit of certain things.  Do the hard things now.  Have the unpleasant conversation now.  Do the most unpleasant, I hate to do it, early in the day.

And the only way I made it through the languages in seminary, is I got up at 4:00 in the morning.  And if I didn’t get my Greek done by 7:00 in the morning, I didn’t have it in me.  I mean, I’m glad I learned all that stuff.  But, I mean, the Hebrew was like chicken scratch backwards.  And Greek was like, oh my lands.  And you had three years of it.  And I’m thinking, I’ve got a wife.  I’ve got three kids.  I’ve got a job.  I gotta read all these books.  I’m supposed to learn this language.  And the only window of time I could – okay, and I’d get up early.  And there was an all night coffee shop.  And I’d get there about 4:30.  And for the next two and a half hours, I’d study my Greek.  And I mean, by 8:00 if I had to do one more assignment in the day, I mean, it’s just not in me.  Attack the hardest things first.  And then cultivate the habit of doing it now.  As silly as it sounds, it’s just a habit.  And when you do it in little things it carries over.

So, like I said, last night I walked in.  My wife had done the laundry.  I had my bag.  I sat down my bag.  I took the things.  I put them in the drawer.  I then went into the closet, opened it up and I’ve done it a lot of different ways.  I took off my clothes and guess what?  I takes seven seconds.  I hung up my pants.  I took the dirty clothes here.  I put them here.  It’s just a habit.  I don’t think about it.  But you know what happens?  You cultivate the habit in little things.  Do it now.

‘Cause isn’t it a different world to come in and have two or three days of clothes lying on the floor?  Of having a dresser that has a pile of papers over here?  Six calls to return over here?  It’s completely de-motivating.  And so what – I get depressed, right?  And I get discouraged about it.  So when you’re depressed and discouraged, what do you do?  Watch TV and eat.  That will solve the problem.  So then you gain weight you don’t want.  Put stuff in your mind that is more de-motivating.  Then you go look in the mirror and say, “I don’t like this person that I’m becoming.”  So what are you going to do?  Well, I’ll eat some chocolate and watch more TV.  I’ll go out to eat now.  Take a vacation.

And guess what you’re doing?  You’re creating and developing habit patterns about how you face difficulty.  How you face rejection.  How you face hurt.  How you face disappointment.  And you just play out that habit for the next 10, 15 or 20 years.  And that is the person you become.  And it’s a small little thing to say.  Do I feel like doing it now?  See, we’re into the feely, feeling, feeling.

If I did what I felt, I’d never get anything done.  Feelings are the caboose, not the engine.  It’ll tell you what?  You do it now.  Make the hard conversation.  You take the initiative.  Guess what?  Don’t you feel better?  Isn’t it nice to have a – you know and this is – by the way, those of you who are a little perfectionistic and obsessive, take this stride.  Okay.  Some of you, you’ve got color-coded hangers.  All the shirts go the same way.  You know, this is a little balance here.  Do it now.

Finally, turn it off.  This is the principle of restoration.  Turn it off.  Hebrews 4:9-11 says, “For there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.  For the one who has entered his rest has, himself also,” – notice, rested from what?  “rested from his work as God did from His. Therefore, let us,” – circle the phrase, be diligent.  This does not come easy, especially for us.  “Let us be diligent,” – what?  “to enter that rest.”  Why?  “So that no one will fall through following the same example of disobedience.”

If you study that passage carefully, what you find is that the Sabbath was always a faith issue.  In other words, it was that feeling, oh, we can’t stop.  All those other people are working.  They’re open seven days a week.  We’re only open six days a week.  This could never work, right, Chick-Fil-A?  This could never work.  See, the Sabbath was all about trusting God.  The Sabbath was like a ring on Israel to say, they belong to me.  And you know what?  I take care of them and they learn to trust me.  Now, Jesus would come back and say the Sabbath is a gift to man.  It’s not a list of rules and regulations.

In Colossians 2, we’ll learn that, hey, you know what?  It’s the principle that’s in practice in New Testament believers.  You want to make your Sabbath on Monday.  You can make it on Friday.  Different people have different days.  But you need to honor the Sabbath principle.  The early church would begin celebrating on the first day of the week, on Sunday.  And so there’s no law for the Sabbath but the principle of rest.  One out of seven days to do what?  Are you ready?  This is going to be scary.  Sort of lean back, lean back.  This is going to hurt.

One out of seven days – are you ready?  Watch this.  It does turn off.  My cell phone’s off.  Excuse me.  Just one second.  Are you ready for this?  This is my PDA.  Let’s see.  It’s going to happen.  I’m not indispensable?  The world can go on without me?  I can turn off my mind?  Turn off my gifts?  Not have some religious set of rules but to stop and look back like God did on his work and say Lord, what have you done this week?  To reflect, go outside and let the sun hit your face.  Take a walk with people that you love.  Be refreshed.  Spend additional time with God.

If it works for you on Sunday, great.  It doesn’t for me, just ‘because I work on Sunday.  I preached three times last week.  But I’ll tell you what.  Every Friday for the last 28 years has been my Sabbath.  And I’ve honored it.  Is there an occasional day, an emergency?  Well, of course.  Jesus said if an ox gets in a ditch.  You know, don’t get legalistic about it.  But I got to tell you that it has saved my life.  And some of you can probably imagine.  I was a workaholic in my early years.  And see, there’s a huge difference between having drive and being driven.  And the only way to not be driven is to stop and develop the habit.  God’s at work.

On Fridays, this is in my car.  When I go home at night, I leave my cell phone in my car.  If someone’s dying, I do have a home phone.  Right?  I turn this thing off.  Go home and be a man.  Be a woman.  Be a husband.  Be a mother.  You don’t have to be on call all time.  And turn your gift off.  Turn your gift off and don’t always have to produce something.  Be restored and renewed and refreshed.  And are you ready?  Enjoy great moments.  You say you don’t have time.  God commands you to take one-seventh of your life and enjoy great moments.  Enjoy Him.  Enjoy others.  Enjoy a great meal.  Enjoy the beauty of nature.  Enjoy a little trip.  How?  Write it down.  Plan it in.

Application for you is very, very simple.  It’s this.  I’d like you to identify the one bad habit that you think, carried out over a number of years, is really going to come back and bite you.  And I’d like you to get that written on a sheet of paper and say, I gotta break this.  And then I’d like you to take one of these six – not all six.  One of these six where the spirit of God says to you, this is the one I want you to develop.  This is the one for where you’re at in your life, right now, with the issues that you’re facing.  And just sit quietly.  Lord, show me.  And then you need to find a person that will help keep you accountable.  And then you need to come up with a little plan.

And then don’t get discouraged.  You have been working on these bad habits for a long time.  They’re hard to break.  Right?  So don’t get discouraged.  Begin to arrange your life to break the most difficult one.  And then go into training to develop these habits.  Just one at a time, choose whatever one that you think will help the most.  You know what you’ll find?  I’ve developed a lifestyle.  I’m meeting with God.  As I meet with God I pray great prayers and I think great thoughts and I’m reading great books.  And I’m taking out the trash.  And as I take out the trash – you know what?

I just see God is beginning to help me to make great sacrifices and pursue great people.  And I’m doing my own dishes.  And you’ll just find all the things we’ve talked about will become a reality, a part of, sort of the rhythm of your life.  It won’t happen overnight.  Great Christians are oak trees, not weeds.  It takes time.  It takes purpose.  It takes intentionality.  It takes discipline.  And it all comes from God’s grace.