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About this series
Good to Great in God's Eyes
Ten Practices Great Christians have in Common
Are you tired of the status quo Christian life? Do you long for a spiritual breakthrough? Are you looking to go to the next level or get a fresh infusion of faith and spiritual passion? Great Christians live out their faith with purpose. In Mark 10:43, Jesus says, whoever wants to become great among you must - what? You'll explore the idea that there are certain practices available to every believer, at every maturity level, to move us from good to great, in God's Eyes. ACSI approvedMore from this series
Great Christians develop great habits.
I love it. Benjamin Franklin said, he gave an equation. Benjamin Franklin 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, equals 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, reading 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, five years, ten years, twenty years from now, by and large, will be the habits.
And the habits are the things you do without thinking. God has made us this way. I didn’t, this morning go, Okay, brushing 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 how 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. All of us have had the experience where 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, 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 just turning to psychology now, instead of Scripture, open your Bible, if you will, to 1 Timothy chapter 4, and the apostle Paul will talk about the power – he uses a different word – but the power of habits.
1 Timothy chapter 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 a 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, Hebrews chapter 5, picking it up at 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 the 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 who 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.
See, this sounds crazy, but you have habits you’re totally unaware of. And major changes in your life, one of the things you need to do is, you need 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, have some sort of a juice drink. Some people take vitamins on a regular basis. Some people – 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 to change, you’ve got to, look, I still remember, when I saw the habit I unconsciously – maybe my parents did it. But I remember, growing up, the majority of my early adult life, somehow, always watching the eleven o’clock news, and then going to bed. Somehow, I felt like the world wasn’t okay until Chip Ingram watched the eleven o’clock news, and then, at eleven-thirty, went to bed. Well, even if you only need six and a half or seven hours’ sleep, if you go to bed at eleven-thirty, you can’t get up until six-thirty or seven.
And I remember thinking one day, What is the eleven o’clock news? 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 ten or ten-thirty. 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 was, after dinner, we would just watch a little TV. I decided to not watch the eleven o’clock 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’ve had a great family time, and its nine, nine-fifteen. I go to bed. Well, you go to bed at nine-fifteen, guess what? Four-thirty or five, you’re ready to roll. I gained two and a half hours in my day, every week, and it began to change everything that I 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 twenty-two to twenty-four 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 and 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, if you cultivate these, 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 unconsciously, 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. You see, 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.” These aren’t six habits to be a Christian self-help expert. Six habits so that you experience God, realize your dependency. And 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” – command – “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 prayers. 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 consistent working out. You do the thing that matters most, first.
Put God first – habit number one. Great Christians develop the habit of putting God first.
Habit number two is, take out the trash. Are you ready? You’ve got to do that periodically. You’ve got to take out the trash. It’s the principle of transformation. The first is the principle of priority. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Now, look at that verse carefully. There’s a negative command. Literally, Greek, “Stop being conformed to this world,” or molded. Stop allowing the world’s system, the world’s ideas, the world’s images, and the world’s values to mold you.
Positive command: Start – literally, it’s in the passive tense – allowing God’s Word to renew and transform. Metamorphosize – remember the transfiguration? And Jesus, and it says He was transfigured? That’s the word. Allow, by the renewing of your mind, you to be transformed, from the inside out – is it a bad thing? – what? So, that you can be a person who tests, or approves, or experiences the will of God, and your actual lifestyle begins to demonstrate what God’s will is, that which is good, acceptable, and perfect.
And I just learned, you have to develop the habit. And the habit is, what am I viewing? What am I reading? What relationships am I involved in? What people do I hang around? What books, and romance novels, and soap operas, and primetime TV – what are the things that I’m putting in my mind? What advertisements? Where do I go when I have free time? Where does my mind gravitate to? What thoughts, that are impure, am I allowing to live there, and build a nest in my heart and my mind?
At some point in time, you get away. What I usually have to do is, I have to do a media fast. The only way, because what happens is – it’s like the frog in the proverbial water. And you heat up the stove gradually – that frog will stay right there and burn to death. And what I’ve found is, the world’s system is so seductive. I just have to stop and say, for the next three days, or seven days, or ten days, I’m not going to listen to the radio. I’m not going to watch any TV. If there’s a crisis, obviously, I can turn it on, and figure out what’s going on.
And what it does is, ten days later, I’ll watch a TV show, and then I’ll just say, “My lands, I can’t believe how that girl is dressed.” And, “Look what they’re trying to do. They’re making me believe that if I drink that beer, or have that thing, that beautiful blondes are going to jump in the back, and I’m going to be…” Lie, lie, lie, lie. And then, you watch one of these reality shows, and you just begin to see, What in the world am I putting in my mind? You will be a product, all change begins with your thinking. All change begins with your thinking.
And so, people who are great Christians understand the principle of transformation, and they periodically stop. It’s not like you’re not going to get trash in your life. We all do. And they take out the trash. And the question I’d ask for you: What trash is in your life? What thoughts? What habits? What do you put in your mind? What do you mull over? That if Jesus was inside your mind, as He is, and you were just having a conversation – you said, Lord, so, what do You think about the stuff going in my mind? Which ones do you know, without even thinking, He’d say, I’m not real comfortable here?
It doesn’t mean He doesn’t love you. It doesn’t mean He’s down on you. What was the whole point of the passage? That you might prove, that you could test, that you could experience God’s will, that which is good, acceptable, and perfect.
Third is, do your own dishes. Do your own dishes – the principle of responsibility. Take responsibility for yourself, your messes, your life, your future. Stop blaming other people and stop making excuses. It’s a habit. Okay?
Relax, I’m not down on you. People – we just learn. This happened – “Well it was my parents’ fault.” “It was the educational system’s fault.” “It was my kids’ fault.” It was the government’s fault.” “Well, I wanted to do that, but the light turned red.” “I really wanted, and I wanted, and God, I’m really sorry, but…” And we have people who have developed the habit, unconsciously, with God, and in every relationship, to either blame something, or someone else, or make an excuse. When you blame someone else, you don’t change. And when you make an excuse, you don’t change. Just do your own dishes.