FORMING NEW HABITS
Lent begins towards the end of the month. Have you thought about how you might keep this season of penitence and fasting?
The point of self-denial is not to give up the things one likes for the sake of it or solely to make oneself feel deprived, but in order to deepen one’s spiritual life and relationship with God.
When Christians fast – whether that be giving up meals, chocolate, alcohol, social media, television or something else entirely – the purpose is to shift the focus from ourselves to God. Each time Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he was able to counteract the temptation by returning to the teachings of Scripture. In doing this, he was revealing that God was more important than pleasing himself or anyone else. He broke the power of the invitations to turn stones into bread, to jump off the temple and to have the wealth of the world each time by turning to God’s Word. It was a positive choice and decision.
Scientific research has shown that it is far easier to break a bad habit, if we are able to put a good one in its place. This can work in all sorts of circumstances. Perhaps next time you are tempted to go for some unhealthy snack, you might choose an apple or a carrot. The more you make this choice, the easier it becomes. The old habit is replaced by the new one. Rather than focussing merely on the negative of what you can’t have, the positive message of having something that is good for you reinforces the new habit.
We can make this work for our faith too. What bad habit would you like to reframe? Perhaps God is pushed out of your daily life, because everything else takes over. How about setting the alarm ten minutes earlier to make more time or turning the telly on fifteen minutes’ later in the evening? Or maybe you’ve got out of the habit of coming to join the Christian community for worship each week in church. Why not make this the Sunday you turn that around? Or if you’re not able to get to church, why not enquire about having communion at home? The Bible sits gathering dust on your bookshelf because you’ve not opened it for a while and think it’s hard to understand. Why not read a chapter of a Gospel each day? There’s that person that you find it hard to love . . . find something positive about them each time you get those negative thoughts. Or pray for them – I know from experience how that can help change one’s attitude about someone. Upset by the negativity that is shown on social media – perhaps your new habit could be to write only positive things that build up and encourage others rather than drag them down.
There are so many new habits we can form, and Lent is a great time to think about doing this. Every time we replace an old, ungodly habit with something more like the attitude of Jesus, we continue our transformation into becoming the person God wants us to be.
Being a Christian is not a static state, but one where we are called to be a disciple in every aspect of life, becoming more Christ-like each day. It’s a journey of discovery and excitement, but one that is so important it also demands commitment and sacrifice. Are we bold enough to take that step?