Only You Can Change Your Habits

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah:

    The Lord said “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
    (Isaiah 43:18-19)

I ran across this story as I was working on this homily and want to share it with you:

    “A bazaar was held in a village in northern India.

    Everyone brought his wares to trade and sell.

    One old farmer brought in a whole covey of quail. He had tied a string around one leg of each bird. The other ends of all the strings were tied to a ring which fit loosely over a central stick. He had taught the quail to walk dolefully in a circle, around and around, like mules at a sugarcane mill. Nobody seemed interested in buying the birds until a devout Brahman came along. He believed in the Hindu idea of respect for all life, so his heart of compassion went out to those poor little creatures walking in their monotonous circles.

    “I want to buy them all,” he told the merchant, who was elated. After receiving the money, he was surprised to hear the buyer say, “Now, I want you to set them all free.”

    “What’s that, sir?”

    “You heard me. Cut the strings from their legs and turn them loose. Set them all free!”

    With a shrug, the old farmer bent down and snipped the strings off the quail. They were freed at last. What happened? The birds simply continued marching around and around in a circle. Finally, the man had to shoo them off. But even when they landed some distance away, they resumed their predictable march. Free, unfettered, released . . . yet they kept going around in circles as if still tied.

The moral of the story is:

    “Until you give yourself permission to be the unique person God made you to be . . . and to do the unpredictable things grace allows you to do . . . you will be like that covey of quail, marching around in vicious circles of fear, timidity, and boredom.” (1)

Our lives today is essentially the sum of our habits.

    • How in shape or out of shape are we? A result of our habits.
    • How happy or unhappy are we? A result of our habits.

What we repeatedly do (that is, what we spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person we are, the things we believe, and the personality that we portray.

We all have gotten ourselves into ruts of behavior (or habits) that we don’t even think about . . . we just do. Take a minute and think about something that you do ‘because you have always done it that way’.

Have you ever thought that you could climb out of that rut and change? It’s easy to get caught up in the desire to make massive changes in our lives. But, we all know that it is not easy to change a habit (ask anyone who has tried to stop smoking). They are so ingrained in us that we often don’t even know they are habits. And to change a habit is not easy, and can’t be changed in on fell-swoop. They have to be changed one little piece at a time.

The good news is, God says,

    “I want you to have a fresh start in life, I want you to have a new beginning, I want to do something new in your life.” (Isaiah 43:18)

Aren’t you glad that God wants to do something new in our lives? Doesn’t it make you excited to know that God desires to give us a fresh start, a new beginning in life. What all of us here need this morning is a fresh start. Last year some of us said we were going to start the new year differently, getting rid of some of our old habits. The fact is all of us have made some mistakes or we made some bad decision that hindered us from doing those things that wanted to do.

Well this morning there IS good news is according to Isaiah 43:18

    The Lord says, `Forget about what has happened before. Do not think about the past. Instead, look at the new things I’m going to do. ”

Listen to what God is saying in this verse.

    Forget about what’s happened before.(Isaiah 43:18)

He says ‘don’t think about the past. It’s over. The book’s closed on it.’

Remember, that we can all change our habits with the support of God; we are reassured:

    “I am doing a new things” (Isaiah 43:19)

And we can be part of that new thing if we just begin to get rid of our old habits. All we have to do is plan how to get rid of those bad habits, one little bit at a time. We all know that habits are so engrained that it takes work to begin to break their hold on us. We have to do it a little at a time.

Mark Twain once said:

    “A habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

We have help getting rid of our bad habits; we can do it. We just need to remember we are not alone and that God has a plan for us. And He tells us that in Isaiah 43:19:

    “I am doing a new things”(Isaiah 43:19)

(1) Charles Swindoll, Dallas Seminary Daily Devotional, 2-7-05;
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 24 January 2016

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