Small Things Big Difference - Week Four: Habits Is As Habits Does

This week we are concluding the sermon series that we've been working on for the past several weeks--a sermon series entitled, "Small Things Big Difference." At the core of this series is a very simple, yet very profound idea:  It's often the small things that no none sees that result in the big things everyone wants.

What do you think it will take to have the life that you've always wanted--to have a full, abundant life?  Do you see people who have it all together and wonder how they do it?  Maybe you have a friend who has an incredible marriage, and yours doesn't measure up.  Perhaps you know someone who has the faith that can move mountains--and you sometimes wonder if God is even aware of you at all.  Or maybe you have a co-worker who just seems to find unbelievable joy in his work, and you don't.

Sometimes in the face of these kinds of comparisons it is easy to get discouraged and to believe that it will take far more than you have to offer in order to become the person you long to be.

As we've been learning over the past few weeks, however, it doesn't take a whole lot to begin the process of transforming your life for the better--to become not only the person you long to be, but to become the person God longs for you to become.

Because if you drilled down into the core of the success of those people you are comparing yourself to, you will undoubtedly discover that it's the little things they do each and every day that make the big difference you see and admire.  Or to put it another way:  It only takes a small step in the right direction to begin the journey toward transformation.

One of the key ideas that we've been reaffirming each week in this series is that it's small things like thoughts, words and habits that can help us to become the people we long to be.  Our thoughts can shape our words, our words can shape our actions, which in turn shape our habits, which in turn can shape our very destiny.

Over the past few weeks I've challenged you to begin this process by finding your one word--a word that you think is speaking life into you, or perhaps speaking life into the areas of your life that need transformed.  My word was peace--a word that I didn't want, but I definitely needed.

I encouraged you to find one verse from the Bible to help cement your one word into your heart and soul.  My verse was Isaiah 26:3, which reads, "The Lord will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, who put their trust in Him."

We also learned that our life will always move in the direction of our strongest thoughts, so I challenged you to find one thought that would help guide your life in a better direction.  Mine was "The One in me is greater than the one who is in the world."  This thought has helped me realize that if I want the kind of peace that Jesus gives, I need to realize that I need to live by his strength to find it.

Last week I challenged you to find your one statement--a statement that would help you say what you want to see.  We learned if you want to change the life you lead, you have to change the words you speak.  Your one statement should reflect that.  Mine is "I have peace like a river when the springs of my heart are pure."  If I want to have peace and project peace into the world, I need to have a heart that is pure and free from the things that steal my peace.

Today we are going to conclude out series--and we'll receive our final challenge to take yet another small step toward transformation--by talking about our habits.

Thoughts shape words.  Words shape actions.  Actions shape habits.

It doesn't matter what we say about ourselves--we are what we repeatedly do.   We might try to excuse our bad behavior, our bad habits by saying things like, "This is not who I really am."  or "I don't normally do that kind of thing, I'm not that kind of person."  But in the end it really does come down to this:  We are what we repeatedly do.

It takes discipline to achieve the things we long for in life--to be the people we want to be.  And discipline is nothing more than developing the right kinds of habits.

This is the point where some of us check out.

We hear the word discipline and we think all kinds of things--most of them bad.  When I was in second grade I got paddled in school just about every day for a period of a month or so.  It seems I couldn't remember to pick up the proper folder from my cubby when we changed subjects in the classroom.  When you forgot your folder you got a mark on the board.  After a few marks on the board you got a paddling.  When I think of discipline, that's what I tend to think about, so I get it.

You might be saying, "I am the least disciplined person on the face of the earth." It might seem that way.  Maybe you are thirty-something years old, unemployed, live at home with your parents, sleep until noon, are overweight and play video games all day.  I can't think of many people who would consider you disciplined---but you are.  You are highly disciplined.

You are absolutely disciplined to get enough sleep--so you sleep in every day.  You never miss a meal.  You get better and better at playing video games with every passing moment.  You are absolutely dedicated to making sure that you don't take a job away from someone who really needs it.

You are disciplined, my friend.

We might believe that we aren't disciplined enough to effect transformation in our lives, but we always do what is important to us.  We will develop habits around these values---and we become what we repeatedly do.

But true discipline--the kind that matters, the kind that can truly change your life for the better--true discipline is something a bit different.


Here's something so simple and so true that it might sound odd at first:  You know what you need to do to live the life you have always wanted to live.  You know what it's going to take to have a good marriage--to get your finances in order--to find joy in your work---to strengthen your faith.  You know what it's going to take.  You know what habits you need to develop.  You know what kind of discipline it will take to become the person God has always dreamed for you to become.

But you don't always do what it takes, do you?  You're inconsistent.
It's like you want to do what it takes, but you just can't seem to pull it off.  And its in those moments of realization that so many of us begin to despair--just like when we believe that we don't have enough of what it's going to take to make big changes in our lives.

The good news is that we aren't alone in this---even some of the greatest Christians in the history of Christianity have struggled with this very thing.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to first century Roman Christians.  In Romans chapter 7 he writes the following:

15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I
don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate...18 I want to do what is right, but
I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do
what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to
do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does
it…24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this
life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is
in Jesus Christ our Lord. - Romans 7:15, 18b-20; 24-25

I want to be thinner--more wiry--healthy---able to run farther than to the end of the block without being winded---these are things that I want.  But I love potato chips and peanut butter.  I love junk food from fast food restaurants.  And I love the chocolate chip yo-yo's from Publix. The chocolate chip yo-yo is perhaps the most perfect desert in the history of ever.  It is two chocolate chip cookies with about two inches of buttercream frosting smashed between them and then the whole thing is dipped in chocolate.  Can I get a witness?

I know what I need to do---but I love the yo-yo, baby!

Maybe you're dealing with something a bit more serious---maybe it's your flirtation with that co-worker that has started to get way too serious.  You really do love your spouse... and you love your kids... you know what is right, but you keep flirting... you keep fantasizing... You choose what you want now, over what you want most.

Maybe you know you need to get your finances in order---there's far too many bills at the end of the month and not enough month at the end of the bills.  You want to change your legacy, to give your family a better life.  But you see that big screen TV on sale at Best Buy, or you see that awesome purse that everyone has to have... and you whip out the credit card.  You choose what you want now over what you want most.

This is when the words of Paul just land on us.  Who can deliver me?  What a miserable person I am!  How can I be free from this life that is dominated by these bad habits, this lack of discipline? Thank God, the answer is Jesus Christ our Lord!

I live and breathe this just like everyone else.  I know what I need to do, but I don't do what I need to do.  I know what I am not supposed to do, but I keep doing what I'm not supposed to do.  But one thing I know more than anything else---"The One in me is greater than the one who is the in the world." The Jesus I have chosen to follow has already won the victory over sin and death and I don't have to be trapped by it any longer.  On my own strength--I am toast, but with Christ's strength I can begin to choose what I want most over what I want now.

So how do we do this?

Well, it's not rocket science.  It comes down to training.  It comes down to disciplining yourself, creating habits that change your life.


The Apostle Paul wrote this in another letter to early Christians:

24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person
gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their
training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for
an eternal prize. - I Corinthians 9:24-25

In the city of Corinth in the first century they held what was known as the Isthmian games.  This was very similar to the Olympics and it included a huge race as the grand finale of the games themselves.  Winning this race was a matter of national pride.  Before the games all of the athletes would enter into a 10 month rigorous training camp where they would train every day.  They had a strict diet--no wine or junk food.  They were taught to endure intense cold and intense heat as a way of training their bodies for the race.

Then when the raced, they would strip off all of their clothes and run naked.  Which is why the Apostle Paul also wrote, "Let us strip off everything that hinders us and run the race set before us..."  when he was talking about the kind of discipline it takes to follow Christ.

I don't know about you, but it's kind of hard to conjure up the image that the Apostle Paul is describing here--although the people at Corinth would have totally received it.  Can you imagine if we conducted races in the same way today?  Ewwwwww.  I will tell you that it was probably a great motivation to not be last in that race---you definitely didn't want to be staring at that kind of stuff while you're trying to run, man.

And according to Paul, all of this effort was put into winning---a wreath of leaves.  Yup.  That was awesome.  Now granted, there were other prizes to be sure, but the symbol of your victory was an actual wreath of leaves.  That's why Paul writes, "They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize."

He also continued by adding this:  So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. 1 Cor 9:24-27 NLT

I know that some of you might be thinking---"Well, this is easy for you to say, Preacher Boy.  You do this stuff for a living."  Not really.  I am not naturally disciplined to do the right things--any more than anybody else.   I put off cleaning the fish tank at my house until the pour fish couldn't even really swim--they kind of were stuck in stasis from the grungy water around them.  I don't like worrying about money, and I like to buy thing.  And as we've already established, I love me some chocolate chip yo-yos.

Which is why I need a keystone habit.

A keystone habit is the one habit that will help lead to other habits, and then eventually the kinds of changes that I want in life.

Going to the gym is a keystone habit for me.  Let me tell you how this works.  When I get up in the morning and go to the gym before I do anything else, I leave feeling good about myself, energized and sharp.  When I feel good about myself, energized and sharp, I am more productive and I get all the work I needed to get done before I expected.  When I get my work done early, I discover that I have extra time to stop by the store on my way home and pick up flowers and a bottle of wine.  When my wife comes home and I present her with flowers and a bottle of wine, which makes her forget about the long and difficult day she had at the office.  When my wife forgets about the long and difficult day she had at the office, she doesn't mind that I watch football in my lucky Broncos jersey and hat.  When I watch football in my lucky Broncos jersey and hat my team tends to win.  When my team wins, all is as it should be in the Universe. When all is at should be in the Universe, world peace is within our grasp.

And all because of what?  Because I went to the gym.

But if I don't go to the gym, if I lose that keystone habit then I don't feel good about myself and I don't feel energized and sharp.  On the way to the office, I am so tired that I don't see the light turning red as I drive through the intersection, and I don't see the police car sitting next to me.  The police car begins to follow me with the lights and siren on, and I decide in my panic and loss of self esteem to punch it and make a run for it.  I am soon followed by twenty three cop cars and a swat van and appear on Fox news as one of their featured car chases.  Finally I run out of gas in the Ocala Forest and try to escape on foot.  I take refuge in a small fishing hut in the woods by a lake and am captured by crazy militants who are digging a bomb shelter for the coming Apocalypse.  They indoctrinate me and put me in charge of the mess hall for the compound.

And all because----I didn't go to the gym.


Do you want to be married in the future?  Lose 30 pounds? Quit dipping? Get promoted? Get close to God again? Get your cholesterol down? Get out debt?

Then you need to ask yourself this:


This isn't complicated.  I'm preaching the plain truth right out of the Bible--this isn't self-help, touchy-feely junk.  This is the Apostle Paul relating the simple things that you need to do in order to more fully follow Jesus and live the abundant life God means for you to live.

So maybe it means that you hire a trainer, and start going to the gym in earnest.  Maybe it means that you buy some Bible study materials and begin carving out fifteen to twenty minutes a day to read your Bible and pray.  Maybe it means committing to one night a week to go on a date with your spouse. Or taking time to pray with your kids every day.  It might mean taking a Dave Ramsey class like the one that we offer a couple of times a year to help you learn how to get out of debt.  Maybe you need to join a Bible study, or a small group here at church.

This is about choosing what you want most rather than what you want now.

My keystone habit for this year has been to guard my Sabbath.  When I don't have some sabbath time---when I don't have time to rest, to read, to do meaningful work for my family around my house--I get crispier than KFC extra crispy chicken.  I have learned if I want to have peace in my life, I need to keep the springs of my heart pure, and in order to do that I need to have some Sabbath.

It's not always easy to maintain this discipline in a busy, demanding life---and more often than not I find myself drifting back into the adrenaline rush of doing, scheduling, rushing around even on the day when I need to be experiencing peace.  But with Christ's help, I will do now what will help me achieve what I want most.

Because I have learned that all of the small things matter.  My thoughts matter--my life will always move in the direction of my strongest thoughts.

My words matter--they have the power of life and death.  If I want to change the life I live, I need to change the words I speak.

If I want to run the Christian life to win--with purpose in every step, I need to be disciplining my life to do now what it should do.

Because I am what I repeatedly do, I need to with Christ's help, with His power and His strength choose what I want most over what I want now.

And all it takes is small things---words, thoughts, habits....

It's the small things that no one sees that result in the big differences that everyone wants.

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