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Sermon: New Year, Christian Life: Holy Habits

By William R. Bouknight | Retired as Senior Pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tenn., and now resides in Columbia, South Carolina. He is a Contributing Editor of Preaching.

[1 Timothy 4:7-8] For better or for worse, we are creatures of habit. I learned this early when I was a newspaper delivery boy. A customer would tell me he was going to be on vacation for a week and not need a paper. Nevertheless, out of sheer habit, I would fling a paper up on his porch each day and have to pay for that paper myself.

Habits can be frustrating. Have you ever done this? You need to stop by the grocery store on the way home, but as you drive homeward your mind is on other things, and you drive right past the grocery store out of sheer habit.

Or you come home in the evening, change into something casual, then decide to stroll out into the backyard. As you exit the house, habit kicks in and you lock the door. You have no key with you and no one else is at home. So you then try to remember where that hidden house key is that you placed outside for just such an occasion as this. Lo and behold, you hid it so well that you can't remember where it is. Oh, the power of habits.

A habit is just a grooved pattern of behavior. Some are very good such as walking on your treadmill each evening as you watch the news. Some habits are hurtful such as obscene language, smoking cigarettes or eating a fatty bedtime snack.

One reason professional golfers practice so much is because they are trying to groove their swing. There is such a thing as muscle memory. If you repeat an action often enough, your muscles can do it almost automatically. That principle works for professionals; it is not guaranteed for amateurs.

It is even more important to groove one's character. We can harness the power of habit in our spiritual development. Paul wrote, "Train yourself to be godly" (1 Timothy 4:7). He was urging us to develop holy habits and then reinforce them by repetition.

Paul often used athletic metaphors and figures of speech. He especially loved track and field. I suspect if someone had approached Paul and said, "I'll race you to that sycamore tree down there," he would have hiked up his robe to take the challenge.

In 1 Timothy 4:8, Paul acknowledged that physical exercise is a good thing, but he said spiritual training in godliness is much better. Why? Because physical training can help only during our brief lifespan on earth, whereas the value of spiritual training will carry throughout eternity. Each of our godly grooves will have eternal importance.

I want to challenge us today to prepare a list of realistic New Year's resolutions. Why? Because God wants to help us carve some godly grooves into our character. To get your juices flowing, let me suggest some possibilities.

Suggestion Number 1: I will take better care of my body.

If you owned a million dollar racehorse, such as one of those that competes at Churchill Downs, how would you treat that horse? Certainly you would not blow smoke into its lungs, feed it junk food or refuse to exercise it. Well, our bodies are worth much more than $1 million. Shouldn't we treat them better than we do?

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