As we enter into the new year, many will resolve to incorporate resolutions in their lives. It’s embedded in our human nature to look for times and recognize reasons to change certain habits and behaviors in our lives that are in need of changing. The New Year just happens to be a yearly point of reference for many as a time of new beginnings, fresh starts, and even prophetic declarations. In a nutshell, a myriad of resolutions and prophetic words which have already come forth as typical covering a wide range of topics from doom, gloom and destruction to greasy grace.
I would like to cut through the red tape of christianese verbiage, prophetic catch-phrases, and the seemingly never-ending messages which are just re-canned and re-packaged under a different name and author. Where are the specifics and tools for success in today’s prophetic jargon? The Bible states that the Lord is coming back for a “glorious church”. This is a fact and something spiritually profound is going to take place that will transform and move the church (you and I) from a shade of grey and stained to being adorned in a bridal garment that is sparkling white, without blemish and glorious for his return. This garment is not made of silk or cotton – it is made from the fabric of our conscious and social choices.
The question at hand and one we should be asking daily is how is this going to happen and what will be required of ‘me’? The corporate manifestation of his glory begins at the individual level. It is time to buckle up and knuckle down as the signs of the times are indeed changing and it is changing in yours and my life. A new years resolution is not what the Lord is requiring in this hour…He is requiring a new years resolve in completing your maturity and overcoming all that would prevent this from becoming a reality.
Gathering or attending a church is far different than ‘being’ the church…Just as being filled with the spirit (a gift of grace upon salvation in Christ) is much different than being led by the spirit which is a personal choice. Being the church and fulfilling the leading of the Holy Spirit are personal choices that we make in everyday life. Many of our citizens do not gather together and the lost do not seek salvation because they have already been to ‘church’ once and have tried the interesting experience. It is not the building, paint scheme or neighborhood that has promoted the various reasons for many not to return to church or seek salvation – It is what they have experienced in the lives of those who go by the name or title of ‘Christian’ at the individual and corporate levels. Sadly, the history of the church’s conduct has proven some very good reasons and justifications of why an individual would not desire to be a part of the rank and file!
God is speaking to us individually that we have much work to do in regard to perception of how humanity views us as the church. All of us, without exception are in need of a spiritual facelift, emotional overhaul, and examination of self-discipline if we are to fulfill our purpose and our destiny in ushering his return. Our wedding garment is stained with centuries of abuses and in need of soulish cleansing as the church moves from its stained state to sparkling white. The transformation of the bride of Christ begins on a personal level which will unfold as a corporate expression of genuine love, unfiltered truth, and creative solutions. But most importantly to this hour – It will reflect emotional stability. The Bible states that only those who are holy will see the Lord in his fullness. Holiness requires deep and healthy relationship that is built upon emotional stability. That’s right – It’s time we address our stinkin thinkin and emotional swings of immaturity.
What our families, friends, and society recognize in our lives dictates the type or quality of seed (words and acts) we have sown. Trust me, whatever we sow will soon grow into plain view for the saved and unsaved alike to see. It will either exude the fragrance of life or the stench of death. We can only sow, reveal, and impart to another what we truly possess. There will be a tremendous amount of information that will be released as the new year unfolds. Much of these writings and declarations will be interpreted or passed on as revelation. However, for information to move or transform into revelation – it must be revealed or be a reality in our own lives. Otherwise, it’s still simply good “information” and of no spiritual or revealing value.
The genuine anointing is that simple – It is the fruit of the spirit and kingdom revealed in our lives and imparted by the life we live – It’s who we genuinely are. The fruit of the spirit can not be purchased, picked from a tree, wished for, or imparted by magic foo-foo dust. It must be received from the Holy Spirit through intimacy with Christ to be revealed in our lives which imparts change to the world around us (building the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven). Who we really are and what we truly have to offer (our anointing) is the end result of this message. The heart and center of this message is who we are and what others ‘perceive’ us to be which are the habits, compulsions, and mindsets that we possess and have chosen to obtain over the course and experiences of our lives. It’s the ungodly habits, compulsions, mindsets, and addictions that first must be dealt with if we are to truly fulfill our personal part and function within the corporate body of Christ. Only then, will our lives reflect value to humanity with everlasting benefit. Only then, will trust in the name ‘Christian’ be restored.
There is a structure behind most habits (that lead to strong cravings) which many in psychology fields know or refer to as ‘habit loops’. I strongly sensed upon seeking the Lord for this message that I needed to share a base knowledge along with tools to overcome habitual tendencies which are preventing many from realizing the kingdom and fullness of God in their lives. The bible states that we are set up for emotional hurt, loss, pain, and even destruction because of our lack of knowledge.
Habit loops consist of three main parts. First is the ‘cue’ which is the trigger from the environment that tells your brain to go into autopilot and which habit to use. Next is the ‘routine’ which is the mental or physical action you take whenever presented with the cue. And lastly is the ‘reward’ which is what you get from the habit that fulfills a craving in your brain.
When the pattern of ‘cue-routine-reward’ gets repeated many times it becomes more and more automatic. This is because the more we repeat it, the more it gets hard-wired into our brains. In neuroscience, this is known as ‘long-term potentiation’. This is natural and how God created us. Otherwise we would essentially shut down with mental exhaustion if our brains were perpetually in high gear to perform basic tasks endlessly without the benefit of habit loops. There is a little oval the size of a walnut in our brain called the Basal Ganglia which essentially stores our habits and habit loops.
The process in which the brain converts a series of actions into a routine is known as ‘chunking’. This is the beginning of how habits and cravings form. There are hundreds of behavioral chunks that we rely on everyday. Some are simple such as putting toothpaste on a toothbrush, putting on our socks, or even how we fold our socks. We perform these functions over and over with very little thought or brain power. On the same hand, some chunks can become so complex that it is a miracle that such a small part of the brain can produce such powerful responses.
Let’s take for example, backing a car out of the driveway. When we are first learning to drive, it required a good dose of concentration (brain power) just to back a car out of the garage and for good reason! We had to open the garage, unlock the car door, adjust the seat, insert the key in the ignition, turn the key clockwise, adjust the mirrors and discern the how near or far objects really were, putting our foot on the brake; moving the gear shift into reverse, removing our foot from the brake, mentally gauging our distances and obstacles such as the mailbox and trash cans while keeping the wheels aligned, monitoring for oncoming traffic all while applying slight pressure to the gas pedal and brake. However, all of these responses within a relatively short amount time required hardly any thought all.
This routine occurs through the dynamic and power of repetition and the brain creating a habit loop. Millions of people perform this function every morning unthinkingly. As soon as we grab the car keys, our basal ganglia kicks in – identifying the associated habits stored in our brains in regard to backing out a vehicle. Once that habit starts unfolding, our grey matter which is closer to the cranial surface is free to quiet itself or chase other creative and complex thoughts. Habits occur because our brains are constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devises, the brain will try to make any routine a habit loop because habits allow our minds to ramp down and adjust.
This type of brain efficiency is biologically necessary because it requires less room and allows for a smaller head which makes child birth easier and infant/mother mortality less likely. It also allows us to quit thinking about basic behaviors and routines such as walking and choosing what to eat so we can invest time inventing spears, irrigation systems, and eventually airplanes and video games. But conserving mental effort is a double edge sword because if our brains power down at the wrong moment, we might fail to notice something important – such as an oncoming speeding car as we back out of the driveway! (The Lord is addressing our natural and spiritual blind spots) Our natural propensity to create and store habits is biologically necessary and a tremendous blessing when stewarded well. It can also be a curse when abused for self serving motives within the temptations of a corrupted world.
By better understanding our habit loops, we can more easily disrupt vicious cycles and rewire our brains to new habits which glorify the Lord and reflects Spirit led precision. For example, let’s take something simple or generic and say everyday after dinner you sit on your couch to watch TV while eating a carton of ice cream or munching a bag of chips. It’s a nasty habit – and it’s probably the reason you’ve gained 25-50 pounds over the past few years. However, no matter how hard you try to break the habit you can’t seem to change it. Why is something seemingly so simple as eating habits so difficult to overcome? Especially being the temple which stewards the Lord’s Spirit? Look, if you cannot steward and discipline your earthly tent well, how should I believe you are stewarding well other spiritual structures?
The primary goal to victory over adverse or even destructive habits is to identify our habit loops. What are the routine(s) that we desire to change? What are the cues triggering us to fall or fail within the routine? And what are the rewards we are getting as a result of that routine? By better discerning and understanding the cycle of “cue-routine-reward” we can more easily modify our adverse or unhealthy behaviors.
Find the cue.
A cue is a stimulus from your environment that triggers us into a particular routine. Often we have trouble identifying cues because there is so much unconscious information that motivates our habits. For example, do you eat dinner at a certain time each day because you are hungry? Or, is it because the clock says 6:00 PM? Maybe, it’s because your children start asking for dinner? Is it routine because you’re home from work, and that’s just when your dinner routine is supposed to begin? There are different categories of habitual cues that often trigger and lead to unwanted habit loops.
Location – Where are you when your habit loops are triggered?
Time – What time of the day is it?
Mood – What’s your emotional state?
Thoughts – What are you thinking?
People around you – Who is around you when you act out these habits?
Immediately preceding action – What do you do right before the habit starts?
Once we understand the cues that trigger our habit loops, we can use that insight to modify or completely change our behaviors. For example, say you’re an alcoholic whose habits are triggered by your location (party, bar, or club) or the people you are with (friends who like drinking as a social crutch). One way you can try to disrupt your habit loop is by avoiding places or people that motivate you to drink. If pornography is your habit, you must break the cue or trigger of a particular time, location, or internet site. NOTE: We must understand that any pain caused by an event in our daily lives will always or naturally seek pleasure to relieve or justify itself. We see this clearly in the act of overeating. The first step is to recognize the trigger or cue.
Try out different rewards.
Once you find the cue that triggers your behavior, you can experiment with different rewards to see what your brain is actually craving. Let’s go back to the example of eating ice cream or chips (foods that lead to being overweight) while watching TV. By trying out different rewards we can recognize what it is we get from the activity. Are we eating ice cream or chips because we’re hungry? Or, are we just bored due to inactivity and it’s a way to pass the time? Maybe, it’s something we do to socialize with family or friends?
There are a myriad of reasons we may construct a certain habit, but it’s not always clear why we do the things we do. Regardless, we choose by the gift of free choice to enter into a routine that served a particular or false need in our life. By experimenting with different rewards, you can discover what it is you are really getting out of your routine and find a substitute or healthy habit that is spirit led.
It may take a couple weeks before you discover what it is your brain is craving. People with addictive or compulsive behavior patterns already know what their craving (e.g. drugs, alcohol, pornography, gluttony, pattern gossip, etc.) Maybe, the first day you experiment with eating a salad, but afterwards you still feel an urge for ice cream or chips. This clearly points that the reward you’re getting is probably not related to hunger but to drives within the brain designed to mimic hunger to fulfill the reward mechanism.
You might try socializing with the family in a different way, such as playing a game together instead of eating ice cream together. After this activity maybe you find that your craving for ice cream goes away. If that’s the case, your routine of “eating ice cream” may be a result of your desire to connect more in a deeper level with your family. This is just one very simplistic or generic example for reference, but hopefully you get the idea. People do things for many different reasons, but experimenting with different rewards can help us find what it is our brains actually want fulfilled. If we understand that, we can replace our old habit loops with new habit loops that still fulfill the rewards we want and bring glory to God, our personal witness, and our personal wellness – both naturally and spiritually.
Make a plan to change adverse habit loops.
Once you identify the “cue-routine-reward” behind your habit loops, it becomes much easier to make a plan on how to change them.
Psychologists have found compelling research that making a plan to act in a certain way at a certain time and place makes it much more likely that we will commit to new and healthy behaviors. These are called ‘implementation intentions’. The basic idea is to form an “if-then plan” to help instill new habits. Write down and repeat your plan, such as, “If situation X arises, I will perform response Y.” X refers to the cue from your environment. Y refers to the new routine you want to replace with the old routine.
Habits have become the destiny of many with adverse affects. These habits can affect those closest to us as well as society. Habit loops can be ignored, changed or replaced. But it is also true that once the unhealthy habit loop is established and a habit emerges, your brain stops fully participating in healthy or spirit led decision-making. Unless you deliberately recognize, engage, and fight a habit — unless you insert new responses to cues and rewards — the old pattern(s) will unfold automatically.
The Lord is all about your victory. Victory over death and the grave was accomplished at the cross and this is our eternal “reward”. However, the Lord also desires personal victory in our everyday life which is a composite of daily choices. These daily choices are birthed within a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit and a honest perception of who we really are and where God would have us. We must understand that our perception of what is right may not be God’s! Our willingness to be holy rolls off our lips so easily, but yet our mind and eventual actions so easily deceive us. The truth is that we all have created adverse, unhealthy, as well as ungodly habit loops and once patterned in our brains – they will never go away and will always be there. In other words, once hard-wired, they never disappear. The good news in Jesus Christ is that new and godly habit loops can transpose or overlay the old ones in our brains or consciousness. When we recognize the cue or trigger for a bad response – we can choose to be led by the Spirit to respond in a new way. Trust me, it will not take long before this becomes our new expression and perception of how others see us. If we’ll only be consistent for a few weeks, our resolve will become the resolution of others! This is the power and witness of our testimony.