Devotional, Day 15

Resist and Replace

"...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead"
Phil 3:13

If that phrase ‘resist and replace’ rings a bell, it’s because it is used often in spiritual growth. 2 Timothy 2:22 says, “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (emphasis added). The Bible talks about both what we need to stop doing and what we should start doing instead. It turns out that it is not enough to just stop doing something – if you don’t have something else to take its place, it is incredibly difficult to extinguish the old habit.

And, as we keep seeing, God’s word is re-affirmed through scientific research. Habits are essentially neural short-cuts that our brain uses to free up space. Once encoded, they are always there. The goal is to make newer, stronger habits. This is what Charles Duhigg discusses in his book The Power of Habit:

“Habits aren’t destiny. As the next two chapters explain, habits can be ignored, changed, or replaced. But the reason the discovery of the habit loop is so important is that it reveals a basic truth: When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically…Habits never really disappear.”

If you are trying to limit your screen time and don’t replace it with anything, you are going to fail eventually. Your will power can only take you so far (and if you are weak-willed like me (Chris), your will power will not take you very far at all.) I love the fact that with God, we have almost unlimited positive things to fill up our lives and our schedules. Being with God, being with people, stretching our minds, stretching our bodies, being out in nature – these and so many other things are good things God has given us to enjoy.

Another point to notice from 2 Timothy 2:22 is that Paul is calling on Timothy to resist youthful lusts. "Lust" can be translated as "desire, impulse, longing, craving." We have powerful desires that drive our behaviors, and a habit is really just a behavior repeated so often that it becomes a mindless choice. Often at the root of our wrong behavior is a God-given desire – a desire for rest, or connection, or joy, for example. If you meet those desires with God’s good blessings, those positive behaviors can also become habits.

A final point from 2 Timothy 2:22 is that Paul reminds Timothy he should pursue godliness “with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Take advantage of the community God has given you. If you are struggling to maintain your new habits, surely you are not the only one. There is almost certainly a friend having similar struggles who also wants to open up, and he or she would appreciate you taking the first step in vulnerability.

In Philippians 3 Paul also urges us to ‘forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead’ – any failure on our part is just a reminder of the power of the flesh and our need for God’s grace. On this final day of the devotional, if you are feeling discouraged, remember that God is still at work in your life. He is in this for the long haul and He will never give up on you.

Duhigg points out that our old habits never truly disappear, which could be discouraging if you have been hoping some damaging patterns would go away permanently. I personally find it reassuring, because old habits do resurface regularly for me, and Duhigg is giving the neurological explanation. In the grand scheme of things, my struggles against the flesh will end the day the Lord calls me home.

How hopeful to think that establishing good habits can simply fill up the space of our old, bad habits. Remember – they don’t have to be major habits. Small changes lead to big changes!

Action Steps:

  1. Are there old patterns that are harder to fight than you expected? Share that with a friend.
  2. Ask God to show you the legitimate desire under a longing for tech and also how He wants to meet it.