Do you have any bad habits? Be honest!
Last year I attended a conference and received a book called Heart & Habits: How We Change For Good by Greg Gifford. I have read many books on sanctification, and this was the first one I read regarding habits. Most of the time, talking about habits is in the realm of self-improvement. Therefore, I was interested in learning how the author would handle habits from a biblical perspective.
Habits are a normal part of life and help us do things without thinking about them. Most people get up in the morning, brush their teeth, take a shower, and put on their clothes without having to think about all of the steps involved in the process. I remember when my kids were learning to tie their shoes. They would slowly take one lace, wrap it around the other lace, and finish off with a bow. It was a time-consuming process, and life would be frustrating if we had to re-learn how to tie our shoes every morning! But, these are good and necessary habits we learn.
Other habits fall outside of the realm of helping us function daily. Gifford explores the topic of habits from a biblical perspective and, more specifically, from a biblical counseling framework. His overall theme in this book is that habits are “for the glory of God and the good of other people.” This theme is different from other perspectives that may see habits as helping improve efficiency or increase productivity. I will discuss three areas of the book that stood out to me.
The book began with a definition of habits and how some have viewed them from a historical perspective. Gifford explained that the Puritans talked about habits using phrases like “natural habits” and “supernatural habits.” A supernatural habit occurs when God works in a Christian’s heart to change. He also shared how Aristotle talked about habits as character (virtue) and nature. The statement “you have habits because of habits” captures that idea. I enjoyed the historical discussion on habits from different perspectives.
The second important part of the book connected the heart with habits. He did an excellent job explaining the heart as the “center of all that we do.” He cautioned readers not to get too focused on the action of the habit but to understand the heart behind habits. Focusing on the heart is vital as it keeps one from focusing on behavior and, at the same time, recognizing that the heart shows up in our behavior. When discussing the heart, one of the critical areas is desires. No one has neutral desires, and we always do what we want because of the desires in our hearts. Connecting habits to our desires, Gifford explained the primary desire for habit development should be to glorify and please God. More importantly, he showed how our actions shaped what we want to do. In other words, habits shape desires. However, one cannot create their desires; this is God’s responsibility. Our responsibility is to cultivate our desires.
The third area of the book was connecting habit development to the different spheres of life. These spheres include spiritual, personal, familial, vocation, and social. He discussed habit development in these other spheres and gave practical ways to cultivate good habits. Again, I thought that his different categories of habits were helpful:
- Sinful habits – clear disobedience to a command in the Word of God.
- Unhelpful habits – not sinful, but maybe not wise and profitable.
- Sanctifying habits – habits encouraged in the Bible to glorify God (i.e., means of Grace – learning the Word, prayer, service, fellowship, and observing baptism and the Lord’s supper).
- Helpful habits – not mentioned in the Bible but make it easier to achieve our goals for our lives (i.e., schedules)
There was one concept in the book that I thought a lot about and did not entirely agree with. Gifford made the following statements, “What if you not only glorified God now and then but became habituated to glorifying God?” Later in the book, he said, “The Christian’s goal is to have a manner of life in which glorifying God is such a part of the fabric of our lives that we do it customarily.” He quoted a few Scriptures to support his argument (Acts 26:4, Eph. 4:22, Phil. 1:27, and 2 Tim 3:10). He explained those verses highlight a “manner of life,” our customary way of living. He then summarized, “The first purpose of habits is that you would glorify God so much so that you don’t even give a lot of conscious thought to glorifying God.” One example he gave was going to church each Sunday.
I had questioned those statements because we could have the wrong desire and the right action. For example, I could go to church (the right action) but not desire to go. Is God glorified just because of my external actions, or should I also think about why I am doing an action? He talked about the “why” before our efforts in the book, but these statements focused primarily on one’s external acts of obedience. To his credit, he did make some comments that we should not only do actions when we feel like it, which I agree with. Although, I am not sure I would say something glorifies God because it is the right action. We could have many good habits without the right heart motives, and therefore I do not think it is clear to equate doing something automatically to glorifying God.
Overall I benefited from this book and appreciated the historical information and focus on the heart. This book helps readers understand habits better and how God could use them for His glory and the benefit of other people.