Monday, March 4, 2013

Give up something bad for Lent #4

Give up something bad for Lent #4







Wait a minute.  Let's back up.  We started this story last week with the story of Jacob's favorite son, Joseph, and the fancy coat that Jacob gave to him.  Do you remember how envious the brothers were?  They were so jealous, that they threw him in a cistern and sold him into slavery, telling Jacob that his favorite son was dead.

13 years later, Joseph was in charge of all the grain bins in Egypt and started preparing for a great famine.  In the second year of the famine, things got so bad in Israel that Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to get grain so they would not starve.  What we read today is the report that the brothers brought back to Jacob and his response.

They tell Jacob that they found the guy in charge of the grain.  (They still didn't realize it was their brother Joseph)  He gave them grain to bring home so now everyone can eat.  They just have to make a trip back with little brother Benjamin to prove their identity and retrieve Simeon who was left as collateral.  About that time, they discover that the silver they had given the man in Egypt to pay for the grain had been placed back in their luggage.  In other words, he gave them the grain for free. 

We know that the truth is that God had been looking out for them. 

Jacob doesn't see it that way.  In fact, Jacob jumps to conclusions, and they are all negative.  He says,

·        "Why do these things always happen to me?"

·         I am hungry from famine, my sons have apparently stolen grain from Pharaoh,

·        Joseph is dead,

·        Simeon will probably die in Egypt,

·        And now they want to take Benjamin away from me Why me???

 Do you know Murphy's Law, "If anything can go wrong it will."  Jacob was a big believer in Murphy's Law, and Jacob's corollary is, and "whenever anything goes wrong, Jacob gets the short end of the stick."


You don't ever feel that way, do you?  Chances are you do sometimes. 

·        Call it pessimism,

·        Call it cynicism,

·        Call it negativity,

·        Call it gloominess. 

·        Call it what you want, but I call it negative thinking.

I figure I get to call it what I want because on this topic, I am an expert.  I don't know everything there is to know about the Bible or pastoral care.  I am not an expert on faith, but I am a world-class expert on negative thinking.  I am not bragging.  I am just being honest because I have been an avid practitioner for 37 years.  I know that if I could give up one bad thing that would make the most difference in my life, it would be my pattern of negative thinking.  However, it is hard.  I have been trying to reprogram my thought patterns for 20 of those 37 years now.  Unfortunately, most days I still can't say I am winning that battle. 

See if any of this sounds familiar:

·        You might be having a fine day, but one bad thing happens and in your head, the one bad thing just seems to cover up all the good.

·        Or when you imagine your future, do you imagine that everything has gone right, or that everything that can go wrong has?

·        Do you find yourself thinking phrases like "I always," or "She never?"  Always and never are pretty extreme aren't they?  And they are rarely accurate.

·        If someone doesn't return your phone call, do you assume that they forgot, or do you jump to the conclusion that they are mad at you or avoiding you?

·        If something goes wrong, is your first instinct to blame yourself.

Those are all classic examples of negative thinking.

Do you see it in Jacob?  >>>

·        As soon as he heard Simeon had been left in Egypt, he jumped to the conclusion that he was dead.

·        Jacob filtered out the fact that we would not starve now and moaned, "Joseph is dead.  Simeon is dead.  Everything is against me!"

·        Jacob said, "No.  You cannot take my son down there with you.  His brother, Joseph, is dead, and Benjamin is all I have left."  What about the nine sons standing in front of him?

There are two simple mental and Spiritual laws about our thoughts!

1.     The law of Concentration is simply: what you think about Proverbs 23:7, "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he."  If you think about it, if you concentrate on it, you will become it.  Think negatively and… well you know.

2.     The other law is the law of substitution: From Romans 12:2. "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  Change your mind and change your life.  If you replace those negative thoughts with positive ones, your life will be aimed in a different direction.  Think positively and, well you know.

This is exactly what we need to do with our habits whatever they are.  If you are trying to give up evil speaking, or lying, or envy or greed, or if you are trying to give up overeating, or cussing or whatever bad behavior you want to give up for Lent, the key is to replace the bad habits with good ones. 

Remember two weeks ago, we talked about what triggers your habitual behavior.

Last week we talked about the payoff for your bad behavior.  Did you identify the payoff?  It might not be as simple and obvious as you first thought, but if you can identify your payoff, you'll be a long way ahead in tackling the habit. 

This week I want to share with you the golden rule of habit change: YOU CAN NEVER TRULY EXTINGUISH BAD HABITS.  (THEY ARE PERMANENTLY HARD WIRED INTO OUR BRAINS.)  RATHER, TO CHANGE A HABIT, YOU MUST KEEP THE OLD CUE, AND DELIVER THE OLD REWARD, BUT INSERT A NEW ROUTINE.  Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.  The Golden Rule has influenced treatments for alcoholism, obesity, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and hundreds of other destructive behaviors, and understanding it can help us change our habits too.


Let me give you an example. 

Tony Dungy, who set the record for the most consecutive playoff appearances by an NFL coach and became the first black coach to win the super bowl, understood triggers and rewards as he worked with his Indianapolis Colts. 

He knew that these experienced professional players had developed habits that kicked in when they played.  Many were good habits.  That's why they were in the NFL.  Others didn't serve them so well.  That's why they were stuck with the looser Colts rather than the Bears or a top end team. 

"Dungy's coaching strategy embodied (the) Golden Rule of habit change: keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. 

Dungy spent hours and hours in practice developing habits that would work.  "When you see the lineman's foot pointing this way, this is what you do.  Now practice that until it is automatic."  "  When you see the quarterback look this way, this is what you do.  Now practice that until it becomes automatic."

Would you believe, it worked?  On February 4, 2007, Dungy and the Colts won Super Bowl 41, 29–17 over the Bears.  They did it by using the golden rule of habit change: substituting productive habits for less productive ones.


It also works in Alcoholics Anonymous.  AA doesn't attack the neurology or biochemistry of addiction.  AA works because they try to develop new habitual actions.  They say "Go to 99 meetings in 99 days" start a new habit.  They say, "Instead of reaching for the bottle reach for the phone and call your sponsor."  Start a new habit.  And it works!  For millions of people at the end of their ropes, it works. 


If it works for the Indianapolis Colts, if it works for hard-core alcoholics, it will work for you too.  What do you need to do?  Look at your trigger and look at your reward.  Ask yourself what alternative behavior can I initiate when the trigger happens- that will produce the same reward?

·        Say you want to break the habit of eating a donut in the middle of the morning.  Maybe the trigger is 9:30 on the clock.  The reward is an opportunity to stretch and move about for a few minutes before you hunch over your computer for another 2 hours.  As long as the donut is not the reward, you can substitute anything that will give you the opportunity to gain the reward, in this case- to get up and stretch.  Take a walk, eat a carrot, or spend a few minutes visiting with a co-worker.  Just develop that new habit on top of the old.

·        Say your habit is cussing.  The trigger is frustration; the reward is intimidating others to get your own way.  Instead of flying off the handle, substitute a simple question.  "Why do you think your idea is better?"  That gives you time to answer the same question.  Then together you can come up with the best plan.

·        If the habit is playing video games, the trigger might be sitting at the computer without a specific task to do like email or on line banking.  The reward is mental stimulation.  Couldn't you decide to plan something stimulating to do after your computer chores?  Plan to read a book or go for a walk or heaven forbid, spend time in devotions.  Then do it.  Pretty quick, you have a new habit.


See how that works?  It's not very complicated.  Keep the trigger, keep the reward, and substitute a new behavior.  Remember, however, what we have been saying every week.  If you could have done this by yourself… what is it???<You already would have done it>>

So don't try to do it alone.  Offer your old habit to God.  Offer your new habit to God.  And pray for God's help.   

That's the good news.  As Christians our lives are not our own.  We are not alone in trying to fight our bad habits and develop new ones.  Romans 12:2 gives us the reminder and assurance we need.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.

Do not be conformed to (the habits of) this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.

Do not be conformed to (the bad behaviors of) this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.

By the power of God, by the transformative power of the holy spirit in your lives Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.

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