SO HARD TO CHANGE
The Struggle to Change Bad Habits
The Curse of Bad Habits
One of the most often asked question I meet in my ministry is: "Why does it take me so long to change?" or "Why is it so hard to change?" As many people who have received Christ have discovered, changing bad habits can take a long time. Not always. Sometimes the Holy Spirit intervenes in a dramatic way, totally changing a person. God can, and does, miraculously change, if such miracles serve a purpose. For the aim of God is always the perfection of the soul.
More often than not the Lord expects us to change in small increments. This is not because He enjoys seeing the suffering of, say, a homosexual, who over many years must struggle to overcome same-sex attraction by diligent application of Gospel principles, but because such changes are more likely to be lasting.
There is a mysterious passage in the New Testament that talks about casting out demons. In it Jesus remarks that when a demon is cast out and the soul figuratively-speaking sweeps out his old life of bad habits and sin, dozens more demons, far worse than the first, return and make the man's life even more miserable.
Rosie the Mouse
Let me illustrate with a true story. When I was a boy living in England I was visited by a mouse whom I affectionately called Rosie. She was quite a pest, really, nibbling my chocolate and leaving deposits on and in my bed. In the end I said that enough was enough and spent the whole night crouched on my desk overlooking a card index box in which I had placed a tasty morsel. Sure enough Rosie was lured by the temptation, climbed in the box and, wham, I closed the lid. Soft-hearted fool that I was, I let Rosie out in the garden the next morning and she prompty ran straight back into the house and returned to her old tricks. Not until much later did I find the mouse hole in the floor by my sink and blocked it up.
I was, incidentaly, a believer at the time and prayed that the Lord would intervene to influence Rosie not to come into my room. Over the years I have learned that the Lord does not do what we can do ourselves. The result of my mouse-hole hunting gave me more knowledge about mice so that now, when our home is periodically invaded by these rodents, I know better how to keep them out.
I have a big mouse problem in my house right now. At one point I prayed: "Lord, please keep the mice out of the house" but to no effect. But even if God had answered my prayer and driven all the mice out supernaturally, what good would that have done if they then returned later? I had to take lots of practical steps like poisoning or trapping those that were already in the house, and then sealing up all their entry points to make sure that no others got in. Trapping and poisoning them has been most unpleasant -- I for one hate to see the little things suffer, yet really it's my own fault for not keeping them out by being more diligent. Mice are mice and you can't teach them to be anything else.
The Bad Habit of Sin
I will say the same about sin too. Sin is sin and you can't compromise with it. If there is serious sin in your life then you have got to get it out of your life, however painful or unpleasant it may be. Then you must seal sin's entry points so that it can't get in again.
The Brain Morphology of Homosexuals
But why, you may ask, is it sometimes so hard to do this, and why does it take so long? I recently read a study of the brain morphology of homosexuals and normal people and as a biologists was interested to note that the brain structure -- that is, the neuronal conections, are different between the two categories of people. Certain areas of a homosexual's brain are underdeveloped and this may account for his abnormal behaviour and why, no matter how hard he tries, he finds it almost impossible to change his sexual orientation.
Yet those homosexuals who have been healed by the Lord, usually over a long period of time, have brain compositions like those of ordinary heterosexuals.
Now I don't know how much brain biology you know but there are two interesting things about brain tissue which distinguishes it from all other tissues. Firstly, after a certain age, you can't grow any more brain cells. Once you've received your full complement of neurones, you don't get any more. Secondly, the connections between brain cells or neurones change, rather like the rewiring of a circuit. There is little doubt in my mind that much abnormal behaviour in humans is the result of this rewiring of brain circuits.
Have you ever had a song go round and round in your head til it drove you crazy? By constant repetition, our brain cells restructure themselves to do different things. Thus a person who goes deaf will, after a while, experience a reduction in the number of brain cell connections in the hearing part of his brain. His brain structure changes. If his hearing is restored, then the hearing section of the brain reconnects. This is an over simplification but is esentially what happens.
Sin Rewires the Brain
When we get into bad behavioural habits it is because we have rewired our brains so that they are conditioned to deal with that behaviour habit. A lesbian finds herself attracted to other women because that is how her brain has become connected. Becoming a heterosexual woman means a total rewiring, and that's a big job. It takes time and, moreover, the will-power to CHANGE.
It is one thing to get sin out of our lives -- it is quite another to change the receptacle and the bioprocessor that is fed by that sinful behaviour. If alcohol is associated with pleasure, and re-enforced by many years of drinking, quitting alcohol becomes difficult. What the flesh says is "right" (relatively speaking), and therefore "enjoyable", may, in the divine perspective, be wrong and soul-destroying. Only by the continuious exertion of will power, and the strength that comes from trusting in Christ, can a bad habit be changed and the brain rewired.
Simple Habits are not so "Simple"
I have found, sometimes to my surprise, that even "simple" habits can be hard to change in people. It is one thing to stand over someone, as you might a child, and reinforce behaviour patterns; it is quite another to leave them to their own devices. Remove the external stimulus to change, and people will fall back to old habits, unless sufficient time has been given for neurone reconnection to take place.
One thing I am sure of is that it is quite wrong to say that "you can't teach old dogs new tricks" -- it just takes a bit longer. The Israelites coming out of Egypt under Moses had been conditioned for generations to think like the Egyptians. They lacked the sustained will to change and it was necesary for that generation to die out and a new one be raised before they could enter the promised land.
Change is an Uphill Struggle
We, as New Covenant Christians, know what this means in practice. As a people called to establish a new religious tradition and culture, moulding people coming from diverse Christian (and even non Christian) traditions is an uphill struggle. Ex-Lutherans still think as Lutherans, ex-Mormons as Mormons, ex-Orthodox as Orthodox, ex-Catholic as Catholics, ex-Pentecostal as Pentecostals, ex-Jehovahs Witness as Jehovahs Witnesses, ex-Independent Church members as Independent Church members, etc.. Slowly but surely changes take place, but it is an uphill sruggle, and once you relax, falling back into ones old ways is fairly straight forward. Constant effort and time -- lots of it -- are the only solution.
There is little doubt that the next generation will differ from us in many ways. As inheritors of the New Covenant tradition, they will be moulded from scratch, though the effects of the surrounding culture will remain powerful so long as we are not gathered. Here in the West we face a mountain of thousands of years of tradition as we seek to recreate on a higher level of light, and in a Christian context, the Israelite Commonwealth and Theocracy. We are looking to a time where republics and man-made monarchies are gone and the Kingdom of God, ruled by Judges, becomes the norm.
The Millennium Needs a Thousand Years!
No wonder the reign of Christ will be for a thousand years. I suspect mankind will need that amount of time to reprogram his thinking and feeling until his body becomes a perfect receptacle for the Holy Spirit. For now, we progress little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept. Sometimes we are impatient for change because we expect God to do what we can do ourselves. Our part is to strive to be obedient to the commandments with all our might, patterning our thinking after the Biblical pattern.
What we achieve, through God's grace, will be passed to our children both genetically as well as by education. Through constant daily application we can and do change, and even though we don't always notice it ourselves, those who have known us a long time, do. It is, in the end, our spirit that determines the how our brain cells are organised; and therefore the solution to change is spiritual. Not only do we have to get rid of harmful thinking but we have to plug the holes in our lives that encourage us to think wrongly, such as TV, magazines, books, social contact, etc.. All of these influences subtly weaken our defences and cause us to regress so imperceptibly at first that we don't know we have slipped back until we suddenly find ourselves in bad habits we thought we had overcome or we far into overcoming.
So, yes, it is hard to change but NOT IMPOSSIBLE. Some people change in some things quickly, and others over a long time. Sometimes we carry in our flesh the genetic burden of generations of wrong thinking which weigh us down like lead blocks -- burdens which are often unconsciously supported by unbeliving family members and friends who are walking different paths to our own.
Zion is Important for Lasting Change
It is for this reason that we must, as a people, gather together, for mutual support and the reorientation of our thinking. If we do not, then the work we have been called to do will be impossible, and what we ought to have done our children will have to do for us. Let us be sure, therefore, that our bequest to the next generation is a spiritual work well done, even if it is not completed. Amen.
This page was created on 15 April 1998
Last updated on 15 April 1998
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