Every once and a while you hear something that makes you laugh out loud and you know it’s one of those things that will stick with you for a long time to come. I went to my niece’s bridal shower yesterday. Towards the end, my mother, sisters, a couple good friends and I had gathered around a table to chat. The bride’s sister, Leah (also my niece, of course), joined us for a few minutes, and someone (it might have been me, but being a senior, I can’t remember) asked her about the shirt she had put on her baby for her naptime. “Did I hear someone say you sewed the end of her sleeve so she can’t pull on her hair while she’s sleeping?”
“Yes!” Leah replied. “Emmie’s gotten in the habit of tugging on her hair as she falls to sleep, so much so that she’s getting a bald spot!” She explained that the shirt was a larger size and did not cramp her hand at all and that she only needed to wear it when she went down to sleep. Hopefully, by the time she needs to move up to the next size, the habit will be broken. Leah went on to say that Emmie also sucks her thumb with the other hand, but she was not going to try to break that habit just yet, since she is still really little.
Well, you know when one mommy mentions thumb-sucking, there are going to be plenty of others—no matter how long ago it was that they had thumb-suckers—who are going to jump in there with tales of how they broke their child or grandchild of sucking their thumb or pacifier. Our friend Marsha shared her story of trying to get her son Matt to stop sucking his thumb. (I should add that Matt is now the father of three, soon to be four, children of his own!)
Marsha said, “Matt was about to go into kindergarten and I kept telling him that he had to stop sucking his thumb before he went to kindergarten. I told him, ‘The other kids are going to laugh at you and think you are a baby!’ The first day of school arrived and I reminded him again, ‘Don’t suck your thumb! You don’t want the other kids to call you a baby, do you?’ Later, when the schoolday ended, Matt came rushing in the door all excited. ‘Mommy! Guess what?! They all suck their thumbs! And the teacher said it’s ok!’” Can’t you just picture all those little kindergartners, lined up on their mats at naptime, sucking their thumbs?
It made me laugh! You can just hear a little boy’s relief in his words. The peer pressure was off! Of course, Marsha must have felt a little frustrated. Her ultimate tool in breaking his thumb-sucking had failed! (The dentist eventually convinced Matt where she could not.)
We all know how to difficult it is to break a bad habit. By the time we reach our age, we’ve all had to break many bad habits—and there may be some habits with which we are still struggling! We may make a New Year’s resolution that this is the year we will finally do it—and then by the end of January that resolution has dissolved and we are right back to our old ways. We may read self-help books, jump off the deep end and go gung-ho—and then fizzle out. We feel bad about ourselves. Where is my self-discipline, we wonder. Why can I not gain victory over this thing?
Satan knows our weak spots and he will target them, using them against us to make us feel weak and defeated. Our bad habits hinder our spiritual lives and that is exactly what Satan wants, for not only do they affect our mindset, but they also affect our testimony and our effectiveness for God. We want to conquer and overcome those bad habits, but how?
I wish I could say I have had victory in all those areas of my life, but of course I have not. We can conquer all of these bad habits once and for all! For some of us (including me), however, there may be some areas in which it seems it will be a constant struggle, until we have our glorified bodies and have been taken out of this world of sin. That does not mean we should merely give up! God does not call us to overcome without giving us the weapons with which we can do it!
Specific Scripture –Ephesians 6:17 calls the Word of God the Sword of the Spirit—our offensive weapon against Satan and temptation. When Jesus was in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan(Matthew 4) the only weapon He used against him in this spiritual battle was the Scriptures. When Satan tried to use His hunger against Him and tempt Him to turn the stones into bread, Jesus said, “ It is written..” and quoted Deuteronomy 8:3. When Satan tried to get Jesus to throw Himself off the mountain and allow the angels to bear Him up, Jesus used Deuteronomy 6:16 against him. And when once again Satan tempted Jesus, this time offering Him all the kingdoms of the world if He would only worship him, Jesus quoted once again from Deuteronomy (6:13; 10:12, 20; 11:13…) and this time, we are told in Matthew 4:11, Satan left Him.
Just as Jesus used specific Scriptures against Satan, our weapon against specific temptations or bad habits is specific Scriptures. For example, against a bad temper you might memorize Proverbs 15:1 and Ephesians 4:31. To fight the temptation to gossip, it would be helpful to memorize James 3. To break the habit of smoking, committing I Corinthians 6:19-20 to memory would be helpful. That specific passage, along with Proverbs 23:2, 21, is the sword to use against over-eating. Here are a few other examples:
Lust – Matthew 5:28, Job 31:1
Pride – Proverbs 6:16-17, James 4:10
Lack of Bible Reading – Psalms 119:9
Lack of prayer time – Philippians 4:6, I Thessalonians 5:16-18, Hebrews 4:16
Memorizing Scripture to help in those spiritual battles is essential, but whipping it out for use by quoting it out loud will empower you! It will take your mind off the temptation and remind you that God is present to give you the victory!
Watch and Pray — Overcoming victory may come when we devout extra prayer time in asking for God’s strength in spiritual battles to come. Jesus told his disciples, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) When the disciples fell asleep and did not pray through the night as Jesus had had asked, they did not have the strength to face the temptations the next day, but forsook Him and fled. Prayer before we fall asleep or in the middle of the night may avail much in bringing victory over temptation the next day.
Fasting – There are some sins and bad habits that have such a stranglehold on our lives that it seems we are helpless to overcome. Mark 9:29 says, “And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” Fasting is seldom used these days, I think—but why? It is not merely abstaining from food, but fervently praying during those times when we would normally be thinking of earthly matters (like eating); praying for God’s power, either for us or others. Fasting, coupled with serious prayer and Bible reading brings victory.
Accountability – Breaking a bad habit or overcoming temptation is easier done when there is someone to whom we hold ourselves accountable. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” We can make all kinds of excuses to ourselves when we give into temptation, but when we have to answer to someone else, it is not quit as easy. We are comfortable with lying to ourselves, but when someone else is giving of their time and attention and heart to us, it is a different matter.
Replacement — When we finally give up the bad habit or sin that has impeded us, it is a good thing to replace it with something good. When a baby finally gives up her bottle, Mama replaces it with a sippy cup. When a drunk gives up alcohol, he will replace it with some other beverage. A fitting replacement for criticism or gossip might be praise. I Corinthians 13:11 says, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Childishness is replaced by maturity. II Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Our old carnal nature is replaced by a new spiritual, eternal nature and we are given a new spirit and a new heart (Ezekiel 18:31) and even a new song! (Psalm 40:3)
When conquering a bad habit or a sin that is hindering your spiritual life, there are two promises of God that are important to remember. The first is this: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) And the second is this simple reminder: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)
No more thumb-sucking, ok?