Pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren laid out four reasons many Christians resist changing self-defeating behaviors and shared how the truth can help alter old habits.
The 68-year-old senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, preached a sermon on Mother's Day as part of a series titled “Resetting My Life" focused on personal efforts to change.
“You may need to change your connection to God. You may need to change your health. You may need to change your body, your relationships, your habits," said Warren.
"You may want to change your energy levels. You might want to change your job, your career, your work. You might want a reset in your marriage.”
Warren cited Ecclesiastes 7:20, which says that “there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.”
“What I am talking about this weekend are the areas of your life and your personality that seem to resist all efforts to change. You know what I’m talking about; the stuff in you [that] you don’t like about you, but it’s stubborn. They’re persistent problems in your life. You haven’t had these for a few weeks. You’ve had them for years,” Warren emphasized earlier in the sermon.
“And the parts of your life that you really don’t like about you, but they rebel and they resist at any time you try to change them, correct them, reset them in your life.”
Warren asked two questions: "Why is it so hard to change some stubborn areas in my life that I don’t like about me; habits, patterns, ways of relating to people, habitual weaknesses in my life?” and, “What does God say it takes to change them?”
The The Purpose Driven Life author listed four different reasons Christians often cite when explaining why they find change difficult.
First, a person has practiced a bad habit "for so long" that change seems impossible.
“Many of your patterns actually were established way, way back in childhood and those patterns helped you cope with trauma and stress in your early years when you didn’t know how to fight back,” Warren said.
“Some of your self-defeating patterns were actually survival tactics as a little kid. Now, today, you may realize those don’t work. They were self-defeating. They only make the problem worse, those habits and patterns. But you still have them in your life. Why? Because they're familiar.”
Self-defeating habits that Christians have developed familiarity with are like “old friends,” according to Warren.
"You know they're not good for you. You know they don't work. You know those habits and patterns cause problems or conflict, but you’re used to them.”
“Some things are hard to change because [you’ve] had those problems for a long time,” he added.
The second reason, according to Warren, is that Christians often confuse their identities with their defects. They may tell themselves, "I am a workaholic, I am passive, I am aggressive, I’m timid, I’m an overeater or I’m lazy," among other things.
“Those things, those defects, they’re not your true identity. … They are hiding your true identity,” Warren explained.
“When you see yourself in certain ways, what happens is you set up a self-fulfilling prophecy. You say, ‘I’m always nervous on planes.’ Well, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to be nervous on planes. And subconsciously, sometimes we fear ‘if I change, will I still be me because I’ve been this old me for so long?"
Third, Warren noted that “whether it’s good or bad, helpful or unhelpful, healthy or unhealthy, there's a payoff behind" a bad habit. Sometimes this payoff could be emotional, relational or other reinforcement.
“You get rewarded for that defect. You get rewarded for that bad habit in some way. And listen, whatever gets rewarded gets repeated,” he said.
The fourth reason is that "Satan discourages me," Warren said, adding that Christians are not in this battle by themselves because “[Satan] wants to keep you stuck in a rut."
“He wants to keep you down. He wants to keep you from becoming the woman God made you to be or the man God made you to be. And one of the things he does is he uses self-doubt, criticism, accusations. Did you know Satan is accusing you constantly with ideas? The Bible calls Satan the accuser. In fact, that's what his name means. … He's the adversary,” Warren preached.
“[Satan is] constantly suggesting negative thoughts like: ‘You're never going to change. Are you kidding me? How many diets have you been on? This is hopeless. You're never going to change your marriage. You’re never going to change your relationship to that child, to that neighbor. It’s hopeless. It’s not going to work. You may as well just soon give up.’ Where do you think all that came from? It didn’t come from God. It came from Satan.”
The beginning of change can only happen when a Christian begins to choose what they think about, Warren added, explaining that change "starts in your mind."
“Every change starts between your ears; before it changes your emotions, behavior, it starts in your mind,” he said. Warren referenced Ephesians 4:21-27, where God calls Christians to “be made new in the attitude of your minds."
The secret to personal change is not about willpower, pills that someone can take to change or resolutions to change, Warren stressed. Instead, personal change can only happen with “knowing and facing the truth about you, about God, about life, about problems, about your family, about your past [and] about growing up.”
“Change always starts with truth. You can’t have positive change on negative ideas, on lies and mistruths,” the pastor said. "But, there are two important parts of it: learning the truth and then facing the truth."