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Hearts and Habits

What if I told you that your habits and New Year’s resolutions are not about you? You read that correctly, your habits are not about you. Instead, they’re about glorifying God and honoring the people in your life. That is what Dr. Greg Gifford’s book, Heart and Habits [1] is all about. There are no other Christian books on the market today that address how one’s heart and habits interact so that we avoid falling to one extreme of sentimentalism (emotions) or pragmatism (all actions). 

Everything we do is shaped by habits. In today’s society, habits are championed with self-seeking goals and behavior modification. People form legalistic and capricious habits that they hope to attain through sheer willpower, praise and bribery, so that they can be seen as healthy, productive members of society. However, these ambitions are self-centered and usually never fueled by the perspective of the Gospel (Philippians 2:3). Gifford explains that we should, “reject behavior modification that is void of any discussion of the need for a transformed heart” (page 17). In contrast, we should pursue heart transformation that affects one’s behaviors and habits.  

At the core of everything we do is the heart, the seat of intentions and desires. These desires fuel our habits and actions (Luke 6:45). Having the ability to recognize how the heart affects habits enables habit formation to be aimed at the glory of God and not the glory of the individual (Colossians 3:23). This change in perspective gives power to habit development. When heart change motivates behavior change, then you no longer have to will yourself to wake up early. Instead, you desire to wake up early to be in the Word, exercise, and make breakfast for your family because you desire to live a godly life and you recognize how those habits enable you to do so. Gifford’s goal is “To help you understand the heart as it informs your habits, so you can develop habits for the glory of God and the good of people” (page 18). That is why habit formation is not really about you.  

Once we understand the role of the heart in habit formation, we can pursue habits with new vigor, as the Puritans would call it “vivification of our faith.” Gifford gives the example of a car accident. If a believer has practiced thinking about and approaching situations in light of God’s sovereign and loving purposes in everyday life, it’s more likely that their knee-jerk reaction to an accident will be trust, not panic. This is why a person needs to begin with the heart, and this change of desire changes habits that manifest outwardly. Heart change is the ultimate aim that “must drive habit development” (page 33). Not only is this a biblical perspective (as seen in Colossians 3), but it is also the most effective perspective because when desires change habits change.  

Change at the heart level motivates actual habit change that is permanent and not temporary or self-willed. In Gifford’s own life, church attendance was something that began as a habit and moved to the heart. Gifford explains that, “When we understand the relationship of the heart and habits, we are free to be the most productive, physically healthy, relationally-connected, and vocationally-successful people we can be!” (Page 37). Believers who pursue heart change through the Holy Spirit will be refreshed seeing how the Holy Spirit brings conviction, desire, inducement and power to fuel obedience and godly habits (page 41). Godly habits will begin to form naturally and joyfully as believers pursue a Christ-like heart. Seeing how God has saved us and changed our hearts allows us to put off our old habits or self, and instead “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10). 

Heart and Habits is an inspiring and practical book. Dr. Gifford not only explains the heart behind habit formation, but also provides helpful definitions, clear history, and practical examples. This book is full of worksheets and diagrams to aid each reader in applying what they are learning. Gifford outlines five spheres that are present in most individual lives as categories for readers to think through in habit formation. These habits should aim to glorify God at every level, no matter whether they are in the spiritual, personal, familial, vocational or social spheres. Using these spheres to categorize habit formation to the glory of God can help an individual break down their goals and heart motives into manageable parts.  

This book is full of hope because it recognizes that successful habit formation is not dependent upon our own strength or will power. Instead, successful habits are a result of the life changing work of Jesus Christ in one’s heart. Therefore, believers can approach goals and resolutions with confidence in the Lord because they know that their greatest strength comes from the work of the Holy Spirit. The road to successful habit formation is not lonely or discouraging. The Holy Spirit is the one who induces the desire and power to change.  

Whether you love setting new habits or you are wrestling with despair, let this book be a catalyst for hope and change as you put-off bad habits and establish new ones to the glory of God!  

Helpful Quotes:  

  1. “At no point have we lost the ability to break unhelpful or even sinful habits, because we have God’s resources for this change” (page 13). 

2. “Unknown habits are probably the most lethal types of habits because we aren’t aware of them” (page 15).  

3. “The purpose is to learn that the reason why you develop habits is more important than the development of habits itself. And the only acceptable life-dominating motivation is a motivation to glorify and please God…” (page 33). 

4. “It’s not how awesome you are or how organized you can become – it’s how much the Holy Spirit can work in your life” (page 43).

5. “To over-emphasize habits without heart leads to a deluding self-righteousness” (page 47). 

6. “Do you realize that efficiency can actually replace God’s role in your life and cause you to glorify God less?” (page 67).