Listen to the Episode
In the first part of this two part series on stopping recurring sin we looked at the five elements of repentance and five prayers we can engage in to spiritually attack our sinful desire. If you didn’t listen to that, it was episode 11.
Today, we are going to look at six simple strategies you can use to eliminate recurring sin once and for all. Today’s strategies are intended to cut off or avoid those things that lead us to sin and to help you replace your sin with something healthy or good.
To understand recurring sin let’s talk about first what I call “the anatomy of a habit.” Leading researcher and author of the book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg says that every habit has three pieces a Cue, Routine, and Reward.
I would add that often times between the cue and routine there are certain thought paths we go down. To successfully change behavior you must recognize when a cue triggers your thoughts that lead to an action.
THE SIX STRATEGIES
1) Examine Yourself.
Look at specific instances of your sin and see if you recognize any patterns. The bible underscores the importance of self-examination in a number of places. Such as,
Lamentations 3:40 says, “Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.
Galation 6:4 says But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.
Grab a piece of paper or use the worksheet in the download for this podcast. Reflect on the last time you committed the sin you are concerned about. Then answer these questions”
When did you sin?
What was happening right before the sin?
What influences (people or activities) pushed or pulled you toward the sin?
For example, I know a woman who struggled with drug addiction. She recognized that she fell back into her old habits whenever she went over to her brother’s house where drugs were readily available. She also turned to smoking pot whenever she was stressed out.
What payoff or reward do receive from committing this sin?
For my friend, drugs provider her an escape from stress.
What consequence is happening because of the sin?
My friend had legal issues which were costly in terms of time and money.
Once you have answered those questions, try answering them again for two other recent incidents and look to see if there are any patterns.
2) Eliminate the Cue.
Paul said in Romans 13:14 “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires”
When I read the words “Make no provision” I think of supply lines for an army. What could you do to cut off supply lines so an army doesn’t have it’s resources to be effective. You’re wanting to do the same thing to your sin.
My friend recognized that literally she had a drug supply line in her brother. She could avoid certain people to help prevent relapse. Or in another example, if you get caught up in pornography you may need to limit access to technology somehow. I know someone else who struggled with overeating to the detriment of their health. They had to strip certain foods out of their kitchen. Because if they were available, each evening they would start having cravings and then turn to those foods.
Again this is all about the influences you have and considering ways you can protect yourself from them.
But what about situations where you cannot avoid the Cue? May be you work with someone who is poorly influencing you. If you absolutely cannot avoid or eliminate an influence then you have to find a substitute routine. So the third strategy is…
3) Find Substitutes
Paul wrote to the Ephesians,
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31-32.
I can so relate to this one. I had a situation where a church member constantly backstabbed me. I could not avoid this person and whenever I saw him (which was my cue) I would find myself filled with anger and wanting to bad mouth him to other people. Trying to just stop was ineffective. It was like I was trying to grow a garden by just pulling up the weeds and never planting any seeds. To be covered over in weeds once again only took time UNTIL…
I used the cue of seeing him as a trigger to pray God’s best for him. I chose to bless him rather than curse him in my mind. I still got angry at times, because he still kept doing things behind my back that were hurtful. However, my anger was greatly diminished and at times I found myself feeling compassion for him.
My friend who overate was was rewarded by having cravings satisfied. He found healthy foods he could eat in the evening that satisfied his appetite without damaging effects on his body. Plus, the healthy alternatives actually began to diminish his cravings.
Application Exercise: Brainstorm three to five substitutes for your current routine.
4) Partner with good influencers
An old states, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If you want to shift who you are, shift who you are with.
When I helped with a recovery ministry, during our training, they told us about the huge success rate they were having in treating addiction with inmates. The key was they also got the inmate’s family members on the outside into the same program. These recovering addicts could not last on the outside if they re-entered a home full of drug users. But if the recovery ministry could positively transform the community the inmate was reentering then the inmate had a support system rather than a system dragging him down.
There are support groups for many issues that may be leading you to sin. If you can’t find one, get in a prayer group you can trust, or make friends with some people who have overcome what you struggle with.
They will become a cue and encourage Godly routines and they can hold you accountable in a gracious manner.
5) Saturate your mind
The word of God tell us,
“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
One of the best ways to renew your mind is to study the word of God. In general, studying the Word will nurture God’s Holy Spirit within you. You will become more aware of sin in your life and more troubled by it the more time you spend in God’s Word.
Even better yet, if you can find specific verses related to your sin, memorizing them can empower you.
You can also saturate yourself with books, online articles, tapes, music, or whatever else that will reinforce Godly behaviors that are contrary to the sinful behaviors you are contending with right now.
APPLICATION EXERCISE: List three to five ways you can saturate your mind with information that will reinforce the new habit you are trying to take on in place of your old routine.
6) Have an emergency plan.
What are some prescribed actions you can immediately take whenever you find yourself tempted or having made a bad choice? In 12 step programs, participants call sponsors and/or get to a meeting the moment they recognize they have or about to allow themselves to be sucked back in.
APPLICATION EXERCISE: List three to five simple steps you can easily take if you begin to sin.
RECAP AND CLOSING THOUGHTS
The six strategies we covered are:
1) Examine yourself – look at incidents and try to identify patterns you can strategically interrupt
2) Eliminate Cues – identifying and getting rid of bad influences
3) Finding substitutes – meaning new replacement routines
4) Partner with good influencers – Gather around you a support group
5) Saturate your mind – Reflect and dwell upon that which is good so it shapes your behavior
6) Have an emergency plan
Now just two last thoughts…
I would encourage you to download the workbook I’ve created and fill out the worksheets for these strategies. At first, it may seems like overkill, if you take this seriously and do the quick exercises for each strategy.
And the truth is, it might be overkill. You may only need one or two of these strategies along with prayer to find yourself free of a tenacious sinful habit. God may help you turn your behavior around instantaneously.
But, odds are you’re going to have to experiment around until you hit on a formula that works. You probably didn’t get where you are overnight. So re-scripting you life may take some time.
And here’s where filling out all six strategy exercises is helpful – it gives you options. You may feel hopeless right now. You may feel like, “I’ve tried everything and I just can’t change.” The reality is by doing these exercise you will recognize many new options you have never consider. This will give you hope and energy.
So do the exercises, and please go back and listen to Episode 11 that deals with the spiritual actions you need to take to be free from sin. Without those, you’ll simply be on a self-help track that will likely fail if God isn’t simultaneously renewing you from the inside out.
ADDITIONAL WORKSHEET — COMING SOON!
For now, simple answer the questions and make the lists in the application exercises on a sheet of paper.