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Craig Groeschel - Who Before Do Habits




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Well, I can tell there are some people that are gathered today that are ready to start the New Year with God's Word in his church. I am a little bit emotional today because it was 23 years ago on this very weekend that it was a snowy Sunday and about 40 people gathered in a little two car garage that had been converted into a dance studio, and that was the beginning of something that has become very, very special. This is the beginning of a New Year, and I believe that this could be the beginning of something for many of you that will also be very, very special. I love this time of the year. I love it because people are open to the work of God, that people are looking at how they can improve their lives, how they can make changes.

And so today, we're starting a new message series that I cannot describe how much passion I have for this subject. I cannot adequately tell you what I believe is possible if you will hear God's Word and apply it over the next few weeks. I literally believe that this can redirect the trajectory of so many lives in a direction that would be not only God-honoring but would really help make our lives different. We're gonna talk about habits. What I wanna do is I've read or listened to dozens of books on habits over the years. I wanna just expose you to great resources. There are three books in particular that I wanna highlight, Compound Effect by Hardy, this is the book that I had, all of my children read, It's an incredible book. Then the Power of Habit by Duhigg, in my opinion, is probably the classic all-time book on habits. It's hard to get any better than that book. And James Clear came along and wrote a new book this year that released, and it's so strong that I invited him to be on my Leadership Podcast to interview him about it.

These three books have really influenced me more than any others. If at anywhere you hear something and say, that sounds like something from one of these books, I wanna tell you, it's probably something from one of these books because they've really influenced me in a way that's been significant, and I wanna give credit to those authors today. I will say this, this is a completely original thought, and I've said this for years and years. Why do habits matter? Because successful people do consistently what other people do occasionally. Successful people in any area of success, if someone is spiritually thriving and they're close to God, they're consistently living the disciplines that help them grow close to God. If you've got someone that's financially successful, they're free, they're consistently doing things that other people only will occasionally or maybe even never, ever do. Relationally, physically, it's all about small things leading in a direction of big things over time.

If you look at, let's say, who was successful in Scripture. I don't think anybody would argue that Jesus was an incredibly successful pleasing God. I think they would say Paul was incredibly successful pleasing God. If you look at their lives, one thing I can tell you is that Jesus never, ever, ever said, but I just can't find the time to pray. I'm so busy, and these disciples, they're wearing me out. Peter just gets all up on my nerves. I wish I had more time to spend with God, but I just don't have the time to spend with God. Jesus never, ever said that. What you'll see is a consistent habit of breaking away from the crowds to have intimate fellowship with God. The Apostle Paul did not make excuses. There's a verse in Scripture that said he had the habit, everybody say habit, he had the habit of going to the Temple to actually share his faith with those who were not in the family of God. Habits matter, successful people do consistently what other people do occasionally. I like what Sean Covey said, he said, "Our habits will make or break us. We become what we repeatedly do".

You'll probably acknowledge that this is a good time of the year to talk about habits because this is the time of year that people create New Year's resolutions. I love that, I celebrate it, I applaud it. That's the good news that people wanna change. The bad news is that according to studies, 92% of your New Year's resolutions will be gone by Valentine's Day. That's bad news. You know it from last year, you had the goal, the resolution, and for most people in most cases, it doesn't last, and you end up feeling like the Apostle Paul in his writings in Romans 7, when he said this, I don't really understand myself, for I want to stop eating junk food, I wanna stop procrastinating, I wanna stop overspending at Target, whatever it is, I wanna do what is right, he says, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate. I wanna do what's right, he says, but I can't. I wanna do what's good, but I don't. I don't wanna do that which is wrong, but I do it anyway. And then he does what so many of us do, he connects his failure to his identity, and he says, oh, what a miserable person I am. What a failure. I'm not disciplined, I'm not becoming more like Christ.

What a miserable person. Then he asked the question, and we see him shift in his thinking. He says, who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? And he looks to the source, the only one who can truly change him, and he says, thank God, the answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord, who can change us, who can deliver us, who can set us free. Christ is our source, Christ is our strength. Christ is our healing, Christ is our hope, Christ is the one who makes all things new. It doesn't matter who were, where you were, what you did, where you've been. With Christ, he takes all things and makes them new. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new person. The old is gone, and the new has come. My prayer is that you will not only experience all the life available to you in Christ, but you would live out the disciplines that lead to a God-honoring, God-pleasing, successful life, because successful people do consistently what other people do occasionally. Why is it that so many of us, we genuinely have good intentions. We want to lose the weight, we want to get on the, we wanna do whatever, but we fail again and again and again.

I wanna show you three reasons why we don't succeed when we have such good intentions. The first reason is that we focus on the what but we don't understand the how. We focus on the action that we want to perform, the thing that we want to accomplish, but we don't understand how to get there. Think about it. Almost everybody that you know has for the most part similar goals. If we surveyed 100 of you and said, what's really important to you in life, most of you would say things that generally fall into the same categories. Most of you would say something about you want to be healthy in some form, you want to be healthy. I don't know anybody who's saying, my goal this year is to have dangerously high cholesterol. Right, nobody's gonna do that. All right, when it comes to finances, most people say, you know, I wanna be free, I wanna be out of debt, I wanna be able to be generous. I don't know anybody who's saying I want to double the debt that I'm in and get it at really high interest rates. Maybe 19 or 20% would be fantastic. Nobody does that.

Relationships, we all want good relationships. Spiritually, if you're a disciple of Jesus, you wanna be close to God. You want to make a difference in this world. You want your life to matter. Most of us, we have very similar goals or hopes, but the results are dramatically different. Some are really achieving what they want in one area, and others are falling way, way short. In fact, I like what James Clear says in his book Atomic Habits. He says that winners and losers generally have the same goals. He says that successful people and unsuccessful people have the same goals. Think about it, at the beginning of any season in sports, what does the coach say to the team? The coach has the same goal, we want to win the championship. I don't know any coaches that say, this year, we're shootin' for fifth place, it's gonna be amazing. Nobody's doin' that, right? When somebody gets married, what do people want? We want love, we want a blessed life, we want to be happy. Nobody's saying our goal is to make it five years, maybe seven, and then divorce is in the cards. Nobody does that. We all want something similar, but we end up with every different results, why? He teaches this idea, and I love it, that goals don't determine success, but systems determine success. Goals don't get us alone to the end desire, but the systems in our life determine success.

And in fact, to directly quote his book, he says, you don't rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems. You fall to the level of your systems. You may say, that doesn't sound really spiritual at all. When I read the Bible through the lens of that thought, I see examples all over the place of people successful because of Godly systems or unsuccessful because of the lack of systems. When I look at Daniel, he's a fantastic guy. If I want to model after the life of someone who stood out and had great faith, I wanna live like Daniel. Why was Daniel successful, why was it, amongst a bunch of other young men, did he stand out to all the leaders as Godly, gifted, talented, and different? Why is it that when thrown into a den full of lions because of his obedience to God, he was able to stand strong, trusting God, and come out alive on the other side? It's because he had the systems in place that led to a life of faith and faithfulness.

What was his system? For years and years and years, Daniel had pre-decided that three times a day, every day, he stops to spend time with God. Three times a day. If you wanna grow in your faith, and if you want to be more faithful, you will not rise to the level of your goals, you will fall to the level of your systems. If you have in place systems that build your faith, strengthen your knowledge and intimacy with God, then you will more likely become the person that you want to become. Here's the mistake that we tend to make. We tend to think, I wanna change the results. I wanna, whatever it is. I wanna lose 20 pounds by Easter. I want to be more organized. I wanna finally pay off that one credit card that's been with me so long, it's like a pet, it's been driving me crazy, whatever it is. The problem is this. We need to change the systems that create those results. If we will fix what we do, how we live, the habits in our life, the outcomes will fix themselves.

Is anybody interested in this? If you're interested, say I'm interested. I'm gonna tell you a lot more about this, but I'm not gonna tell you about it today. In the weeks to come, I promise you, we're gonna get very practical building spiritual principles into how to create these systems that will lead to the desired outcomes. That's just to kinda tease you to get you warmed up. Why do we not succeed? Number one, we tend to focus on the what, but we don't necessarily understand the how. The second reason we give up so quickly, and 92% of our New Year's resolutions fail, is because we don't see progress fast enough. You know this, you've been in some area of your life where you're gonna walk on the treadmill three days that week, and then you get on the scale, and you gained two pounds. This doesn't work, right? You read your YouVersion Bible plan for four days straight, and then you're driving to church, and you yell at your kids all the way there.

Say, I told you, this thing doesn't work at all. Whatever it is, you stop drinking coffee to save money, and you go a whole month, and you save $100, and now, you don't owe $35,500 on your college loan. You owe 'em $35,400! And you're sayin', I can't even make a dent in this. You'll see results fast enough, and because of that, we tend to make a mistake, and the mistake is this, that we wrongly conclude that small good decisions don't matter that much. We wrongly conclude, this small, God-honoring habit, this small, faithful decision, this small, good and positive action doesn't make that big of a difference at all. Then take the flip side, the not-so-good things. What do you do? You go and you play video games for three hours straight, and your wife's not happy, but she doesn't leave you. You skip church for a weekend, and your whole world doesn't fall apart, nothing tragic happens to you spiritually. You eat a third of a box of chocolates, and nothing changes, and so then, you also wrongly conclude that the small, bad decisions don't impact your life that much. The small, good decisions don't really move the needle, the small, bad decisions don't matter that much, and you miss the truth of what is impacting your life in massive ways.

And that is our life is the sum total of all the decisions that we make. Who you are today is a result of every single small decision that you've made along the way. They all matter, and they all add up over time. What happens, you rarely wreck your life and end up in a really bad place all at once. What tends to happen? You make a small decision. A little compromise here, cut the corner there. Fudge a little bit here, lie a little bit there. Bend the rules a little bit here, if you take a step over the line here, and then, one day, you wake up and go, how the heck did I screw up my life so much? You didn't do it all at one time. How'd you do it? One little bad decision followed by the other. Then, you take someone who in some area of their life, they're crushing it. They're blowing it out. They're living the end result of what you want. And you look at that and think, well, well, how'd they get there? They didn't get there all at once.

Again, it was one small decision at a time. It was a moment of self-sacrifice. It was a small discipline, done again and done again, and nobody else knows about the time you spent in prayer and the time that you fasted and the time that you sought after God and the time that you had a difficult conversation, and the early mornings and the late nights, and the grind and the faithfulness, and all the perseverance that it took for you to get to a certain point. They don't see that, they don't understand it, but you realize it was one small, faithful decision after another over a period of years that led you to the place that everybody else wants to be. Your good decisions are not wasted. They're being stored up. You may not see it. It's a little bit like, I eat, essentially, is this true, the same thing every day, like, the same thing over and over and over again, and it impacts my body. For breakfast, I eat oatmeal with 12 blueberries. On a crazy day, I'll up it to 14. One time, I did 15, I got, it was out of control, okay?

And what I do is I heat the water up, and I'll put room temperature water in the pan, I'll put the fire on. And the water is just room temperature. You don't see anything happening, but the fire is changing the temperature in the water. It might be now 78 degrees, then 104, then 139, then 187, then 201. At some point, the heat is being stored up. You may not see it from the outside, but at 211 degrees, what do you have? You've got really hot water, 211 degrees. Then at 212 degrees, you hit the tipping point. It's not just really hot water, it's boiling water. Here's what will happen. You add a God-honoring discipline, and another one, and another one. You're generally faithful. Sometimes you mess up, but you're generally faithful. You may not see any results for a period of time, but the temperature is rising. Your faith is being stored up, and at some point, I promise, there's a tipping point, and it becomes obvious. You're now in shape, you're now out of debt, your marriage is now better, you're now making a difference, whatever it is.

And people will look on, and they're gonna call you an overnight success. They have no idea all the private sacrifices, all the faithfulness, all the consistency, overcoming your own self-doubt, failing and starting again, praying and seeking God, enduring the criticism. They have no idea, I've said this for years, it's the things that no one sees that bring results everyone wants. It's what's invisible, people don't see it. But you know it, one small decision at a time. I like the way the Apostle Paul said it to the believers in Galatia, he said this in Galatians 6:9. He said, let us not become weary in doing good. Let's not become weary in honoring God. Let's not become weary in doing the right things. Let's not become weary in living by a budget. Let's not become weary in counting calories. Let's not become weary in getting up 30 minutes earlier to seek God. Let's not become weary in going to the gym. Let's not become weary in fasting before our God. Let's not become weary in doing the right thing, honoring our marriage even when we're not getting the respect that, for at the proper time, you may not see it for a while, but it's bein' stored up. For at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Why do we tend to fail so often? We focus on the what, we don't understand the how. We don't see progress fast enough, or number three, this is a big problem, our distorted identity sabotages our success, our distorted identity sabotages our success. What does our enemy do? Our enemy tries to connect our failures to identity. You failed so you are a failure. You did bad, therefore you are bad. That's what happened to the Apostle Paul as he was recognize, I try to do what's right, and I don't do what's right. Oh, what a miserable person I am. When you look at some of the most effective people in God's Word, you see people who battled with identity issues. In the Old Testament, somewhere along the way, Moses didn't live up to his own expectations. And so when God called him, he said, I'm not a good public speaker, I'm not a good leader, he identified some failure with who he was, and that sabotaged his potential.

The same is true with Gideon. Gideon was nervous. You think I'm not nervous? Yeah, we all get nervous. But he took that failure, that shortcoming, identified with it, he said, I'm the weakest and I'm the least in my community. The Apostle Paul even did that. He said, I'm unqualified, I'm not good enough, I'm not educated enough, I'm the least and I feel incredibly unworthy. And this is how it might play out in your life. Well, this is just the way I am. I mean, we've always known, I just kinda have an addictive personality, and so, well, I might as well take another drink, right? I'm not good with money, I've never been good with money, so might as well go shopping just to deal with it. I'm not a disciplined person. I'm not an organized person. I've never been good in relationships. I just can't seem to get it done. It's identity, and here's what happens. An unhealthy identity creates unwise habits. Then, the unwise habits reinforce the unhealthy identity. It's a cycle. We don't see ourselves as Godly, therefore, we don't live in a way that's not Godly, therefore, the way we live reinforces the identity that we're not really living for God, and the cycle becomes very, very negative.

That's why this year, when we start, we're gonna do something very, very different. What I'm gonna ask you to do, and I'm gonna ask you to do this in your LifeGroups, and if you're not yet in a LifeGroup, you may wanna add one small part to your week that could be a total game changer for you spiritually, which is we gather together with other people of God and we sharpen one another spiritually. We do life together, we are people of a broader community, and this is what we do. I'm gonna ask you before you start with, do goals. Here's what I wanna do. I wanna lose 18 pounds, whatever it is. I wanna encourage you to start with who goals. Not what do you wanna do, but I want you to first start with the identity and ask yourself, who do you want to become? Who do you want to become? Who is it that when people describe you, you want them to describe? You might say, I want to be a true man of God. It's a great who goal. You might say this. I wanna be clean. I wanna be sober. That's a fantastic who goal. I wanna be a Godly mom. I wanna be a Godly spouse. It's a great who goal. I wanna be financially free. I know it might take four years, it might take seven years. I wanna be generous along the way, and I wanna be radically and irrationally generous in the years to come. I wanna be a bold witness to the other people in my school. I wanna be a healthy person. I wanna recognize that my body is a gift from God. It's a Temple, it's a house for the Holy Spirit of God. I wanna make it healthy. Who do you want to become?

Here's what happens. Identity shapes actions. Identity shapes actions, identity does. For example, years ago when we officed, our church officed in this little complex where my office looked out over a parking lot. These high school students came up, and about, I don't know, a bunch of 'em got out of the car, and two guys took their shirts off and they were fighting each other. And I turned into a 10th grade boy. I ran through the office yelling, fight, fight, fight, fight! And Pastor Robert Wall joined me, and two pastors went outside and watched these two guys beatin' the tar out of each other, and we were cheerin' them on. 30, 45 seconds, maybe a minute, right, yeah! And then, we looked at each other at the same time, and we remembered who we were. We're grownups. We're Christian grownups. We're Christian grownups who are pastors. We don't cheer on two testosterone-filled, hairy-legged teenage boys beatin' the crap out of each other. We break it up, regrettably, because it was a good fight, but we break it up. And so we did.

The point is, when you know who you are, you know what to do. Who do you wanna be? Well, you know who you are, then you know what the right thing is to do. The do overflows out of the who. Don't start with the do, start with the who. Who do you want to be? When you know who you are, thank you, Mom, for clapping. There's an example in one of the books that I read, I can't remember which one, but they said this. Let's say you're tryin' to stop smoking cigarettes. Tryin' to stop vaping, okay, whatever it is. And someone says to you, do you want a ciggie? If you say no, I'm trying to quit, what you're doing is you're identifying as a smoker. I am a smoker trying to quit. If, on the other hand, you say, no, I don't smoke anymore, your identity is saying, that's a part of my past, it's not a part of my present. Identity shapes actions.

You may say, but this is just who I am, I can't change. Remember God's Word, Romans 6:6, Verse Six says this. We know that our old, sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We're no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ, we were set free from the power of sin. Now, you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. When you know who you are, you'll know what to do. Who are you in Christ? You are redeemed of the Lord, you are righteous in Christ. You are more than a conquerer, you're an overcomer. You're blessed that coming in, and you're blessed, you can do all things not by your own power, but through Christ who gives you strength. Oh, what a miserable person I am. Who can deliver me from this body of death? Oh, thanks be to God! His son Jesus Christ our Lord can set me free. Identity shapes actions. When you know who you are, you'll know what to do. We talked about the negative spiral, let me show you the positive one. Healthy identity, what does it do? It creates positive habits. I fast, I tithe, I pray, I read God's Word. I eat disciplined, I work out. It creates healthy habits. And positive habits reinforce a healthy identity. I'm a disciplined child of God. I'm a contributor, I'm an ambassador, I'm one who makes a difference in this world.

Who do you want to become? Who do you want to become? 23 years ago, on this weekend, I had, Katie was 19, 20 months old, Mandy was a baby. Amy and I were kids, and we gathered with a few people and started this place. And what's happened over 23 years is almost impossible for me to get my mind around. I figure I got another 23 good, hard years in me. Yeah! Maybe more, Woo! 'Cause I'm a disciplined child of God. Yes. Amen. What do I want people to say about me when I'm in my 70s? Who do I wanna be? I jotted, just on a napkin, a few things down, this is who I wanna be. I'll just tell you what I wrote down without even thinkin'. I want people to say this about me. He's a guy who loves Jesus. He's obsessed with his wife. He's a great dad, and even a better pops. And he's a devoted pastor to the church that he loves. I want people to say, he's a strong leader who believes in the best in people, and he helps people do more for the glory of God than they can do on their own.

I don't think anybody will say this, but I want them to intuitively feel it. I don't think they're gonna say this next statement, but I want them to feel it. He's a wise steward. And they're not gonna say it, he's a wise steward, you're not gonna say that. But what I want you to feel is this guy takes care of whatever's trusted to him, his health, his influence, his marriage, his money, his time, and he uses it to glorify God. Then I want you to say something like this. The dude is enjoying the ride. He's rich in friendships and experiences and generosity, and he's leavin' one heck of a legacy. One heck of a legacy. That's what I want you to say. When you know who you are, you'll know what to do. No single action will change your identity, but consistent actions over time start to change how you feel about yourself and change your identity because successful people do consistently what other people do occasionally. Who do you wanna be?

At our church, for years now, our staff and many of you have prayed and asked God to give them a word for the year, one word that kinda represents what we're praying God would do in our lives. Some people, their word is discipline, sacrifice, faithfulness, joy, rest, whatever it is. Amy's word for several years has been give. Give. So my word is earn. You gotta fund that girl, right, so. This year I asked Amy, what's her word, you ready for this? This is a true story, 100% true, this is Amy. Her word is Jesus. Well, you win. Jesus, whatever my word is sucks. It's, like, all downhill from there, what do you do there? So you know what my word is? Amy. 'Cause Jesus is already taken. So if she's tryin' to be like Him, I might try to be like her. And I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed at this, you can't have Jesus as a word. It's not fair. What's it next year, Holy Spirit? And then it dawned on me. That's exactly who I wanna be. That's good. It's who I wanna be. I wanna be like Christ. Because if I'm like Him, I'm full of love, full of grace, full of truth. I reflect the love of God in this world. I wanna be like Jesus. Conform me to His image. And if you're becoming more like Christ, you know who you are, then you know what to do. Because truly God-honoring people do consistently what other people do occasionally.

So Father, help us to be like Jesus. Do a work in us, God. Stir up your church, God, to have great goals. Not just for the things in this world but to be who you call us to be.


All of our churches, as you're reflecting in prayer today, those of you who would say, I will seek God and listen to Him on who He wants me to become. I'm gonna start with the who. If you're willing to do that, I know it's a real ask, this isn't something like you just do in three minutes. Might take you five, might take you 10. Might take you longer. I wanna seek God for who he wants me to be. Would you lift up your hands? I'm gonna ask you to do that as a church today.

All of our churches, Father, I pray that you would just breathe life into this. Doesn't have to be formal, but years from now, this is really who I want others to know that I am, this is what we stand for. And then, God, in the weeks to come, we thank you that the do is gonna overflow out of the who. More than anything else, more than being a good leader, good dad, good husband, good mom, more than anything else, God, help us to be like your Son, Jesus.


As you keep prayin' today in all of our different churches, some of you, you might be spiritually frustrated, could manifest itself in any different way. Maybe you kinda have spiritual thoughts but you never are really consistent. Maybe you believe in God but you never can seem to get it quite right for Him. Maybe you're not even like a God person at all but there's something that's drawing you to Him right now. And you don't know where you really stand with God. Amy's word is Jesus, and what I want you to think about is Jesus, who is Jesus? He is the son of God, He is God in the flesh. His name is above every single name. One day, every knee is gonna bow to that name, every tongue is gonna confess his Lordship. If you look at your life as you enter into a New Year, and you recognize you're living for anything else, you're shootin' way too low. You're shootin' way too low. God loves you so much that he sent Jesus to show you His love. Jesus loved the unrighteous, Jesus loved the sinners, Jesus loved those who never, ever got it right, Jesus became sin for us as the perfect sacrifice on the Cross. God raised Him from the dead so that anyone who calls on His name would be completely forgiven.

Maybe there's something in your past, that weight of your sin follows you, the shame, the guilt. Anyone who's in Christ, their sins are forgiven, they're made completely new. What I hope you can understand is that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. In all of our churches, there are those of you you recognize. He's not first in your life, today, make Him first, make Him Lord. All of our churches, those who say, I need His forgiveness, I need His grace, when you call on His name, He hears your prayer, He makes you new. That's the very reason that you're here today and you can sense it, I need His forgiveness, I turn from my sin, I turn toward Jesus. I give my life to Him. That's your prayer. Would you lift your hands high right now, all over the place and say, yes, I surrender to Him, right back over there, praise God for you, and over here, as well. Both of you, right up here, thank you, back over here, two hands up, right over here, praise God for you, over here, my goodness gracious. Right back over here, yes, sir, God sees you. Right here, all of you together, my goodness, what's gonna happen right here together. Church online, you click right below me. I hope somebody here will just go ahead and worship God for a moment. Tell him thank you, tell him thank you. Let's take a moment and just join those around you in prayer. Everybody pray aloud, pray:

Heavenly Father, I surrender to you, Jesus be first, The Savior, And the Lord of my life. Fill me with your spirit. So I could follow you. So I could live for you. My life is not mine. I give it all to you. Thank you for new life. Now, you have mine. In Jesus's name, I pray.

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