Mark Batterson - Domino Habits
That was some easy listening, right? I was starting to get my groove on, almost ready to churn the butter. In 1983, an engineer named Lauren Whitehead published an article in the American Journal of Physics, titled Domino Chain Reaction, knock over a single domino, and it can knock over dozens of dominoes in a matter of seconds, but wait, there's more. What Whitehead discovered is a domino is capable of knocking over a domino that is one and a half times its size. A two-inch domino can knock over a three inch domino. A three inch domino can knock over a four inch, a four and a half inch domino, didn't major in math.
Stick with me. By the time you get to the 13th domino, you can knock over the leaning tower of Pisa. Of course it's leaning, that's not entirely fair. By the time you get to that 18th domino, you could knock over, the 21st domino, you could knock over the Washington monument. 23rd domino could waffle the Eiffel tower. The 27th domino could cart wheel the Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world, 2717 feet. In the realm of mathematics there are two kinds of progression. Linear progression is simple addition. One plus one equals two. Exponential progression is compound doubling, two times two equals four, four times four equals 16, 16 times 16, anyone? 256, all right, all right, if you take 30 linear steps, you're only about 90 feet from where you started. If you take 30 exponential steps, now you are circled the earth 26 times.
Here's my point. Every breath you take, every move you make. Every claim you stake, I'll be watching you, check that, check that, child of the eighties, every decision you make, every action you take has a domino chain reaction. That two inch domino may seem insignificant, but when you extrapolate it across weeks and months and years, come on, it has an exponential effect. Simply put, if you do little things like they're big things, God has a way of doing big things like their little things. Hey, welcome to National Community Church. We kick off a new series this weekend, do it for a day. It's based on a book that releases November 2nd, Do it For a Day, how to make or break any habit in 30 days. And if you are in person at any one of our campuses on October 31st, you will get a hard copy of that book, trick or treat.
If you're at our online campus, we're gonna do something we haven't done before. We're gonna try to pull this off and get you a Kindle version of the book, either way, it's a gift from Laura and I to our spiritual family, who we love. And I think it's probably, oh, well, I'm feeling the love now too, either way. I think it's a great weekend. In-person, online, why don't you to invite a friend to be with you, if you have a Bible, you can meet me at the Red Sea, Exodus 14. We'll get there in a second, here's the big idea up front. And it's the first sentence of the book. Show me your habits. And I will show you your future, for better or for worse. You are what you repeatedly do. Destiny is not a mystery, destiny is daily habits. You have to make or break the habits that make or break you. And that's what we're gonna do over these next three weeks. You have to cultivate what I would call domino habits, little habits that have a high leverage effect.
Now I have no idea what habit you need to make or break, but I know exactly how it's gonna happen. You run a marathon one mile at a time. You write a book one page at a time, you get debt-free one paycheck at a time, you get a graduate degree one class at a time, you get into shape one workout at a time. You get sober one AA meeting at a time, you restore your marriage one counseling session at a time. And all of that, you do it one day at a time. So ready or not, here we go. Exodus 14, let me set the scene. The Israelites find themselves between that proverbial rock and a hard place. The Egyptian army bearing down on them from behind, the Red Sea staring them in the face. It seems like one of those no wind situations, there is no way out, but that's when God gives a counter-intuitive command.
Exodus 14, verse 13, do not be afraid. Stand still, and you will see the deliverance of the Lord. The Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you, just stay calm and carry on. That's kind of my translation. Then the Lord said to Moses, why are you crying out to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Can I share a fun fact? First time I ever preached this passage I was 22 years old. I was given a commencement speech in college and I chose this text, and my title, not the most creative title I've ever come up with. Go Forward, was my message to the graduating class of 92, okay. Let me show you a map. 'Cause I want us to kind of get into this story. There's plenty of debate among scholars as to what body of water the Israelites crossed and where, I won't nuance that debate. But here's one scenario.
When the Israelites exit Egypt, they head south through the wilderness and they camp in a place called Pi-HaHiroth. It's the force station of the Exodus. And from a military standpoint, not the best camping spot because essentially, you're trapped between the desert to the west and the Red Sea to the east. So there's no escape route if the Egyptians decide to pursue you, which is precisely what happens. Again, some debate as to where Pi-HaHiroth was, but let's assume the Red Sea for a second, the Red Sea is 1400 miles long. It's 174 miles wide on average. And the average depth is 1600 feet. Now, significance of that is that this is not the kiddie pool. You can't walk across it. You can't swim across it, you can't even see the other side. Now listen, the parting of the Jordan river. I mean, come on what a miracle, but very, very different because the Israelites could see the other side.
If you've been a part of this church for any length of time, you've heard this definition dozens of times, faith is taking the first step before God reveals the second step. But let me push that envelope a little bit. Sometimes faith is taking the first step, even when you can't even see the other side, hold that thought, let me share a story. There is a legend in Judaism about a man named Nahshon. He only gets one begat in the Bible, but it's a pretty big begat, Nahshon is king David's great, great, great, great grandfather. And the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Nahshon does something that I think is on par with David dueling a giant named Goliath. According to the Talmud, when the Israelites are trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, God tells them to go forward, but no one wants to go first 'cause it seems like a death wish.
And so while the leaders of the tribes of Israel are complaining and blaming and arguing, Nahshon steps up, steps in and wades into the Red Sea like Aquaman, I totally added Aquaman, but that's how I'm seeing it in my head. Now according rabbinic tradition, Nahshon wades into the water until he is neck deep, right up to his nostrils. And that's when and where and how God makes a sidewalk through the sea. The Psalmist said it this way, the sea saw him and fled. I bet David heard that bedtime story hundreds of times, we tell stories about ancestors, right? That are epic, I think that act of faith, that act of courage had an epigenetic effect. It was woven into his DNA. It was part of his consciousness. It was the legacy that David inherited from his great, great, great grandfather.
Can I issue a challenge? Live your life in a way that is worth telling stories about, and if you do, it might just have a domino effect to the third and fourth generation. Now we will double back to the Red Sea, but let me double down on this idea of domino habits. When you get the book, you're gonna discover that it doesn't have chapters. It's divided into days, 30 days and every day includes the challenge. And the challenge on day one is wade into the water. Now there's an old Axiom, if you wanna walk on water, you gotta get out of the boat, right? I love it, and that's true, but let me add one to the mix. If you want God to make a sidewalk to the sea, you gotta wade into the water.
So here's the challenge this weekend, pick a habit, any habit, it could be five minutes of meditation every morning. It could be three gratitudes a day, could be doing your age in sit ups or pushups, could be doing a daily Bible reading plan. If you are in person, you got a domino that looks a little bit like this, right? And if you're online, I want you to go visit. Actually, if you're in person, I want you to do the same thing, at NCC.RE/domino. This domino, it represents that habit that you're gonna choose over the course of this series. I wanna challenge you to do it every day until October 31st, and if you're really ambitious, if you really wanna do a 30 day challenge, that is totally fine as well. And I better give a disclaimer right here, okay. The subtitle of the book is, how to make or break any habit in days. I promise you, I had a lot of conversations with my editor about that. 'Cause I did not wanna over promise and under deliver.
I'm very well aware of the fact that experts in habit formation would say that it takes anywhere between 21 and 254 days, here's the reality. It depends on the person and it depends on the habit. It's as unique as you are, but here's my thought. This series is long enough to get a winning streak going. And so pick a habit, any habit, and then you have to 3M it, okay, book goes into greater detail, but let me outline what I mean. You have to make it measurable, meaningful and maintainable. losing weight, getting into shape, getting out of debt, those are hopes, not habits, okay. You have to count calories or map miles or budget dollars. You have to add targets and timeline. A goal without a deadline is called a wish. Once you make it measurable, now it's manageable. Two, you have to make it meaningful.
In my experience, extrinsic motivation evaporates like marine layer fog. It doesn't last very long. Habit formation has to be discipled at the level of desire. It has to become part of your identity. If it's incongruent with your identity, it will not pass the test of time. Now let me say this, one of the best ways to make it meaningful is to do it for someone else. Before I was born, my dad quit smoking cold turkey. Anybody wanna guess why, for his kids. Some of you need to make or break a habit for your spouse, for your kids, for the third or fourth generation. And finally, you have to make it maintainable. You can't just set goals, you have to schedule goals. That's where habits switching and habit stacking come into play. And we'll talk more about those techniques, but let me put a little bit of skin on it.
A few months ago, took the train up to New York city to have lunch with a author and pastor who I had admired from a distance for a long time. RT Kendall is 86 years young. And so we're sitting around the table and he tells a story about a defining moment in his life. He's 70 years old when he gets a prophetic word from a man named John Paul Jackson, who says to him, you're gonna live to a ripe old age, but you won't enjoy it if you don't get into shape, oh, check this out. I don't know why 21 but RT Kendall said, I've done 21 pushups every day from that day to this day. Yeah, I was a little convicted. I started doing pushups the next day. Listen, if you can't figure out what habit, like maybe this is your starting point, okay. 21, push out 21 a day during this series.
Here's my point, even if you get a prophetic word, you still have to turn it into daily habits. Even if God miraculously delivers you from something, you still have to cultivate those daily habits that will sustain the deliverance. All right, let me lay the groundwork for the rest of this series. Three building blocks up front, taking notes. You can jot these down and I'll break it down. One, all of us are creatures of habit. Two, habit formation is spiritual formation and three, the Holy Spirit is key when it comes to habits. Now I'm not sure why, but I always set my alarm clock to an even number. Any other even people? Let me see your hands if you're brave enough, okay. If you're online, by the way, I wanna know, you put it in the chat. Are you even or are you odd?
Now for whatever reason, oh man, I hope this is not TMI, but I always put my pants on right leg first. And I always put my shoes on left foot first, the great mysteries of life. Here's my point for better, for worse, consciously or subconsciously, all of us act in predictable patterns called habits. Now some of them are as old as the adaptive strategies that you cultivated to get attention when you were a kid, and some of them are as nuanced as the defense mechanisms that you deploy to protect your ego. And we have fancy words, heuristic bias, right? The tendency to act the way that you have always acted, to do it the way you've always done it. But it boils down to this. All of us are creatures of habit. According to a Duke University study, 45% of our behavior is automatic, and that's not bad. Of course, unless it's bad habits, habits are the way we put things on repeat, without that ability to automate, we would have to relearn everything every day.
And so habits save us tremendous time and energy, but that savings comes at a cost, when something becomes second nature, you don't give it a second thought, do you? That's when and where and why we need to deconstruct our daily habits and then reconstruct them. That sounds simple. But even the apostle Paul struggled with hacking his own habits, Romans chapter seven, verse 15, he said, I do not understand what I do, but what I wanna do, I do not do. But what I hate to do, verse 20, I do not do the good I wanna do, but the evil I do not wanna do, this I keep on doing. Well how much would could woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? This sounds like an ancient tongue twister, but the apostle Paul is obviously frustrated and confused by his own behavior. And I think all of us have been there and done that. Sometimes we're not real good at connecting the dots between the cause and effect in our lives.
Not only were we born on a battlefield between good and evil, that battle rages inside of you and inside of me, why do I keep drinking past the point of drunkenness? Why do I keep losing my temper? Why do I keep looking at pornography? Why do I always seem to sabotage my success? Why do I always gain back the weight that I lost? Let me lean in right here. We're born with two hard drives. One is called the flesh and it's synonymous with the sin nature, the other is called the spirit. And these two things are at odds with each other, Galatians 5:17, the flesh craves what is contrary to the spirit and the spirit, what is contrary to the flesh. These two forces are constantly fighting each other.
Paul is describing this internal tug of war and it begs the question, are you feeding the flesh and starving the spirit? Or are you feeding the spirit and starving the flesh? Because it's one or the other. And if you are feeding the flesh, it doesn't satiate your desires, does it? It actually creates stronger cravings. And eventually, it becomes addiction. And what we call addiction, the Bible calls slavery to our sin nature. Instead of controlling things like lust or pride or greed or jealousy or anger, those things now control you. You aren't just a creature of habit. You're what Paul said in Second Peter, 2:12, you're a creature of instinct. You are reduced to animal instinct.
Now I better get some good news right here, okay? 'Cause that's spirit, God has given us the ability to override those desires, to override the flesh. And that brings us to this second building block. All of us are creatures of habit. Two, habit formation is spiritual formation. The theologian, love his name, Cornelius Plantenga said it this way, sow a thought, reap a deed. Sow a deed, reap a habit, sow a habit, reap a character. If you're struggling with a bad habit or even a habitual sin, I know this hits close to home and here's what happens. The last thing we want, this is not about, this is not what we're about as a church. The goal here is not to send all of us on a guilt trip. The goal is freedom in Christ.
John 8:36, if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. It's never too late to become who you might've been, but you're probably gonna have to make or break some habits along the way. Now I love the science of habit formation and significant breakthroughs in part because of neuro imaging. And I'm fascinated by all of that. But can I be honest? This is as old as the sermon on the Mount, there are what we call six anti theses. Do you remember these, love your enemies. Pray for those that persecute you, bless those who curse you. Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give the shirt off of your back. Those are not just counterintuitive and counter cultural, those are counter habits.
Okay, the best way to break a habit is to make a habit that replaces it. Jesus is reconditioning our reflexes. He is overriding our natural reactions and that takes the help of the Holy Spirit, which brings us to the third building block. The Holy Spirit is key when it comes to habits. If you're taking notes, jot this down, the best way to break a bad habit is by making a good habit. It's called habit switching, and you see this throughout scripture. I wanna dig into the word a little bit here and you can go back and study this yourself. But in my daily Bible reading plan, I was in Ephesians this week and I was struck by how often in chapters four and five, the word instead is used.
And so I'll give you a couple of examples, Ephesians 4:14. We will not be influenced by people who try to trick us with lies. Next verse, instead, we will speak the truth in love. That is habit switching, that is operating in the opposite spirit. Ephesians 4:28, if you are a thief, quit stealing. next verse, instead, use your hands for good work and give generously, basically do the opposite. Ephesians 4:31, get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, next verse, instead, be kind to each other. There's an idea, like are you picking up with Paul is throwing down? One more on you'll recognize this, Ephesians five, 18 and 19, don't be drunk with wine.
Next verse, instead be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. The best defense is a good offense. You don't stop sinning by not sinning. You need a vision that is bigger and better than the temptation you're trying to resist. Than the addiction that you are trying to overcome, you need to be spirit filled and spirit led. I don't know how else to say it. The internal pressure of the Holy Spirit in your life has to be greater than the external pressure of trending hashtags, social media algorithms, and political correctness. Self-help isn't gonna get us where we need to go. We need the Holy Spirit's help. So go ahead and get counseling, everybody needs counseling. Spend some time at the altar, get into God's word, get into God's presence. Better yet, sign up for a Sozo inner healing prayer session. Go to work on it.
See what God begins to do in you. Let me double back to the Red Sea and we're gonna bring this thing in for a landing. One of the things I love about a daily Bible reading plan is it helps you connect the dots. Now I knew the story of Nahshon, from the Talmood, but I had never run across this. And so I'm gonna connect the dots. I never noticed the distinct honor that he holds in scripture. So he wades into the Red Sea and then he kind of disappears. But then he reappears in number seven, the tabernacle has just been built in the wilderness and there are 12 days set apart for the 12 leaders of the tribes of Israel to bring dedication gifts. Anyone wanna guess who got to go first?
Number 7:12 on the first day Nishaun son of a Amminidab, leader of the tribe of Judah presented his offering. What an incredible honor. This is like throwing out the first pitch on opening day. Okay, this is like maybe swearing in the president on inauguration day. And it begs the question because Judah is the fourth tribe of Israel. So why would the leader of the fourth tribe of Israel get to go first? And the answer goes all the way back to the Red Sea. It was Nishaun who took that first step of faith. And so it was Nishaun who got first dibs on dedication day. That is the domino chain reaction. When we come to the Red Sea, most of us see red, right? This is where we stop, this is the end of the road.
This is the end of the story, this is where we give up. No, no and no, this is when and where as people of faith, we wade into the water, and we believe a God who can make sidewalks through the sea. You know, almost anyone can accomplish almost anything if they work at it long enough, hard enough and smart enough. The key are these domino habits, little habits with high leverage points. You do little things like they're big things. God will do big things like they're little things. Remember that trailer, didn't take much effort to knock over the first domino, scientifically speaking 0.024 micro joules of input energy. That's it, by the time you get to the 13th domino, the kinetic energy produced is two billion times greater than the initial input energy. So I'm just gonna end right here. What two inch decision do you need to make? What two inch action do you need to take? And if not now, when, pick a habit, any habit, make it measurable, meaningful and maintainable, and then do it for a day. Let's pray:
Lord, thank you for every person in this place. God, I pray that your Holy Spirit would help us in this moment. Lord, there are things in us that need to change, there's habits that we need to break, habits that we need to make. And God, we need your help. And we ask for it in Jesus' name, Amen.