As the architect, we also have conflicting elements in our life, inherited and cultivated habits and tendencies that must be put together to make a beautiful character structure. Christ, our Creator, presents us with the challenge of building a perfect character structure. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (). How are we going to meet it?
Clocks, thermometers, scales, speedometers, electric meters, glucometers for diabetics, and sphygmomanometers for people with high blood pressure: today, we have measuring devices for almost everything. If someone asked you to evaluate the character of a very close friend, what measurement would you use? The Bible gives us simple but accurate criteria for measuring character: The power of will and the power of self-control. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (). These criteria are based on the law of God. In God’s sight, character is measured by the power of the feelings we subdue, not by the power of the feelings that subdue us. The strongest man or woman is the one who, while sensitive to mistreatment, will restrain passion and forgive their enemies. According to heaven’s measure, these are true heroes.
Before we can build our character structure, we must understand what is character. It can be defined as the (inherited) tendencies or (cultivated) habits of a person, which distinguishes him or her from others. Character, therefore, is made up of inherited tendencies or cultivated habits which are repeated over and over again until they become part of us.
Great characters are formed by little acts and efforts well performed. Likewise, weak characters are developed by little neglects and inconsistencies, and wrong thoughts and actions often repeated. It is “the little foxes that spoil the vines” (Song of). We must guard our habits, if we are to develop strong characters.
Our society highly values good character. The Bible challenges us to choose a good character rather than wealth.
“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold” (). Yet, despite these inducements, humanity has been plagued with weak characters ever since our first parents disobeyed God. Is there any hope for people who are plagued with warped character and bad habits? What are some habits that you and your loved ones have been fighting against? Impatience, procrastination, poor health habits, tardiness, overspending, bossiness, impulsiveness, messiness, disorganization, overeating, intoxication of alcohol, caffeine, drugs, or nicotine?
Few people form bad habits deliberately. Have you ever heard someone say: I would like to become a procrastinator, I want to become addicted to caffeine, or I want to overspend on credit cards? We form bad habits by frequent but subconscious repetition of wrong thoughts and actions.
“Never forget that thoughts work out actions. Repeated actions form habits, and habits form character.”—The Upward Look, p. 89.
Once formed, habits become so firmly established that the most persistent effort is required to change them. The apostle Paul understood the problem facing humanity. He describes it in: “I am carnal, sold under sin. . . . For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” ( , ). Paul was constantly fighting against his bad habits, but he realized that because of human sinful nature, he needed help. As he reviewed his failures, he admitted: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” ( ).
Can you identify with the apostle? Have you been waging a battle over bad habits without much success? Do you feel disheartened because you want to do what is right but don’t have the power? The apostle Paul found the solution and shares it with us in: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Yes, the One who created us in His image has the key to help us overcome every evil habit. He who formed every nerve cell of our brain and nervous system knows the pathways they take when we choose to do a bad habit. In fact, He specializes in helping people like us turn our weaknesses into strengths. “And [the Lord] said unto [Paul], My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness” ( ).
The apostle Paul is not the only one who was interested in the formation of good habits. For decades, neurologists, biochemists, and psychologists have been studying the brain and trying to discover how habits are formed. What makes thoughts, words, and actions that are often repeated a permanent part of our brain? Our brain is the central processing center for the whole body. It sends and receives messages from all parts of the body through nerve cells called neurons. Each neuron has a nucleus in the center which is surrounded by a jelly-like cytoplasm and a gatekeeper called the membrane. Branching fibers called dendrites extend from the membrane and receive incoming messages. A long fiber called an axon sends a message to neighboring cells.
Between the sending fiber of one cell and the receiving fiber of another is a tiny gap called a synapse.
“While Sir John Eccles, of Australia, was examining this synaptic junction under a powerful microscope, he noticed some tiny enlargements on the sending fiber that looked to him like miniature buttons. So he called them boutons—the French word for buttons.”—Chalmers, E. M., Making the Most of Family Living. These boutons come in different shapes and sizes. They also secrete chemicals that can speed up or slow down the nerve impulse. One of these chemicals, acetylcholine, closes the tiny gap between nerve cells and causes the cell to send its message to a neighboring cell.
“Dr. Eccles noticed that some sending fibers had many boutons, while others had only a few. As a true scientist, he wondered why this was so. He theorized that boutons might be formed when that particular sending fiber is repeatedly stimulated. This repeated stimulation could cause more boutons to be formed, thus making it increasingly easier for messages to flow along that particular pathway.”—Ibid.
Recently, other researchers have found this to be true. We can then assume that any thought or action which is often repeated is actually building little boutons on the end of certain nerve fibers so that it becomes easier to repeat the same thought or action. This appears to be the way that habits are formed in the nervous system.
(To be continued.)