Summer Series: Spiritual Disciplines 2

Another day, another discipline.  I want to challenge you, readers, if you have not done so, after you read these posts, to practice the discussed discipline.  Do not take my word about the power that these practices can have in your life.  You should experience them for yourself and challenge your friends as well; make it a community experience.

Before I get into the next discipline I also want to make a statement regarding a challenge that some may make.  No one has actually brought this up, but I want to address something before it can be brought up.  When discussing spiritual disciplines, one might think that I tend to humanize these spiritual disciplines too much by deemphasizing or taking out God’s role in the whole sanctification process via the disciplines.  I will admit that I do not discuss much of what God does because I know even less of what He does through these disciplines than what man does.  But I will leave you with an illustration that Lewis gives in Mere Christianity about how God works.  In prayer, Lewis says, it is the Holy Spirit that convicts us and helps us to our knees and gives us the words to say through Jesus Christ to the Father.  So in the practice of prayer, God, in Trinitarian form, is not only present but is also enabling and assisting in the person to pray.  That is also how I believe God works in these disciplines; somehow he is behind the scenes giving us the discipline and the will power to grow in certain areas of our life but, at the same time, in an existential perspective, we have to be welcoming in the initiative.

The spiritual discipline today is one that I think is at the very core of spiritual disciplines.  If an aspect of discipline is to grow, to learn, and to mature, there is no better way than fasting.  The whole point of fasting is to deny your appetites and return focus to God.  Fasting is a more common practice and its spiritual value is seldom undermined, so why do I want to look at this particular discipline?  I want to look at a couple ways that I see God using fasting to push and grow people.

The first way is that fasting directly affects your willpower.  Will is a touchy subject in Christianity, depending on what camp you are in and how extreme your conviction, but humor me for the next five minutes.  Everyone is tempted, and usually temptation seems to get harder and not easier as life goes on.  But as Christians we have an amazing God who helps us deal with temptation.  1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it”.[1]  He provides a way out, but some times it is simply hard to escape.  This is where more willpower would come in handy and why fasting is so helpful.

Fasting is the practice of denying yourself in small and manageable, but still difficult, ways.  Despite what your appetites may be, you have committed to forsaking something for a certain amount of time.  Despite what your emotions may be (because usually when one is forsaking a norm, one tends to get a bit moody), you are sticking with your word.  In turn, you are stretching yourself.  You are exercising your will to have more control over emotion and appetite.  When I ran track in high school a popular phrase I would hear from the coach is, “it’s all mental”.  What he was trying to say, I think, is that I could push through any pain or mental block that kept me from reaching the next level of my running ability.  I think this is also why you find top athletes giving testimony to visualization as something they do to help them prepare.  Visualization in sports is the athlete visualizing a specific action or set of actions and the different reactions in his or her head.  In a recent issue of an ESPN magazine article discussing Wayne Rooney (star soccer player for Manchester United), the writer stated that “[o]ver the past decades, visualization has become increasingly common in sports…” He then continued to list off several world renowned athletes that have been known to use such techniques.[2]  All this to say there seems to be some ways of increasing willpower that have effect in practice.  This is one aspect of how fasting helps the Christian grow and helps the human side work towards sanctification.

The second way fasting helps is to support a very simple truth.  God is the one that sustains us, in the very least, and the rest of reality, at the very most.  Fasting is a reminder that we can do without everything except for God, and that it is God, as He chooses, who sustains us.  “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.”[3]

Hopefully the two things that I highlighted also make evident what I mentioned in the beginning.  These spiritual disciplines, in the light of sanctification, are to be understood that it is somehow both the believer and God working in the believer’s life.  There are many tangents that that could bring us into, but maybe that will be for another post.  For now I will shamelessly plug that the Desiring God conference this fall will be about this mystery and will be a great resource into one of the paradoxical mysteries that would have kept Chesterton perfectly content.  Again, I challenge you to fast in these next couple of weeks and see how God grows you.

Grace be with all of you.

[1] ESV

[2] Winner, David. “Beautiful Game. Beautiful Mind.”

[3] Psalms 3:5, ESV


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