Spiritual disciplines help us to exercise our faith and grow closer in our relationship with God. The disciplines vary and include but are not limited to: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy and sacrifice, study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission.
Last week I asked my facebook friends what their favorite spiritual discipline was and which was one that was the hardest for them.
For a favorite, many mentioned study, solitude, and silence. In a world that never sleeps, we have to purposefully take the time to find these things. And when we do, they feel glorious. In the silence, with no distractions we are much likelier to hear the voice of God. Sometimes the loudest distractions are our own thoughts. The discipline of solitude and silence helps us to remove distractions and clear our minds.
Can you guess what the answer was for the hardest discipline? If you guessed fasting, you are right! Out of the ones who responded to my question, there wasn’t ONE person who listed any other discipline. Not one. Considering this would have been my answer as well, I wasn’t surprised by the results. But why do you suppose that is?
As a woman, who has tried many different diets, still hungry even when I eat lettuce, it’s hard for me to consider eating nothing. In fact, the only time I’ve ever fasted was for medical reasons. Really, it’s embarrassing to even admit. I imagine that might be true of many of us. I’ve never felt a strong desire or calling to fast for something, yet Scripture and church tradition emphasize its importance.
In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says,
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Jesus doesn’t say “if” you fast, but “when.” Gulp. The important thing to remember is that fasting never comes without prayer. The purpose of fasting is to replace what we are fasting from with communion with God. Fasting is usually used to seek out repentance or a specific request from the Lord.
Spiritual disciplines are not meant to be easy. If they were we wouldn’t call them disciplines. They take deliberate effort on our part. When we take the time to practice them on a regular basis we are rewarded. It’s reminds me of a garden. I can plant some seeds and then hope that the sun and the rain does a good enough job for the season to produce some results. If I want a garden that is going to produce at its potential, then I need to spend some more time with it. I need to pull weeds, give extra water when the rain doesn’t come, maybe offer some shade to the delicate plants, add some fertilizer and prune away dying leaves. I can be a Christian and follow Jesus without focusing a lot on the spiritual disciplines, but I won’t be producing fruit to my potential.