Spiritual Disciplines for the Rest of Us:: Abiding in Christ {Day 18}

Spiritual Disciplines

I’ve never been a good fast-er.

I remember that my parents had us fast for half a day every Black Friday–the religious Black Friday that proceeds Easter, not the American shopping extravaganza–to commemorate the death of Jesus. From when we awoke in the morning to three p.m., we subsisted on water alone.

It was not uncommon in Romania to observe this sombre day, feeling discomfort in our bodies to be reminded of the excruciating pain Jesus experienced as He bore the lashes, the nails, the insults, the humiliation–all in our place.

And I felt badly that I was so bad at it.

All I could think about was food. I would purposefully sleep in to shorten the time I would have to go without eating. And when I helped my mother prepare a cold lunch to break our fast, I was the one sneaking in bites before we sat at the table.

A Failed Experiment

In my high school years, I read about the importance of fasting. After all, Jesus assumed His disciples would fast from the way He addressed them (Matthew 9:15). So I decided to try again, on my own, without being cajoled by my parents.

For four months, I fasted on Tuesdays with several friends from church. We texted each other Bible verses and brief prayer requests. I spent my lunch hour praying in the gothic cathedral in downtown Oradea instead of enjoying a meal. But other than the dizzying spells I experienced, I didn’t notice much change in my spiritual life. Which was disappointing, to say the least.

Fasting was supposed to be the super-pill that serious Christians took to go really deep with Jesus. 

Except it wasn’t working. So I stopped.

No Magic Tricks Here

I wish I could say that there was a turning point in my life when I discovered the power of fasting and it changed everything.

I didn’t.

I’m still not a good fast-er, and for health reasons, I can’t really go for long periods of time without eating or I might fall over in someone’s lap (which would be bad on so many levels).

And if I’m honest, I’m kind of disappointed in myself, and sometimes I feel like God is disappointed in me.

But over the last few years, I’ve come to the gradual realization that there is no magic trick to catapult us into the spiritual stratosphere. There are important spiritual disciplines that enable us to cultivate a deeper relationship with Jesus, yes. And over the next few days, we will be looking at some of these disciplines.

But p-l-e-a-s-e don’t misunderstand these posts to be offering you a three-step process to an easy-peasy Christian life. That’s just not the way God designed our spiritual journeys to unfold. There is value in unfulfilled longing, there is beauty in brokenness, and there is joy in the crucifixion of our old selves as we put on Jesus.

The Value of Spiritual Disciplines

If anything, spiritual disciplines are to point our hearts, our minds, and our souls again and again to the object of our affection: Jesus. In and of themselves, they are worth nothing. Becoming pros at fasting, Bible study, Scripture memorization, does not impress God, and neither does failing those things disappoint God. We are already preapproved in Jesus.

So why practice spiritual disciplines? Richard Foster answer that question beautifully in his book, Celebration of Discipline:

God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us. […] By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God’s means of grace. The inner righteousness we seek is not something that is poured on our heads. God has ordained the Disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we place ourselves where he can bless us.In this regard, it would be proper to speak of “the path of disciplined grace.”

I love that phrase: “the path of disciplined grace.” That is the path we must walk if we desire to a deeper connection with Jesus, because relationships don’t happen by accident in real life; they require the hard work of intentionality and the grace of giving and receiving what we don’t deserve.

Similarly we must partner with The Spirit to bring about transformation in our spiritual lives; He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, waters the ground, gives the sunshine, and produces a harvest when we make ourselves available to Him via spiritual disciplines.

If this sounds like a tough calling, be encouraged friends! I am right there with you. And better yet–He who began this good work in us will be faithful to complete it.

So let’s welcome The Spirit to get to work in our lives.

Day 18 Challenge: Reflect on your experience with spiritual disciplines. Have you found them to be a conduit of grace or a snare of legalism? Regardless, ask The Spirit to give you a fresh perspective and a deep desire to draw close to God, and He will honor your request.

Oh Lord, You know how I’ve failed in this department. You know I start with great intentions and then fall short. You’ve seen me misplace priorities, thinking that if I just try hard enough I’ll be a better Christian. Forgive me for thinking any one discipline or program or resolution will be the magic bullet to a supercharged Christian life. You’ve already given me Jesus, and in Him I am preapproved. I don’t need to impress You or anyone else. Help me to come to these disciplines with an open heart and a sincere desire to draw close to You. Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. 

This is the 18th post in the series, “Abiding in Christ–when reading the Bible isn’t an option.” Check out all the posts here.