Discipline! Just say the word and it brings to mind images of being punished as a child, drilled by a military sergeant, or driven by a sports trainer. Who in their right mind would sign-up for “discipline”?
Well, sincere “disciples” would sign-up for “discipline” not because of punishment and not because of a particular affinity for being drilled or trained. No…disciples may not care for these things…but an authentic disciple appreciates the results! Think about it…the child learns when punishment is appropriately applied; a soldier learns skills and routines when drilled. An athlete develops fitness and ability when trained. As disciples of Jesus Christ, discipline helps us learn obedience, teaches us skills and routines, and grows spiritual fitness and ability. The results are worth the discipline.
I like to think of “spiritual disciplines” as “holy habits”—skills, abilities, and routines that contribute to our love relationship with God. Among the “holy habits” is the oft neglected discipline of fasting. Simply put, fasting is “abstaining from food for spiritual purposes” though fasting can apply to abstaining from ANY thing that keeps us from spiritual growth (e.g. work, computer, TV, etc.). There are many types of fasting from food—full, absolute, partial—but the following principles apply to all types of fasting:
- Fasting is for the purpose of centering our lives in God.
- Fasting is an outward habit designed to cultivate an inward and spiritual reality.
- Fasting reveals the “idols” that control us and reminds us that God…not food…sustains us.
- Fasting from food is for feasting on God through Scripture and prayer.
- Fasting is a private matter between an individual and God.
- Fasting is NOT an obligation but a voluntary means of submitting oneself to God.
As we go through this week of “repentance” we look forward with anticipation to this Sunday’s “Day of Atonement” whose observance includes the only biblically commanded fast. While we are not obligated to obey this command associated with the ceremonial law, I’ve challenged you to consider humbling yourself before the Lord through fasting. If you choose to do so, let me recommend that you do the following:
- Don’t fast if you are not physically healthy!
- Start with a partial fast—don’t eat two consecutive meals (e.g. breakfast and lunch)
- Drink water or if desired fresh fruit juices and monitor the inner attitude of your heart throughout the day
- As you become aware of your body’s hunger, inwardly engage in prayer, praise, song, and worship
- Devote the time you would normally use eating to meditation and prayer
- Ask God to convict you of sin and to reveal areas of needed attention
- Seek God’s presence in humility and repentance.
Like all disciplines, start small and slowly. Focus on the purpose and the results. Let the “holy habit” of fasting teach you, shape you, and guide you into new experiences of God’s grace and love.
Hungering and thirsting,
Scott Corwin, Pastor