Spiritual Disciplines to Help with Growing Self-Control

shhContinued from here.

Jesus said that to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Denying yourself requires self-control because it’s quite unnatural for us to do. Spiritual disciplines that involve denying yourself can help you grow the seed of self-control into fruit more quickly.

Fasting can be a particularly powerful way of help you develop the fruit of self-control. While people tend to think of fasting as abstaining from food, you can abstain (deny yourself) from other things as well, such as words (spiritual discipline of silence) or social interaction (spiritual discipline of solitude). Each of these practices places you in a position of denying yourself so you can gain the greater reward of recognizing that you do, in fact, have the ability to exercise self-control.

As an example, let’s say I had reacted differently in the situation I shared in my introductory blog entry for this series: instead of refraining from saying anything negative, let’s say I cussed the person out. This fruit would show that I lack self-discipline over my mouth. A great way to combat this is to fast from words for a period of time by practicing the discipline of silence. I could check myself into a hotel for a weekend or, better yet, go away alone to a cabin in the woods and NOT SPEAK for 48 hours. I could spend that time praying, studying the Bible, going for walks, etc. Whenever I am tempted to speak, I can silently thank God for this opportunity to learn how to exercise self-control over my mouth. After not speaking for 48 hours, I will be more mindful that I do, in fact, have the ability to control what I say … not through willpower but through the fruit of self-control that God implanted in me as a seed.

The spiritual disciplines of fasting, silence, and solitude can be applied to any area of your life where you struggle with controlling yourself, even in areas of addiction and compulsion. To change the way you behave, you must first change the way you think. Spiritual disciplines that involve denying yourself can be powerful ways to help you take your focus off your problem and align your thoughts with God’s ways. As you do this, you will become more effective and productive in God’s Kingdom.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her finger over her lips, saying, “Shhhh.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Engaging in Fasting

ill_do_itContinued from here.

If you have never engaged in any form of fasting, I strongly encourage you to try it. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, options for fasting are not limited to refraining from eating. What matters is that you are telling your body/sinful nature that it is no longer in charge by denying it something it wants and replacing that with a deeper connection with God. You will find that after a period of denying your sinful nature, your body will become less resistant to submitting to your spirit as you submit your spirit to God.

We live in a self-indulgent society, but we cannot allow the culture around us to drive our actions. Fasting is biblical and should be practiced, at least from time to time, by those who claim to be disciples of Christ. Jesus said that to be a disciple of Christ, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. So, what are you denying yourself? If your answer is nothing, you need to take an honest assessment of your life to determine whether you are truly a disciple of Jesus. Denying oneself is a requirement of discipleship.

While I will probably never look forward to seasons of fasting, I have grown to appreciate the value of this spiritual discipline and feel blessed to have this tool in my toolbox to help me get back on track when I find that I have loss spiritual ground. I accomplished (really God accomplished) more in one day of fasting than in the prior weeks of willpower and good intentions. God honors our actions of fasting and will work with us to help us get in alignment with Him.

Some forms of fasting, such as from words, are easier to do in solitude, so consider withdrawing from your life for a day as you engage in fasting. Adding the discipline of solitude to fasting can help supercharge the transition from your body/sinful nature being in charge to your spirit being in charge as you align with God. Give it a try! You’ll be amazed by the results!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hands on her hips saying, “I’ll do it!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Fasting that Does Not Involve Food

shhContinued from here.

I was surprised to learn from Dallas Willard that fasting is not limited to food. An example he gave is fasting from words. Let’s say you struggle with “potty mouth” and that no matter how much willpower you use, you simply cannot help cussing people out when you become angry. Or let’s say you struggle with gossip. You have the best of intentions of controlling your tongue, but you simply cannot help yourself when the opportunity arises to pass along information that you know should be kept private. Willard’s advice is to fast from words!

The same principle of denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus applies to this form of fasting. Set aside a full day to spend in solitude, and do not permit yourself to speak. For one full day, tell your tongue that it is not in charge: tongue submits to spirit, and spirit submits to God. A day of fasting from words invites God to realign your tongue so that it learns it is the tail, not the head. After engaging in this spiritual discipline, you will find it easier to control your tongue because your spirit is directing the tongue, not the other way around.

Fasting can apply to other areas of your life as well, such as fasting from secular television programming or music. The idea is to temporarily deny yourself something that indulges your body/sinful nature so you can, instead, honor God. You can apply different forms of fasting to any area of your life in which you wrestle with self-control. Perhaps this is what Paul was talking about regarding married couples depriving one another of their bodies for a time by mutual consent. Note that this denying of oneself is not done in a vacuum – the behavior is replaced by prayer.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace saying, “Shhhhh.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

My Personal Experience with Fasting

garbage_canContinued from here.

God has led me to fast a handful of times over the years, always when I was struggling with the misalignment of my body/flesh/sinful nature trying to be in charge. Most recently, this became an issue for me after being sick for 26 days in December 2017, when my cold transitioned over to an antibacterial-resistant sinus infection that took two rounds of antibiotics and a round of Prednisone to clear up. I engaged in as many spiritual disciplines as I could, but between the physical illness and the holidays, I attended church less, I served less, and I engaged less in meaningful praise and worship time.

I’m not beating myself up over any of this – it was simply my reality. When I am physically ill, some of the spiritual disciplines will be much more difficult for me to engage in, and some simply have to be put on hold, such as not attending church services when I am contagious. Regardless of how or why I got there, the end result was that I was much more “full of myself” after recovering from the illness. I found it much more difficult to be humble, and this was affecting my interpersonal relationships. I have found over the years that the more humble I am, the easier it is to be in personal relationships with prideful people. Conversely, when I am filled with pride myself, those same relationships can feel intolerable because both parties are filled with pride, leaving little room for God. I knew what the problem was, but lots of prayer and the best of intentions was not beating back my sinful nature. I was disappointed in myself for the lost ground, and feeling sorry for myself only fed my sinful nature. Thus, God called me to fast and accomplished in one day what I had been unable to do after weeks of prayer and good intentions.

For me, fasting is going on a liquid diet. I’ll buy a six-pack of Ensure, and I’ll drink an Ensure shake for each meal. Whenever my stomach growls, I’ll pray to God and remind myself that body submits to spirit, and spirit submits to God. By the next morning, I felt like I had awakened from a deep sleep. It was simply easier for me to stay focused on God instead of myself after a day of fasting.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace peeking out of a garbage can. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Value of Fasting

Continued from here.

When I would read about fasting in the Bible, I saw it as people trying to communicate to God that they really, really, really wanted Him to intervene. They would pray, fast, and put on sackcloth and ashes. To me, this seemed like the child who says she will hold her breath until her face turns blue until the parent gives in. That’s not at all what fasting is about!

Dallas Willard is the one who taught me the value of fasting, such as in his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Fasting is a tool we can use to get our spirit, soul, and body correctly aligned. God designed us so that the body obeys the soul/spirit, which obeys God. That’s not how humans naturally live since the Fall, though. Instead, we let our bodies drive the train. Our bodies desire to consume something, and we allow our bodies to drive our emotions. We believe our emotions over God and indulge our bodies, which leads to sin or separation from God.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that reverses this process and teaches the body that it is not in charge. When we fast, we tell our bodies that they are the tail, not the head. In other words, we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. The body learns that it is not in control – that it must submit to the soul/spirit, which is submitting to God. As we choose to deny our bodies and follow Christ, our emotions change allegiance, reflecting our soul/spirit’s alignment with God rather than our body’s whims.

Paul struggled mightily with the battle between his body/flesh and his spirit. His sinful nature would lead him to do things that his spirit did not want to do. That’s the same battle that rages inside of all of us, and it’s a battle over which part of ourselves is in charge: our bodies or our spirits? Fasting is a spiritual discipline that helps teach the body that it is no longer in charge.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

feed_my_face_notFasting is a spiritual discipline that I don’t often hear talked about from the pulpit, which is surprising considering how frequently fasting is mentioned in the Bible. A quick search of the term “fasting” on Biblegateway.com yielded 25 results. Fasting was done both collectively and individually. Jesus himself fasted. Considering the importance of fasting in the Bible, I’m surprised I don’t hear many lessons on it, and when I do, it’s generally in a book about spiritual disciplines where fasting is included in a list of other spiritual disciplines. Why is that?

I speculate that our self-indulgent culture has a lot to do with it. The last thing we want to hear about is depriving ourselves of anything, including food, and yet to be Jesus’ disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. What is fasting if not “denying ourselves?” Considering God’s plan for Christians is to become disciples of Christ and that denying oneself is an integral part of that process, why do we ignore what the Bible has to say about fasting?

I confess that fasting has never been one of my favorite spiritual disciplines, and it’s one I refused to engage in for most of my life. I have previously shared that I was enslaved to a binge eating disorder for most of my life, which is similar to bulimia but without the purging. Fasting was the absolute last thing I wanted to do because bingeing on food was how I managed my emotional pain. As I binged, I would temporarily “stuff down” the emotional pain. No way was I going to fast, which would provide me with no way to “stuff down” all I was feeling. I did not realize that fasting actually could have helped me heal from my eating disorder. I chose the idol of food over the Living God.

I have since learned how powerful of a tool fasting can be in helping us develop as disciples of Christ. I’ll share the value of fasting and my own personal experience with it.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace saying, “Feed my face” with a symbol across it not to do it. Courtesy Bitmoji.]