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.]

 

Lazy Christianity

wake_upContinued from here.

The reason that so many Christians are living in defeat is that they are spiritually lazy. Priscilla Shirer says that God does not place His blessings directly into our hands. Instead, He puts them in our reach. We must reach – stretch ourselves – to grab hold of them. Thus, numerous Christians are living in day-to-day defeat because they are unwilling to stretch themselves and develop the muscles needed to reach the blessings. How God’s heart must break to see our deliverance hanging overhead but never grasped because we refuse to engage in spiritual disciplines and awaken long enough to see the deliverance that is within our reach.

The enemy is happy to continue playing soft lullabies to lull us into a state of spiritual sleep. As long as we are asleep to the realities of the spiritual world, he need not fear God’s children. A sword left in its sheath does not provide protection.

So, stop being a lazy Christian and WAKE UP! God did not place you where you are to take a long nap. He placed you there to accomplish a Kingdom purpose, and you need to WAKE UP to do it! Wake yourself up by DOING WHAT GOD TELLS YOU TO DO.

In which area of your life are you struggling the most? What does the Bible say to do about it? Then DO IT!! Is your heart broken in two? God says to pray for the person you broke your heart and forgive him or her. As you do this, you’ll receive the healing you seek. Is your bank account empty? God says to tithe, and he will open the floodgates of heaven into your life.

The Bible is a weapon – a sword! – that empowers you to break free from all that ensnares you, but your sword isn’t going to do you any good while it’s sheathed. Pull it out. Meditate on God’s Word. Do what the Bible tells you to do, and WAKE UP!!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace playing a drum and yelling, “Wake up!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritually Mature People Disciple Others

need_an_adultContinued from here.

The most spiritually mature people disciple others. It’s no longer enough for them to grow in their own relationship with God – they deeply desire to help others grow as well. Spiritually mature people are not satisfied with a “selfish faith,” keeping the wonders and riches of an intimate relationship with God to themselves. They want others to experience this as well!

Because spiritually mature people have grown from being self-absorbed spiritual children to adulthood, they are able to recognize someone else’s level of spiritual maturity and guide them gently toward the next step in deepening their relationship with God. Speaking the truth in love, they guide less mature Christians to grow up and mature in Christ. This is what it means to fulfill the Great Commission, which were Jesus’ last instructions before ascending into heaven:

Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” ~ Matt. 28:18-20

While some people believe the Great Commission is only about converting people to Christianity, it runs so much deeper than that. Jesus didn’t say to get people to accept him as Savior so they can avoid going to hell when they die. Instead, he said to “make disciples” and to teach them to obey God. That’s the Great Commission to all of us, and it’s our responsibility as we mature spiritually to care about the spiritual maturity of others. How will they learn to grow up in Christ without others teaching them how to do so?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace saying, “I need an adult.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritually Mature People Value God’s Opinion Over Everyone Else’s

carContinued from here.

Following God’s ways is not always popular, even among fellow Christians. As an example, when I share with fellow Christians that I no longer speed when I drive, they look at me like I have two heads, much in the same way that someone without a faith in God would. I don’t speed because God tells us to obey governing authorities. If the governing authority has determined that 35 MPH is the maximum speed limit for a four-lane divided road, I don’t have to agree with that determination, but I do have to obey it. If I don’t, I am not only disobeying the governing authority, but I am also disobeying God. It may be true that the governing authority really does not care and will not punish me for driving 38 MPH in a 35 MPH zone, but God cares. If He didn’t, He would not have told us in his Word to obey governing authorities, or He would have said to obey only when we agree with the decision.

My family mocks me for driving the speed limit, and some of my friends are downright annoyed by it, insisting on doing the driving so they can arrive at our destination faster. I don’t let others’ opinions sway me because only one person’s opinion matters, and that’s God. As long as He is pleased with my obedience, it really does not matter what anyone else thinks of my choices.

It took me a long time to reach this place of being at peace in situations where nobody other than God seems to agree with my decisions because I used to be a world-class people pleaser. I used to ask 5 people for advice before making any decisions because I had no confidence in myself. I deeply cared about other people’s opinions of me. Today, only one opinion matters. Interestingly, since I stopped caring about what other people think of me, others seem to like me better! But even when they don’t, I’m OK with that because only God’s opinion matters.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace driving a car. 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.]