Spiritual Disciplines Actually DO Bring Us Joy

This week I did something I haven’t done in a very long time. As in, I can’t actually remember the last time I did it, which is a bit embarrassing to admit. For one day (and not even a full day), I fasted. 

Now I know that Christians aren’t supposed to talk about it when they fast. And that comes straight from Jesus. The goal is that your fasting be seen “by your Father who is in secret” and not by others. It’s like Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club.

(I’ve actually never seen this movie. I don’t even know what it’s about except men beating each other up. But almost every dude I know has mansplained this movie to me at least once, so lines from this unseen film are forever burned into my memory, taking up brain space that I’m sure could be devoted to something far more useful. Thanks, guys.)

But I’m not actually here to talk about my fasting as a source of pride (no one is less impressed than I am with what a baby I am when I don’t eat, so I don’t look to share the details of my day here). I more hope to express the startling rediscovery of something I hadn’t really considered in a while: the value of spiritual disciplines for the sake of obedience.

Why Spiritual Disciplines?

We inhabit a culture in which the loud motto seems to have become that I should get to be who I am, who I want to be, do what I want, live how I choose, and pursue my personal fulfillment. That’s the secular battle cry, though it’s increasingly becoming a mantra within American Christendom, as well. Because that’s what God must really want for me if He truly loves me.

But actually, if you believe that Scripture is inspired by God and inerrant (and, in defense of their beliefs, much of aforementioned American Christendom does NOT), then God, through inspired prophets, kings, priests, and apostles, and through His Son, Jesus, actually has a lot to say about what He wants for us. 

And it has little to do with doing whatever makes me feel most happy at any given moment.

Oh, He wants us to be happy. Just not the earthly kind of temporal happiness that fades as quickly as the flower fades. He’s got eternal joy in mind, and if He created us, He knows better than anyone what it will take to earn us that happiness: namely, Him. He created us to delight in Him above all else, and to enjoy His creation only in so much as it points us back to Him.

He created us to delight in Him above all else, and to enjoy His creation only in so much as it points us back to Him.

Hence, spiritual disciplines. Now if you’re unfamiliar with what I mean by this term, I’m referring to the long practiced activities within the history of the church that are meant to draw us into a closer relationship with God and one another as believers. They include prayer, Scripture meditation, worship, evangelism, service, and, yes, fasting.

As the word “discipline” implies, these aren’t things that come naturally, but instead involve Spirit-led resolve and choice. If we are intent on pursuing these spiritual disciplines in spite of our fleshly resistance to them, there are usually one or two that seem especially hard, and that we will use any excuse to escape.

For me, fasting is a big one. There have been legitimate excuses: “I’m nursing. I can’t not eat. THE BABY NEEDS NOURISHMENT.” This excuse is about 6 years old for me and no longer holds any merit.

And there have been less legitimate ones: “How am I supposed to go for a run if I don’t eat? I need the energy to stay healthy. Which is, you know, very important.” Believe me, people, I know how flimsy that stupid one is. I’m just being brutally honest here.

He Meets Us In Our Weakness

So it was with a little shame that I agreed to fast with my husband this week to pray over a particularly pressing issue. Shame that I’d taken so long to agree to practice an obvious command of Scripture.

Shame that I was dreading how awful I’d feel by the time I picked up my kids at 3:00 and had to go through all the homework shenanigans on zero calories.

But here’s the wonderful result of my fasting experience. It wasn’t that I was so awesome at going without food or I was so very prayerful and holy all day. It was a fresh sense of God’s love for me, His desire that I go to Him as Father and friend, His care for me, and my obvious need of Him. Here are just a few of the thoughts I had throughout the day:

I saw how easily I let food satisfy some deeper need in me – something to do, something to break up the day, something to fill. How much more filling a 5-minute prayer is than a 5-minute lunch.

He brought to mind the many whom God has asked, for a season, or for a lifetime, to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him, with unfulfilled desires and hopes, because, as He declares, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” He is better.

He reminded me that as needy as I felt is as needy as I actually am 100% of the time. I always need Him for provision. Always need Him to sustain, to uphold, to nourish, to abide. All the fitness He requires is we feel our need of Him.

I remembered how much of the world goes without food, not for the spiritual disciplines, but because they are always in desperate need, for even the most basic requirements of life. Until 4 years ago, two of my own precious children were a part of that population. How easy it is to forget, and cease to pray for those in desperate need.

I remembered that to really serve, to lay down my life for others, requires nothing more, but nothing less, than total dependence on Jesus to give me life, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and so on. I don’t get those things because I have my day go just so. I get them because I belong to Him and He promises them.

Here’s the deal. He meets us when we obey Him. When we take Him at His Word and seek to please Him above ourselves and above others. He meets us because even when we are at our most faithless, He is faithful, because He cannot deny Himself; how much more will we experience that steadfast faithfulness if we, by faith, do as He asks.

Whatever that thing is that you avoid – church community, prayer, serving, Bible reading, giving – because it stretches you beyond your comfort, believe that He is good. Believe that He only asks that we lay down our lives for Him because that way lies our joy, and He has our best interest at heart. Always.

I’m married to Josh. He’s a pastor. We live in Tallahassee with our 4 children. They are wild and crazy and we don’t really know what we’re doing there. I spend most of my time managing them but some of my time doing some research at Florida State University. I’m grateful for good books, laughter, the Florida sun, and Netflix (and oxford commas!). But mostly for Jesus. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.