Today we will look at three final spiritual disciplines or exercises:
8. Fasting. In fasting we choose to intentionally go without something for a period of time (usually something pleasurable but not necessarily sinful). It could be food (in a variety of forms) or some other activity (TV, music, etc). Jesus assumed that his disciples would fast (Mt.6:16-18) as he himself did (Mt.4). Fasting teaches us a lot about ourselves. It quickly reveals how much we are dependent on the pleasure of eating. It also demonstrates how powerful our body is and especially our appetite! Fasting seeks to confirm our dependence on God by finding strength from him alone. After all, it is not food that gives us true life; it is God’s word to us (Mt.4:4). Life is much more than food (Lk.12:33) and our belly is not our god as it is for others (Phil.3:19. Rom.16:18). Fasting is one of the more important ways of practising the self-denial required of everyone who would follow Christ. Fasting teaches self-control and therefore trains us in restraint with regard to all our fundamental drives. We learn the value of ‘contentment’ (1 Tim.6:6). Fasting is not an easy discipline but its practice yields great benefits in our lives, especially when accompanied by time in prayer and other disciplines.
9. Sacrifice. Sacrifice is giving away something we really value (time or resources) or giving until it costs us quite a bit. It helps to remind us that in God we have all we need and to remember to hold on to things lightly so that they don’t have too strong a hold on us. Jesus calls us to invest our time, talents and finances into the expansion of his kingdom on earth (Lk.18:18-23). We live in a culture that is obsessed with ‘greedy getting’ God calls us into a kingdom where his values are ‘generous giving’. God calls us to a life of ‘giving and receiving’ not one of ‘getting and keeping’. Will we pass this resource test? Again, the amount is not as important as the heart attitude and the motivation (Lk.21:2-4). As a response to his sacrificial love (Jn.3:16), God calls us to a life of sacrifice (Rom.12:1-2). Sacrifice moves the heart of God like nothing else! When we sacrifice we move into a different dimension of faith and often we’re surprised at the results.
10. Secrecy. In secrecy we abstain from causing our good deeds and qualities to be known. It involves doing a good deed while intentionally remaining anonymous. This is an important spiritual discipline recommended by Jesus himself (Mt.6:1-6). Jesus’ point is that our very nature is to try to impress others. He is teaching us that true spiritual maturity means that we don’t feel the need to congratulate ourselves because we’ve gotten something right. The discipline of secrecy exists to liberate those who are trapped by the desire to ‘be seen’ or to impress others. Many people live in what we could call ‘approval addiction’ – bondage to what others think about them. Their sense of identity, esteem and value is wrapped up in other people’s appraisal of our worth. Some practical ideas: immerse a person in prayer and don’t tell anyone, make a generous donation to a ministry or send a sacrificial gift to someone in need – and keep it anonymous, commit a random act of kindness or intentionally down-play any position, expertise, accomplishments or knowledge you may have.