Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Spiritual Disciplines

Someone made an odd comment on the fiction loop I belong to the other day, and it got me to thinking. They commented that they were giving up books (specifically, reading fiction) for the month of November in order to refocus on other things. That caused a flurry of comments on whether or not it was a good idea to stop such a positive thing as reading, even for a specific time period. From there came comparisons to giving things up for Lent. Two different posters commented rather blithely that they were Baptists and didn't observe Lent. Their attitude was, "What a relief! That's something I don't even have to consider!"
Now, I am a Baptist. I would be proud to say so except that pride is a sin. Otherwise I'd be proud to be a Baptist. LOL I don't observe Lent. But at the same time, the thought of giving up something for a specific amount of time--that idea rattled around in my brain for a while.
I have observed the practice of fasting at different times in my life. Fasting is giving up a meal or giving up food for a specific time period (such as twenty-four hours) with the idea of spending that time instead focusing on Bible reading and prayer, usually for a specific purpose. The Bible teaches this principle and even tells us that some situations cannot be changed without fasting.
There are other spiritual disciplines as well--disciplines that have been forgotten or distorted over the years to the point where good Baptists (sarcastic grin here) no longer observe them. But the general principles are still good. There's the discipline of solitude--getting away from people, multi-media and outside stimuli for a certain period in order to focus on some time alone with God. There's also the discipline of meditation--thinking, examining and studying certain portions of Scripture, or certain concepts taught in Scripture--in order to better and more fully understand God's Word. There's nothing wrong with either of these concepts, but they are sometimes equated with other religions. Religions that perhaps have distorted the original practice, or made it a requirement for certain spiritual status. I want to make it clear that, while these disciplines can help you in your spiritual walk, they are not requirements in order to be right with God. Salvation is still by grace, through faith.
And then there's the discipline I started with in this post: sacrifice. Without going in depth, let me say that sacrifices were done in the times of the Bible. Some were to atone for sins, but some were given as praise and worship to God. A sacrifice was just that--giving up something that was of worth. I'm not suggesting you build an altar and start burning cattle and sheep, but there are occasional sacrifices you can make. Again, the key word here is discipline. Can you discipline yourself to do without something that is important or enjoyable to you in order to focus more on the things of God?
Sacrifices can come in many different forms. I've heard of some people that would go without television for a week, sacrificing that time in order to focus on spiritual things. Some people have sacrificed sleep in order to participate in all-night prayer meetings. I've heard of other people giving up some food they enjoy: sweets, soda, etc.
Please understand, it's not that God takes delight in our depriving ourselves of things. The key word here is discipline. How disciplined are you? Discipline is a form of self-control.
I don't know about you, but I'm not so strong in self-control that I don't need to practice now and then.

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