Last week I wrote about fasting, but I realized maybe I ought to have started this short column series answering the question, “Why should a person fast?”
Another helpful question would be, “Why should Christians do any spiritual discipline?” We should practice spiritual disciplines, like fasting, because of the benefits they provide toward godliness. Godliness is defined as piety or holiness, but a definition I like is this: godliness is acting like Jesus would act if he were in our place. In other words, spiritual disciplines help us think and act more like Jesus thinks and acts.
First, practicing spiritual disciplines helps us know how to please God. Jesus excelled at this, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me…I always do what pleases Him.” John 8:28,29.
For example, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on Bible passages help us learn God’s desires. Bible intake teaches us God’s ways, tells us to stop when we’re heading toward spiritual danger, shows us how get back to spiritual safety, and aligns us with God’s will.
When we put this information into practice, we please God, like Jesus does. Without the spiritual discipline of Bible consumption we won’t be able to pursue godliness.
Second, practicing spiritual disciplines also keeps us in God’s presence. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16. Jesus knew how to quiet his mind and seek out God’s presence. Jesus prayed both short and long prayers, with others and by himself. The regularly practice of prayer keeps us consistently in God’s presence where Jesus stayed. Having an ongoing conversation with God helps us stay in control of our emotions and appetites, and even helps us resist temptation. But it takes the spiritual discipline of prayer to pursue godliness.
Finally, one word of warning and one word of encouragement: I think people tend to steer clear of spiritual disciplines for two reasons: one, disciplines are not always effectively taught and when I lack knowledge oftentimes I freeze instead of move. I think others have the same problem.
It’s dangerous to not pursue God out of ignorance. If you don’t know how to pray or study Scripture, ask a Christian friend, both of you could bless one another as learn together. And two, spiritual disciplines take effort. Any activity that is beneficial to us usually takes effort. But in addition to effort, spiritual warfare often accompanies any practice we are using to pursue godliness.
But take heart! Christ tells us He will never leave nor forsake us but will provide us with the help we need through the Holy Spirit. He provides strength, endurance and even spiritual protection. Why don’t you start practicing right now? Memorize and pray this prayer from Scripture and begin thinking over what it means for your life: “I call out to the Lord, and He answers me from His holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear….” Psalm 3:4-6.
What spiritual disciplines are you interested in? If you would like to hear more about the practice of spiritual disciplines or have any other questions and comments email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It always helps to pursue godliness with the support of other brothers and sisters in Christ.
Dale McCamish is Senior Minister of Wilmington Church of Christ.