This week we asked our bloggers what they had learned from spiritual practices and disciples. This is how they responded.
This Lent, our adult discipleship leadership team has invited the congregation to engage in the spiritual practice of fasting. The primary definition of fasting with which we are working is this: We give up a legitimate need in order to experience our real need for Jesus. But there is so much more to be pondered regarding fasting!
A church member passed along excerpts from Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines. The book includes a section on “Disciplines of Abstinence,” of which fasting is one. In thinking about the power of fasting, I was helped by this quote from W.R. Inge from “Goodness and Truth”:
“If we feel that any habit or pursuit, harmless in itself, is keeping us from God and sinking us deeper in the things of earth; if we find that things which others can do with impunity are for us the occasion of falling, then abstinence [e.g. fasting] is our only course. Abstinence alone can recover for us the real value of what should have been for our help but which has been an occasion of falling…. It is necessary that we should steadily resolve to give up anything that comes between ourselves and God.”
I identify with the need to stay away from things that others find harmless. Both my husband and I can fall into compulsive eating – which is not good for my digestive system and not good for my husband’s waistline. So, we have resolved not to buy certain food items or keep them in our house. We know that if we have those items, the temptation will be too great and once we start eating those items we won’t be able to stop.
So, I stay away from corn chips and from sugary items (even the gluten free kinds), because even though these are harmless for others, they keep me from good health. What about those harmless practices that damage my spiritual health?
I keep coming back to the seemingly harmless practice of carrying around and checking my smartphone. Being aware of what’s going on in the world, keeping on top of projects and being present for emergencies… these are all good things. And yet, the smartphone can also distract me and keep me from prayer. I am not prone to this, but I know others who check their phones or email first thing after they wake up. What might happen if we left the phone off for another hour and prayed as we got ready for the day? The constant distractions of technology and media (television is the most insidious for me) keep me from being attentive to God’s presence. Even as a pastor, I can find myself in a day of meetings, discussing all kinds of spiritual things (like worship, upcoming sermons, church activities), and forget God is in the room with me, with all of us.
So I am fasting from media on Fridays (or, at least attempting to), not because media is bad, but because it has unintentionally come between me and God.
How about you? What seemingly harmless thing gets between you and God? Could you give it up for a set amount of time, in order to attend more fully to God?
Rachel Young is the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, in Houston, Texas. She is married to Josh, who also serves on staff at Clear Lake Presbyterian as the director of contemporary worship and media.