OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #240 Large Fries and Diet Cola
When I was a teen hanging out with my friends, our weekend ritual was to rent a movie and then go to McDonalds for a snack. A creature of habit, I ordered the same thing every week - large fries and a diet Coke.
I thought that the diet Coke would somehow counter the effect of the greasy French fries. This exercise in wishful thinking seems really funny to me now but at the time it was discouraging since I exercised regularly in the pool as a lifeguard and swimming instructor, but wasn’t losing weight. The problem was that I didn’t make the connection between the different areas of my life.
There is a parallel to our experience with spiritual disciplines. The effect of regular spiritual practices is not automatic. Just because we take part in spiritual practices does not mean we will grow spiritually, change, or feel closer to God. We can have regular spiritual habits but still not grow because there are areas of our lives which are not God-honouring.
Let me show you two examples from scripture.*
Isaiah 58:3-4 “Why have we fasted,” they say, “and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed.” Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
These people had strict disciplines of prayer and fasting but they had two problems. First, they thought God was obligated to them because they prayed and fasted. And, second, in the same way that I could not see the connection between french fries and my weight, they could not see the connection between their behaviour and God’s quietness. God had a problem with the way they exploited their workers, their selfishness, tempers, and violence.
We see the same issues in Zechariah 7:4-5 : “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?”
Like Isaiah, the people had highly disciplined spiritual practices, but they were doing them for the wrong reasons. Spiritual disciplines are not about pleasing God so that He will give us what we want. God is not obligated to us in some kind of “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” kind of way. In this way they really fasted for themselves, for what they could get out of it.
Spiritual disciplines are not for us. Spiritual disciplines are about giving God the opportunity to reveal himself, and in this way they are really about Him. The goal of spiritual practices is to see things as God sees them. If this had happened in Isaiah’s or Zechariah’s time, the people would have understood how their unchanged lives acted against their spiritual discipline. As we begin to see things through God’s eyes our hearts are changed, and changed hearts lead to changed lives.
I hope this helps us understand the nature of spiritual disciplines. Be on fire.
OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Oct 27, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Archives are located at www.onfireletter.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com