A new stroke
Over the last several weeks, we’ve explored spiritual disciplines. The disciplined practice, spiritually speaking, creates the environment for God’s grace to do His best work in you and through you! We’ve talked about meditation and prayer. And today, we move to a discipline that isn’t super popular with me, if I’m honest. But before we get there, I’ve got a story.
I’ve moved on to learning a new swim stroke. I’ve certainly not mastered butterfly. Truthfully, I hope I never do. I want to always be looking to improve. But I did want to start something new. I love being able to hit the pool and put a mile in freestyle. I can’t do that with butterfly or any of the other strokes. And I don’t want to. What I DO want to do, however, is start doing individual medleys as a new workout. This would be all four strokes totaling one hundred yards, working up to two hundred in the future.
The only other stroke I needed to learn was breaststroke. I didn’t expect it to be easy. And it wasn’t. But I didn’t expect it to be uncomfortable and lacking in fun. It was ugly work.
It hurt my back. It hurt my hips. My calves cramped up, as did the arch of my foot. I had a hard time controlling the correct movements. Here I thought butterfly was going to be the toughest. Nope. Breaststroke has it beat hands down.
I think probably the biggest struggle was resisting the urge to move. One super important part of the stroke is streamlining, which means making the body as straight as possible. The desire was to keep moving when I needed to glide and streamline. To learn this stroke, I had to master my body.
Now the payoff is enormous! I’ve swam a couple times now doing medleys. They are such a fun workout and add variety to my routine. I love it!
In a really odd way, this all reminds me of fasting. Whether it’s food or something else, fasting requires me to control my appetite. And let’s be clear. Appetites are good! It’s how we satisfy them that renders them something less than good.
Fasting is controlling my body, mastering it to bring it to a point where something else isn’t controlling me. There are some great reasons to fast, such as health, focus, and reminding us of the essentials in life. But more than these, fasting reminds me that I am mastered by nothing but the Holy Spirit.
Fasting simply means giving up something and abstaining from it for a time. When fasting is talked about, food is the subject. But we can also fast other things, such as the Internet, television, YouTube, Facebook, golf, swimming, sex, or spending money. For the purpose of this post, we’ll simply focus on food.
We all love to eat. I mean, just think about vacation planning. Much of it revolves around where and when meals take place. An excellent example for my family is the pizza restaurant known as Mellow Mushroom. Wherever we go on vacation, we look for a Mellow Mushroom. Why? They have the best pizza and calzones! We love them. And we’ll drive (or walk) to get it! In fact, I walked one hour round trip to get Mellow Mushroom food this past summer. (I didn’t want to pay $10 to park for 5 minutes)
Bottom line? We all love meals.
But there are times when we need to pull back for a short season, to reevaluate, recenter, and regain a perspective that’s been lost. Why? Great question! And here’s my answer. We have this relentless promotion in society that has us believing it’s a good virtue to satisfy every human appetite when it calls to us to do so using means that are not always right. Fasting, then, becomes just a needless discomfort.
But it’s in the discomfort we find we are challenged. And just like learning breaststroke, discomfort while fasting has stellar payoffs! Let’s dive in and discover those payoffs now!
Paul and Jesus
Fasting is mentioned throughout Scripture and often is tied to times of prayer. And Jesus mentions fasting in the Gospels. But it’s Paul’s take on foods that I find most intriguing.
No different than our lives today, food was a big deal in Paul’s day. But food then was also connected to sacrifices to idols. This made the buying and eating of food particularly sticky – idols being the sticky part. So in his first letter to the churches in Corinth (Chapter 10), Paul gives them a history lesson of what happened to the Israelites when something took God’s place (definition of an idol) even though God provided the essentials for them! Spoiler alert – it was a lot of not-so-good things.
His warning to the Corinthians and ourselves is this; don’t let the nonessentials rule you. In other words, don’t appease legitimate appetites in illegitimate ways, for when they do, they become idols. Fasting, therefore, becomes the mechanism, the method, the spiritual discipline that reminds us of the essential God and brings down the nonessentials that can become idols if not kept in check.
What’s so interesting is the amount of time Paul spends on this. While chapter 10 has much of the background, it’s chapter 6 that I want to turn to. Here Paul states the following…
All things are permitted for me, but not all things are of benefit. All things are permitted for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
Just read that again! I will not be mastered by what? Anything. I don’t know about you, but it’s a constant onslaught from the world around us, desiring us to be mastered by all sorts of things. Paul’s point? Nothing but Jesus should master us. Ok, moving on!
Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, however God will do away with both of them. But the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.
God is both master and ruler (kinda the same thing, really) over our bodies. Basically, he calls the shots! We align appetites under His authority. The body is for what? The Lord! It’s to serve Him and Him alone. Yes, we fulfill those appetites, but in legitimate ways. Snacking before dinner spoils dinner. And snacking on pictures on TV, YouTube, Facebook, or porn sites, spoils a lot more than just dinner, if you get my drift! But that’s for another post (See Matthew 5:27-28)
Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are parts of Christ? Shall I then take away the parts of Christ and make them parts of a prostitute? Far from it! Flee sexual immorality…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:12–20 NASB
And there it is right there! The last phrase. Let me repeat it because it’s that good!
…therefore glorify God in your body
To take this full circle, Paul says much the same towards the end of chapter 10, where we started.
1 Corinthians 10:31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all things for the glory of God.
Whatever you do, do all things to glorify God. Period. Full stop. Mic drop.
Whatever we do and how we feed our appetites must fall under God’s authority. And when we meet them that way, we honor God, praising Him and glorifying Him. Glorifying God is not just a Sunday church thing…Remember, these disciplines are every day. It’s an every day thing. Each time we decide to bring an appetite under God’s authority and meet it legitimately, we glorify God!
Pause and soak that in! Really! Each good decision, under His authority, glorifies Him! Wow!
Here’s the catch…we can’t do this alone. If I can control myself independently, then it’s just me. And no one can do that! Well, unless your name is Jesus and you died on the cross for all sins. But since that’s none of us, we rely on the One He sent to help us.
The Holy Spirit.
We do our part, and He does His! It’s called responsible grace!
So back to fasting. Yes, it’s not fun. I don’t like giving up something that I want to do. But…when it brings me back to center, back to the Essential God, and fades into the background the nonessentials that can take God’s place, I’ll do it every time!
So this week, why not pray about what God would have you fast. It might be a meal or two. Maybe a favorite food. I’ve heard of people fasting their favorite food, such as chocolate or coffee. If fasting food, don’t forget to drink plenty of water! Super important!
Or God might lead you to fast something that’s starting to be an essential that’s not legitimate – that’s taking His place. Video games. TV, Facebook. YouTube. Sports. Busyness. Books. Even your own kids or family can do that. A spouse can. Any relationship can!
The point is this; what you fast is between you and God. And I’d encourage you to do what Jesus said in Matthew 6:17-18 – keep it between you and God. God honors what is done in secret when it’s done to honor Him!
You are loved!