I’ve been a martial artist for as long as I can remember.
Raised by a family of Black Belts, I’ve been told that I started kicking before walking. By four years old, my very first white belt was tied around my waist and I’ve been training ever since.
A few years ago, after training for a few decades and through a few pregnancies, I was preparing for a competition at the same time my body was readjusting to only feeding myself after my pregnancy.
When I consulted a nutritionist for help and admitted my intense late night sweet tooth, she taught me this important principle:
The last thing you eat is the next thing you crave.
Her principle has stuck with me and I’ve found it to be true for so much more than just nutrition.
When I choose encouragement over gossip, I crave genuine friendships. When I choose to be present with my family over multitasking, I crave those close connections. This is true in my spiritual life, too. The more I study the Bible, the more I crave meeting with God. The more I pray, the more I crave communicating with him.
These spiritual disciplines—studying the Bible and spending focused time in prayer—are not things I naturally want to do.
I don’t always feel like studying my Bible.
I don’t always want to pray.
Certain Sundays, I’d really rather stay in my pajamas and watch the game than serve others in the corporate gathering.
But I want to want them.
If the last thing I eat (spiritually) is the next thing I’ll crave, that means I’ll have to start before I feel like it.
That’s where discipline comes in.
The New Oxford American Dictionary definition of discipline is “to train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.”
This definition rings true for me. To be disciplined is to make a choice regardless of what our feelings may be prompting us to do. As believers who have placed our faith in Christ, his Holy Spirit dwells in us and empowers us to overcome our sinful desires.
In Romans 7, Paul talks about our conflicting desires this way:
“ For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
Although in our fallen condition, we may feel the pull to chase after the things the world deems urgent and important, the Holy Spirit offers us a wiser path forward: to engage in spiritual disciplines in order to grow a deeper relationship with Christ and ultimately become more like him.
In 1 Timothy 4:7, Paul reminds his apprentice Timothy that we can “discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness.”
You see, the purpose of prioritizing spiritual disciplines is to become more godly.
To feel the disconnect between what we should want to do and what we actually want to do doesn’t mean we’re less-than Christians, it means we’re sin-affected humans. In the same way, we aren’t first-class disciples when we do participate in them. There is no earning God’s favor by marking off tasks from a good Christian checklist.
Our right standing with God was won entirely by the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is a gift of grace that we cannot earn but are invited to freely accept.
Spiritual disciplines then, are a vehicle to godliness; an overflow of love from a heart that belongs to God.
We don’t have to pray and study the Bible, we get to speak to and hear from our Savior, the Creator of the Universe!
And because of our human condition, we may have to start before we feel like it.
We may have to feed our souls spiritually nourishing food so that we crave them.
As we navigate our way through a world that begs us to set our attention and affections on ever-changing causes, let’s devote ourselves to the eternal cause of Christ. Let’s discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness and in turn extend his love to the world for the sake of the gospel.