A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the parables in Matthew 13:44-46, and I talked about two obstacles to experiencing the Kingdom of Heaven as your greatest treasure: 1) Underestimating the cost of discipleship, and 2) the desires of the flesh (“the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” ~ Matt. 13:22).
I also suggested that one of the antidotes to counteract these obstacles is the spiritual discipline of fasting. The reasons being, fasting is both 1) a form of dying to self, and 2) a tool that wages war against the desires of the flesh.
We all know that fasting is about giving something up. But if it stops there, then the experience often ends in either pride (“I’m disciplined, therefore I’m worthy”), or guilt and defeat for not following through with our plan.
The truth is, fasting is about much more than just giving something up: We fast from one thing in order to get more of another. We say “no” to one thing so that we can say “yes” to another. Fasting, when done rightly, strips us of our dependence on one (often good) thing so that we can “put on” another (better) thing.
In this case, we’re talking about fasting for the sake of cultivating Kingdom tastebuds; i.e., seeing the Kingdom of Heaven the way the men in these parables did.
So my encouragement to you is to engage is some sort of a fast through Advent this year; whether that be a traditional fast from food, or something else, like media, entertainment, video games, your smart device, etc.
Additionally, however, I’d like to offer you a tool that may help fill out your understanding of the purpose of fasting, and equip you to be better prepared for your fast. I call it the “3 D’s for Spiritual Growth.” And those three D’s are deny, delight, and devote.
This one is fairly obvious, and fits into people’s common conception about fasting— it’s about giving something up, yes. But more precisely, it’s about strategically giving something up. In order to help you discern what it is you may need to lay aside, here are some questions to consider:
What is currently numbing me to Christ as my supreme treasure?
What is currently eclipsing God as the most glorious thing in my life?
What is currently stealing from those around me? (Time, love, provision, attention, etc.)
Notice that the first question zeros in on your own personal experience, and the later two on the experience of others in relation to you.
This is the often-overlooked aspect of fasting. After rejecting something, we must replace it with something else. Something to fill the void. Something that will help shape and change our desires for the better. This could be reading your Bible and praying. However, as we’ll see in a moment, the spiritual disciplines deserve a third category of their own. Here, I’m talking about the life-giving interests, skills, hobbies, and pastimes that feed our soul’s love for Jesus. Often, these are things that are going to take some time and energy, but deeply fulfill. Things like reading a book. Playing a sport. Going on a hike. Cooking. Baking. Writing. Sewing. Knitting. Drawing. Hunting. Playing or listening to music, and so on. And often times, these are things we used to do, but have abandoned for cheap and easy substitutes that don’t really engage the person God has made us to be.
So to help you discern what some healthy replacements may be, consider the following questions:
What will awaken me to Christ as my supreme treasure?
What will magnify God as most glorious in my life?
What will build up those around me?
Again, the first question will help draw out your personal experience, and the later two, the experience of others (so you may need to ask— we have a hard time seeing ourselves objectively sometimes!)
And understand, some of the things that come to mind may seem like work at first. These loves may need to be re-cultivated. But they tend to be the things that historically have awakened you to Christ as your supreme treasure. And they’ve not only breathed life into you, but into others as well.
WHAT CHANGES, AND WHAT REMAINS THE SAME
Now here’s the thing: That which you deny yourself or delight in may need to change at times. There may be a time in your life in which food has eclipsed God as the most glorious thing, and becomes an area you need to deny your flesh. And there may be another time in which food is something you can genuinely delight in, to the glory of God. Similarly, there may be a time in which music ushers you into a deeper worship of God (so delight in it!), and another season in which it’s the thing you’re leaning on for meaning and fulfillment (in which case, it’s time to deny yourself). These things can be fluid, and require a level of self-awareness and spiritual sensitivity. It can be likened to a scale you’re trying to keep in balance as the items take on more or less weight: You need to regularly reevaluate these things.
But if the two trays are in flux, then the base of this scale — the weight that holds it in place — are the things we should devote ourselves to, no matter the season. These are the things that should always remain the same. These are the things you should persistently pursue.
Here I’m talking about the spiritual disciplines. Examples abound. Just browse the table of contents of two classic works on the subject: Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, or Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Typically things like Bible reading, prayer, and Scripture memory make the short list of the most important disciplines. But there are many others. And their purpose is all the same: they are the God-prescribed means by which to cultivate Christ-centered desires. Desires for things like the Kingdom of Heaven— and the King Himself.
So when you strike the balance of appropriate self-denial with appropriate delight, along with a steady diet of devotion to the spiritual disciplines, you’ll be well on your way to a fruitful fast this Advent season.
STRATEGIC FOR THE SAKE OF SPIRITUAL
Hopefully it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: The “3 D’s for Spiritual Growth” is not an end in itself. It’s a strategic means to a spiritual end. If we miss this, we’ll stop short at looking for significance and satisfaction in a system rather than in our Savior. But rightly approached, the diligent application of this strategy should yield greater delight and intimacy in the King and His Kingdom— over time, and with perseverance. And what better time a year to pursue this than leading up to Christmas.
So may the Lord bless you this Advent season. And may your pursuit of Him yield the same joy experienced by the man who found the treasure buried in the field.