‘Tis the season for self-control.
The beginning of Lent always seems to inspire a flurry of resolutions and prohibitions, sometimes the same ones we made at the outset of the year then promptly forgot to keep. As we begin this season of intentional identification with Christ’s wilderness experience and self-denial, my husband and I are walking through Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” (FPU). We’ve been “living like no one else” for a few years now, getting rid of debt and shunning credit cards. However, our commitment to effectively stewarding the resources God has entrusted to us has waned as of late and our wallets have been slowly wasting away from our lack of discipline.
Going through FPU has been an exercise in self-control, but not a fast. We want to live more wisely, and wise living seems to require a modicum of self-control. For us, the challenge is to let the Lord use this nuts-and-bolts process to bring about spiritual transformation in our lives. And that opening we’ve left for him has brought about a fast of sorts.
As we designed our monthly budget and began sticking to it, one thing became very, very clear: we needed to fast from all candy-related games (you know the ones) on our iPhones. It had become way too easy to push that button and get five more lives for the low, low price of $0.99. We needed to flee from temptation and stop mindlessly spending actual dollars on digital things, so we sent the games away. Since doing that earlier this week, for reasons other than Lent, I have noticed that my thumb has an auto-pilot and that my mind’s default mode when I have a few spare minutes of downtime is to seek mindless distraction, like playing games on my phone. I say I don’t have enough time each day to prepare for my Bible study meeting, but I have plenty of time to devote to playing games. Ouch.
Our commitments to abstain from certain things may be done in a deeply devotional manner, directing our hearts to more wholly worship the Lord, or they may be mere fleshly acts, in keeping with tradition or for keeping up appearances. The act may be the same, but the heart can be completely different. It’s like when Jesus brings up fasting and he says,
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matt. 6:16-18, NIV).
My fast began as something very practical and unspiritual, and it has been used by God to reveal something about the condition of my heart. I’ve been seeking comfort in things that don’t really do me any good and making poor use of my time in the process.
I don’t know what you might be abstaining from, or if you’re even fasting this Lenten season. But if you are, be encouraged that as you take steps to draw near to God, He will draw near to you (James 4:8). Even though the steps may be small and fumbling, He can use them to open up new areas of your life to His influence.