MODULE 3 RESOURCES
ASSIGNMENT: In preparation for your next meeting, considering the final paragraph of the essay, think about a creative way you can practice downward mobility in your life. Before the next meeting, do an act of service or give a gift to someone you know in secret.
Also, read The Spiritual Disciplines & Fasting essay by Megan Koch below.
The Spiritual Disciplines & Fasting
By Megan Koch, Adapted by Jake Thurston,
God is good. In fact, everything good comes not just from God, but out of God. God is where everything good begins. When God pours out good things to us, it’s a gift. We call that grace. God is doing good things all the time, whether we realize it or not. But there are actually ways we can arrange our lives around God that put us in a position to receive even more from him, if we want it.
That’s what spiritual disciplines are. Spiritual disciplines are practices we take up in the midst of daily life that make space for us to meet with God. John Wesley called these things a means of grace; things like prayer, reading scripture, taking communion, and practicing confession. These are ways we willfully align ourselves with God. We know he’ll be there with us, and we expect he’ll give us exactly what we need.
As you take up any spiritual discipline, always remember that the discipline is a way to be with God. The end goal is God, not practicing the discipline. When we meet face to face with God, we change. If we want to become disciples who look, act, and talk like Jesus, our one job is to spend time with him, and let him change us. That’s how we get cleaned out, set right, filled up, and sent. We become like Jesus. That’s the end goal. The disciplines don’t do the work; God does. The disciplines simply help us get into a position for God to do the work.
And we can’t control the work God does. He does whatever he wants. We often approach spiritual disciplines as a transaction: I do or give something, and God does something back. We can’t help but insert our own expectations into the deal. The truth is, disciplines aren’t a transaction; they’re an interaction between us and God. When we practice disciplines, we submit ourselves to God. We stop looking for
God to simply give us something we want, and instead get hungry for God to give us Himself.
For the remainder of this module, we’re going to look at 3 disciplines that particularly relate to self-denial: Fasting, Sabbath, and Gratitude.
Let’s talk about the first spiritual discipline: Fasting. Fasting, like all spiritual disciplines, is both very simple, and very mysterious. Fasting from anything is a subtractive discipline; that means we willfully remove or limit a source of comfort (traditionally, food) for a time in order to be more alert to the presence and sufficiency of God. In the absence of old, familiar security blankets, fasting wakes us up to our wounds, weaknesses, and unholy habits. Fasting makes it easy to see where we are tight-fisted, demanding, or afraid. Fasting reveals what holds us back, and makes Jesus brighter than ever. Remember: fasting is powerful, but mysterious. We don’t fast to manipulate or control God. We fast in order to know God more rightly. He will move. He has good gifts in store for you as you fast; you just can’t discover what they are until you participate. And finally, remember that all seasons of fasting prepare us for a time of feasting to follow. As we deny ourselves, we are made right and ready to enjoy life like we’re supposed to: life to the full, with nothing in the way.
ASSIGNMENT: Choose a fast to practice before the next meeting. It could involve fasting from one or two meals, or fasting from food for up to 72 hours (or more). If you’ve never fasted before, resist the urge to do some heroically large fast. Instead, pray and discuss with your discipler where you might begin. Remember to drink plenty of water, and if other liquids are necessary, that’s fine. Simply do what will allow you to move further in the direction of self-denial. As you fast, journal any challenges, temptations, thoughts, or prayers that come to mind as you devote that time to seeking God instead of satisfying the desires of the flesh.
In preparation for your next meeting, read the essay “Sabbath As Self-Denial” by Jake Thurston located below. Come ready to discuss.
Sabbath as Self Denial
By Jake Thurston & Jesse Skidmore
“Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it… There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.” (Hebrews 4:1, 9-11)
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” (Exodus 20:8-10)
“Sabbath is not dependent upon our readiness to stop. We do not stop when we are finished. We do not stop when we complete our phone calls, finish our project, get through this stack of messages, or get out this report that is due tomorrow. We stop because it is time to stop.”
Do you feel like your life is needlessly busy? Work demands more out of you than what you’re capable to put out, your kids have extracurricular activities that suck up any spare free time you have, and any downtime you finally can claim for yourself is spent cleaning the house, running errands, and being pulled a million other directions. It seems like life never stops.
Can you imagine if there could ever be a way to put your busyness on hold, and actually rest? Thankfully, there is a way. It’s called sabbath.
Author Adele Calhoun defines sabbath as “God’s gift of repetitive and regular rest. It is given for our delight and communion with God. Time for being in the midst of a life of doing particularly characterizes the sabbath.” She goes on to say that sabbath days are filled with time for intimacy with God and those you love, taking restful activities that give you life, letting go of what stresses you out, addressing the difficult conversations another time, not having a to-do list, and altogether, refraining from being busy.
If there is any clear and concrete practice we get to experience God’s grace on a weekly basis, it’s through the sabbath. It’s a day when God reminds us to “stop,” slow down, remember that everything is okay, take pleasure in the things that delight us, and be re-energized by his Spirit.
But how could sabbath be an act of self-denial? Isn’t it selfish for us to take an entire day for ourselves when there are a multitude of things to get done and countless people depending on us? Here’s the point:
If we don’t stop to rest, we won’t have anything to give.
We’d be so tired and worn down from our endless pursuit of activity that we’d never be able to give our best to the work we do and the people we love. They’d only get the scraps of our personality, which come in the forms of anger, depression, anxiety, exhaustion, short tempers, annoyance, and even addiction. If we don’t realize we can’t do everything, then everything we do will suffer. It’s an act of self-denial.
Busyness is often more self-inflicted than anything else. We claim to be “so busy” with work and activities that we’ll cast blame on everything and everyone for why we can’t seem to get a moment’s rest. But in reality, we often do it to ourselves—not because we have countless demands we can’t keep up with, but because it makes us feel important. Busyness is praised in our “go-go-go” culture. However, refusing to rest with God and our loved will hinder us from being filled up to pour ourselves out to those around us. You can’t empty a pitcher that’s already empty.
Adele Calhoun says, “the sabbath reminds us that we belong to the worldwide family of God. We are citizens of another kingdom—a kingdom not ruled by the clock and the tyranny of the urgent. God’s sabbath reality calls us to trust that the Creator can manage all that concerns us in this world as we settle into his rest.”
ASSIGNMENT: In preparation for your next meeting, plan a time for Sabbath. This does not have to be a full 24 hours and does not have to be on Sunday, but try to plan a time that you can spend with family, friends, and/or alone with God to enjoy resting. Don’t try to do too much, especially if you have never taken a sabbath before. Be sure to adjust your schedule ahead of time in order to protect your scheduled Sabbath.
Also, read the “Gratitude” essay by Jake Thurston located below. Come ready to discuss with your disciple.
By Jake Thurston & Jesse Skidmore
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords.
His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1-2)
“Be joyful always; pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by
prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is a very encouraging verse until something devastating happens. It’s easy to “be joyful always, pray continuously,” and “give thanks in all circumstances” when everything is going swell, you’re feeling good about your life, or you’re forced to say what you’re thankful for when you’re gathered around for the annual Thanksgiving meal at your Grandma Judie’s house. But when something absolutely catastrophic happens—the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, uncertainty of the future—is it truly possible to be joyful always?
Gratitude isn’t an action or emotion we express when we get something nice. It’s not based on material possessions or pleasant circumstances. In fact, it has hardly anything to do with ourselves at all, but everything to do with God. Gratitude, in its deepest sense, is not driven towards the fulfillment of our desires or counting our blessings, but seeing God’s hand at work in every corner of our lives, no matter how big or small, beneficial or catastrophic it may be.
Gratitude is self-denial. But how?
Anytime we’re not grateful for something, it’s normally because we think we deserve something better, and miss out on all the other blessings in our life as a result. “I’m not grateful for my iPhone because I want an iPhone X,” but you forget that you have an iPhone. “I’m not grateful with my job because I deserve a raise,” but you forget that you have a job to begin with. “I’m not grateful about my life because I want out of debt,” but you forget that you have a life filled with people who love you.
Our inability to be grateful is a sign of our entitlement, and any ounce of entitlement squashes any chance of self-denial. We can’t make ourselves lesser if we think we deserve something better.
This is why Paul urges us to pray continuously. He recognizes that life is going to get hard with its rollercoaster of good times and bad times. He’s not telling us to be ignorant of our unfortunate circumstances, or not to yearn for healing and better things. But there is a massive difference in being entitled to better circumstances and praying for better circumstances. One tells God you’re discontent and deserve something better. The other tells God you can’t do this on your own and need him to help you out.
When we approach everything that life throws at us through prayer, we are continually seeing God at work in it. And when we see that God is at work, then we will be much less likely to be entitled to something better and trust that he’ll work something out. Then, and only then, will we be able to be grateful and joyful always, because our hope isn’t based on what we deserve, but who God is.
Adele Calhoun says, “Thanksgiving is possible not because everything goes perfectly but because God is present.” When God, not our circumstances, is our focus, then all of life—even the hard times—become surprisingly sweet.
What are you grateful for? What are your blessings in the midst of your trials? How can you give God praise for who he is and what he’s doing, right here, right now? The more you answer these questions, the more joyful your life will be. Guaranteed.
Spend the remainder of time discussing any significant decisions, interactions, or challenges the disciple is facing, and what God may be up to.
ASSIGNMENT: Watch the Script video below in preparation for Module 4.
Roots Script by Phil Wiseman, videography by Jay Wilde