January 24, 2020
“Read your Bible, pray every day.”
But what happens if I don’t?
As a kids church teacher back in college, I knew this song so well. And I also wondered how many of us ask the same question I asked back then. “Why? Why do I need to read my Bible? Why do I need to pray? And why do I need to do these every day?”
When it comes to reading the Bible and praying, I tend to go to two extremes since I became a Christian. Early on in my walk with God, I tried to impose a strict schedule upon myself every day: 10 minutes of worship, four chapters of Bible reading, 30 minutes of praying.
But as the years went by, I realized I was not enjoying what I was doing. It seemed such a big burden for me, especially during exam week. I would beat myself up for not doing what I committed to do. I felt like this was not what communicating with God should look like.
Then, because of shame and guilt, I would swing to the other extreme. I would go on for days, or even months, of not talking to God or reading His Word. And I would wonder why I would feel helpless and experience despair more often. I felt powerless because I only drew from my limited strength and wisdom.
I grew tired of the cycle that I just wanted to give up my walk entirely. I just knew that a relationship with God should not look like this. What should it look like, then? Are spiritual disciplines, including reading the Bible and praying, a vital part of that relationship? Why?
As I struggled with these questions, my eyes had to be opened to things I did not realize.
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.
2 Corinthians 10:3
We fight against spiritual forces every single time. Therefore, it makes sense that we must bear a spiritual armor and get spiritual training.
I heard someone say before, “Sickness can sometimes be spiritual.” Thinking about that, I realize that’s not what the Bible says at all. The truth is everything is spiritual–and more often than not what happens in the spiritual, manifests in the physical. Sin is always a spiritual issue first before it manifests in external behavior.
If everything is spiritual first before it is physical, this means we need to be spiritually strong and physically fit. In fact, we need to put more premium on spiritual training. Without training, we cannot bear the armor nor wield the weapon effectively.
The frequency and quality of the training is important for any soldier. When Paul was referring to the army in his letters, he most likely knew the training regimen of Roman soldiers. The Roman army was unequaled in their level of training until the 17th century. They did not only have daily exercises to improve their mental acumen and physical skills, they also had weeks of long field training drills.
Paul detailed in Ephesians 6 what the whole armor of God looks like. But how do we get trained to use this armor effectively in our daily spiritual battles?
We look at the example of Jesus Christ Himself. The greatest spiritual war ever waged in history happened when He was crucified. Yet, every single day, while He was alive, He was battling spiritual forces when He did signs and wonders. How did Jesus prepare for these battles and the great war on the cross?
Before we go into the details of how Jesus prepared Himself, I believe we need to understand something vital.
When I was a young Christian, I always took it for granted that Jesus could do miracles and drive out demons because I knew that He is God.
However, Philippians 2:7 says Jesus Christ emptied Himself. This means that although Jesus Christ fully retained His divine nature, He was also fully human and was also subject to the limitations of His human body.
So the question is, when He was performing signs and wonders, was He drawing from His divine nature or not?
Acts 10:38 says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” It is clear that His disciples knew Jesus performed miracles in His human nature by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Himself implied this in Matthew 12:28 when He said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
What does this mean? And what does this have to do with Jesus preparing for His daily battles?
There were a lot of sick people in Israel at the time. For sure there were a lot of people who died. There were many who needed to be delivered from demons. There are thousands, maybe millions more who needed to hear that God wants to extend forgiveness to them.
Yet, Jesus was always on point in doing His miracles. He was never confused about what to focus on or who to reach out to. What was His secret? Spiritual disciplines.
Matthew and Luke recorded that Jesus fasted for 40 days in solitude before He began His ministry. Because of this, He was able to sharply recognize Satan’s lies and counter them with the truth of God’s Word. After 40 days of fasting and solitude, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.” (Luke 1:14)
Fasting and solitude sharpen us to the Holy Spirit’s direction and make us aware of the enemy’s schemes that prevent us from advancing God’s kingdom.
Faith goals and prayer requests are great to have, but fasting and seeking God in solitude align us to God’s leading.
The accounts on Jesus’ life show us that He had deep knowledge of Scriptures whenever He prayed or taught publicly. A deep understanding and application of Scripture in His daily life could only come from a regular and intentional time of knowing, meditating on, and studying the Word.
Because of this, He made a radical impact on those around Him, especially on His disciples and on how they thought and lived.
Jesus’ prayers did not have a formula, but they illustrate the deep relationship He had with the Father and a dependence on the Holy Spirit, especially in the most trying of times.
The Bible recorded that He prayed both before and after the great events of His life, and that He prayed “when life was unusually busy.” Jesus prayed early in the morning, or even all night.
If Jesus put a high premium on spiritual disciplines like praying, fasting, and reading the Word, how much more should this be true for us?
It was only when I understood the why behind doing the spiritual disciplines that I found joy in setting aside at least 30 minutes in the morning and a longer time on my day off to spend time with God. I come with no other agenda but to humbly go before Him, acknowledge my limitations, and ask His Spirit to lead me through the day.
Sometimes, He would allow me to see His greatness and sovereignty in a worship song. He would give me insight as I read His word. He would soften my heart as I prayed for someone. He would bring me clarity as I lift my concerns to Him in prayer.
There is never a formula, and there are days when God is silent. Those days, I would just have to take Him at His word that He is always with me.
Without spiritual disciplines, I would be focused on myself—on what I need to accomplish and what I want to have—missing out on the opportunities for me to be used by God to advance His kingdom.
With spiritual disciplines, I get to appreciate all the more how He is faithful to train my hands so I am prepared for spiritual battle and to train my fingers for the best use of my time to advance His kingdom even in little ways.