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Posts Tagged ‘ascetics’

Last Friday I had some of my dear friends over to spend the night.  As the girls fell asleep to a movie in my living room, I prayed for them because I had to.  There was no urgent need, but urgent feeling.  The next day as we spoke I felt convicted to get back to praying specifically on a regular basis.  I have been praying, but it has been need-based, and not diligent. 
 
Sunday morning my pastor preached on prayer.  I know this fact, even though I wasn’t there, and that’s enough.  Sunday afternoon there was a youth leaders meeting where the veterans reiterated the essential role prayer plays in making a meeting or ministry successful.  Filled with a sense of the needs, and the knowledge that God wanted me to refocus, I had a marvelous Sunday and Monday filled with intentional prayer.  And then I stayed up late, and slept in and stayed up and slept in.  I’ve been praying, but it hasn’t been the intentional, set aside time I resolved to do. 
 
Wednesday my mom taught the Awana Sparks about the Lord’s Prayer, and in our weekly debriefing of funny things kids said, she shared part of her lesson.  Afterward I read a new article on one of my favorite websites – it was on the Lord’s Prayer, too. 
 
This week I also received in the mail the newest Michael Card album, Hymns.  The first or second song (most listened to if you push play right before you fall asleep each night) is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  There is a part of that song I remember a pastor talking about a long time ago.  The author of the hymn wrote “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it… Here’s my heart, o, take and seal it…”  He did wander.  That’s the testimony of his life.  He knew himself.  His heart needed sealed. 
 
So does my heart, because it wanders.  In some ways this week has been beautiful, but it’s only because I’ve spotted God’s grace and messages, not because I’ve had victory in yielding to them.  I know everything about the need to be content, but I just am not content.  My heart isn’t focused.  I’m not diligent with my time or energy, or responsible with my money.  I’m tired. 
 
On Sunday something said at the leader’s meeting reminded me of Galatians 6:9: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”  Like a breath of keenest fresh air to one suffocating, I needed every ounce of the hope in that verse.  There is conviction in Paul’s words also.  That is what I want to focus on today.  
 
Proverbs 4:20-27, “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.
Let them not depart from thine eyes;
keep them in the midst of thine heart.
For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
Keep thy heart with all diligence;
for out of it are the issues of life.
Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.
Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
 
The word “keep” in verse 21 is shamar, “keep, give heed” like a shepherd or watchman. The word “keep” in verse 23 is natsar, “guard, watch over.”  So Solomon’s words, inspired of the Holy Spirit, are to be kept.  And my heart is to be kept.  How is this done? 
 
The first thing Solomon mentions after this command is speech.  There is a lot about speech in Ephesians, but this reminds me also of James, whose vivid description of the tongue as the spark that sets a forest on fire opens with “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” 
 
We’ve probably all heard the question, “Who’s being walked?  The dog or the human?”  A man holds a leash with the cord wrapped around his hand several times in the manner of a bull-rider.  The dog strains ahead, eager, easily distracted.  Sometimes the man seems to be pulled along against his will.  Other times the firm hold on the leash restrains and directs the pet.  The image of a bridle in James is that of me being both dog and master, horse and driver.  The bridle doesn’t just restrain; it guides.  It controls and regulates.  This is self-control, one of the fruit of the Spirit, also known as temperance.  Many of the fruit of the Spirit involve a self-command or restraint. 
 
Solomon goes on to talk about our eyes.  Ok, I can’t resist.  One of the best songs kids ever learn is “Oh be careful little eyes,” and actually I think we should make teenagers and adults sing it, too.  Do you remember it?  Oh be careful little tongue what you say, oh be careful little tongue what you say.  For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little tongue what you say.  Oh be careful little eyes what you see.  Oh be careful little feet where you go.  Tongue, Eyes, Feet.  Ponder your path.  Don’t get distracted.  Keep control of your tongue.  Guard your heart.  Commit to focusing on wisdom and truth and goodness.  “Set your mind on things above.”  
 
Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit.  All the virtues are connected.  Love is a choice.  Joy is something we are commanded to have.  Peace, Philippians tells us, is a result of giving our anxieties to God in prayer.  Patience, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.  Meekness has been described as power under control.  This may be what Mr. Darcy had in mind when he defended his character and his quiet nature by saying, “Where there is real superiority of mind, pride will always be under good regulation.”  While at first impression this seems like another evidence of Mr. Darcy’s arrogance, it has been suggested by those sympathetic to his character that what he was saying was a strong enough mind knew how to keep his pride – his selfish impulses – under control.  His reluctance to speak when he might be tempted to go too far is a sign of his meekness rather than of his pride. 
 
Dennis Prager is a strangely blended Jewish moralist who speaks, writes, and hosts a radio show.  Though his is by no means an absolute authority, he makes a good point by saying that happiness comes from the mind making choices over the instinct for fun or pleasure.  The mind knows better than feelings.  It can make choices based on the long-term.  Essentially he is saying that self-control brings happiness. 
 
Self-control, or temperance, is from the Greek egkrates, “strong, robust; having power over, possessed of (a thing); mastering, controlling, curbing, restraining; controlling one’s self, temperate, continent.”  Strength is active, working both on itself and on progress.  Tolkien describes a curb not only as a limit to where one can go, but as a tool for navigation: a ditch, bank, or curb would enable one to stay on a road in the dark or in a fog.  So limits restrain us, but they also get us to our destination.  Solomon warns against off-roading. 
 
Peter says to add temperance to knowledge, and patience to temperance (2 Peter 1:6).  A pastor is told to be temperate in Titus 1:8.  He is also required to be sober: “curbing one’s desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate”  Titus 2:5 uses the same word to describe that which a young woman ought to be taught.  It is translated “discreet” in KJV.  Modesty is a consequence of discretion.  Sobriety is the opposite of drunkenness or dissipation, in which control of yourself is loosed.  Dissolution is a word meaning exactly that “cut loose”, and it leads to all sorts of sinful indulgence and decadence.  I need to be moderate. 
 
Paul depicted this virtue in 1 Corinthians 9, in the metaphor of an athlete. 
 
1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all,
but one receiveth the prize?
So run, that ye may obtain. 
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.
Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 
But I keep under my body,
and bring it into subjection:
lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
 
Every man who strives for the mastery (enters the contest, contends for the prize) is temperate in all things.  Verse 27 says “I keep under my own body,” the word used here is a practice of athletes, to use their bodies roughly to make themselves tough or conditioned.  It comes from a word for the part of the face that turns into a black eye if punched.  Some Christians known as ascetics took this too far; they were so focused on abusing themselves that they forgot to do anything fruitful.  Rather, this is the same word Jesus employs in Luke 18, where He is teaching me to be diligent in prayer. 
 
Luke 18:1-8, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end,
that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying,
Avenge me of mine adversary. 
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself,
Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her,
lest by her continual coming she weary me. 
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him,
though he bear long with them? 
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.
Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh,
shall he find faith on the earth?”
 
The judge was made weary (kept under, conditioned) by the widow’s persistent appeal. 
 
Back in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul also says that he brings his body under subjection, he makes a slave of it using stern discipline.  One stern discipline, an exercise in self-control and dependence on God, is fasting.  Fasting should never be about indulging my own cravings, whether sensual, for food, for the praise of men, or to soothe my conscience.  Isaiah 58, beginning in verse 3, contains God’s design for fasting. 
 
Isaiah 58:3-11, “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not?
wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?
Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure,
and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness:
ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul?
is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen?
to loose the bands of wickedness,
                            to undo the heavy burdens,
                                                   and to let the oppressed go free,
                                                               and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry,
and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?
when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him;
and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning,
and thine health shall spring forth speedily:
and thy righteousness shall go before thee;
the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. T
hen shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer;
thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.
If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger,
and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul;
then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought,
and make fat thy bones:
and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.”
 
In a paradoxical way, while fasting is about denying one’s self, it is for the purpose of releasing bonds and weights.  Fasting is reliance on God, not only for what I don’t have, but also with what I do.  Fasting is always accompanied with prayer.  1 Peter 5:7 says to cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.  In the Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus speaks on prayer, He goes into teaching on fasting.  Though food is good, or other things from which you might fast, the exercise of self-denial and sacrifice and dependence and focus on God is good.  All things are lawful, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, but not everything is beneficial.  When I practice what is beneficial, I am stronger for the unexpected temptations when I must deny myself. 
 
I must be ready, then, by exercising self-control, to do good works.  Pray with perseverance and persistence.  Be steadfast.  Stand therefore.  Gird up the loins of your mind, and be sober, that you may be ready in and out of season to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.  Hope is even described in the Bible as an anchor – the image of stability and strength.  Do not be slothful, but fervent in whatever you do.  Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn
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