Fasting, prayer, alms, and every other good Christian deed is good in itself, but the purpose of the Christian life consists not only in the fulfillment of one or another of them. The true purpose of our Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. But fasting, prayer, alms and every good deed done for the sake of Christ is a means to the attainment of the Holy Spirit. Note that only good deeds done for the sake of Christ bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Everything else that is not done for the sake of Christ, even if it is good, does not bring us a reward in the life to come, not does it bring the grace of God in this life. This is why our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Whoever gathers not with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30).
~St. Seraphim of Sarov
When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. “I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
~ Jesus, King of The Universe, in Matthew 17
Oh beloved, it is true.
There is part of our walk that can be seen as some sort of legalism. And, even for us, it can become like a grind, if we make it into some overtly religious exercise. This is the part of our Christian walk that some call, “The Spiritual Disciplines.”
The problem with the disciplines is not just that they can be a drag. The problem with the disciplines as that we can set ourselves into some sort of base and primitive mindset, that in me doing the work, god is going to come and do something for me.
We can think:
If I give money, god is going to give me more in return.
If I pray long hours, god is more prone to meet my request.
If I fast for days, god is going to give me more power.
If I read the Bible, god is going to be nicer to me.
If I serve the poor, god is going to bless me and make me rich.
And, the toughest issue (and perhaps why we can miss the point of the disciplines altogether) is that quite often the positives just listed do indeed happen. However, where we miss it so painfully, is in the category of our understanding of Who He really Is.
Can we see it?
We think that things like fasting and prayer are somehow a weapon or instrument to get some sort of distant god to change his mind. However, what the disciplines like this really are, are weapons and instruments to change US.
When i give up my dependance on money, G_d can joyously give me more to help even more.
When i pray long enough that i begin to actually listen to the answer, G_d can and does enter into conversation with us, and reveal His enormous heart of good towards us.
When i fast from the things that i think will sustain me, i learn that He Himself is my Daily Bread, and all that i ever needed.
When i read His Word, and do it in an ongoing way, i begin to see through the letters and words, and into the very eternal heart of The Author.
When i serve the poor, i am indeed blessed. But, i am blessed to find that in reaching out to those in need, they often are the Jesus to me, that i had hoped to be to them.
So beloved, are you interested in growing in your faith? The spiritual disciplines can be an amazing journey. But, make sure that you grow in them, instead of backsliding into a childish and religious mindset. Instead, let them change you into one more like the One you are trying to get to know.
Tonight is your night. Never forget that the disciplines are designed to change YOU (and this fool of a writer), and not Him.
By obedience a man is guarded against pride. Prayer is given for the sake of obedience. The grace of the Holy Spirit is also given for obedience. This is why obedience is higher than prayer and fasting.
~St. Silouan the Athonite