Love is a Spiritual Discipline

discipline-quote-and-photoLove is a Spiritual Discipline

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.”— Aristotle

…abstain from the desires of the flesh that are fighting against your inner beings,  1 Peter 2:11

…exercise self-restraint to help you pray,  1 Peter 4:7

Where people have no Spiritual Wisdom they cast off restraint, Proverbs 29:18

Discipline, (control, restraint, abstinence), it is one of the nine descriptions of the Spirit,  Galatians 5:23

If we are not mastering our thoughts they are mastering us.  

Spiritual Discipline is necessary in order to follow God’s Spiritual requirements.  It is in the unseen or spiritual that we make our choices to act right, to love mercy and to stay humble.[1]  Nobody is born with self-control and good habits; discipline means turning against the current of our human nature and putting forth effort to do what we know is right.

The first step is believing that we are slaves to whatever controls us.[2]   Do we take notice of how naturally we allow our desires to have their own way?  No parent has to teach a child to be selfish.   If children are not disciplined or taught any other way, they will naturally yield to whatever it is they want.   Somehow, even as adults, we want whatever we think will make us happy.   We covet the things we do not have; jealous with envy that we cannot obtain all that we want.[3]  The problem is that we want and desire and lust for more incessantly.[4]    Giving into our desires may sound harmless if we still do not believe that we are slaves to whatever masters us.[5]

The Lord is My Shepherd; I shall not Want Psalm 23:1

The Truth is, our continually wanting is not an admirable character trait.  Still so many prefer to turn a blind eye to their domineering, insatiable, desires.   It only takes one look to see that there is a severe contrast between the desires of the flesh and the Spirit.  The flesh wants to satisfy its five senses; not comprehending that everything we see, hear, taste, touch and smell is temporary. [6] On the other hand, God’s Life giving Spirit is Unseen.[7]    God uses physical analogies and metaphors to describe the unseen.  Like a Shepherd His Spirit leads us to the place where our true needs are met.   Another analogy we are taught is that we need a circumcised heart in order to perceive the Unseen.  Jesus spoke to those who had eyes and ears to hear Spiritually.   Circumcision refers to cutting away, in this case it is referring to our stiff necked ego and pride.[8]    When we are humble His Spirit guides us away from our dependence on the temporary and leads us in the path of life.[9]

What is wrong with Being Somewhere in the Middle?

With such a harsh difference between life and death or the spiritual and the physical, it is no wonder it feels more comfortable being somewhere in between.   That was true for me; I did not want to be too good or too bad.  Not too hot or too cold, as a matter of fact, lukewarm seemed just right.  That is until I read what God’s Word says about being lukewarm.[10]   Contrary to our finite understanding, lukewarm is worse than being hot or cold.  Why?  Because we’ve made it up, there is no in between, middle, grey area, half alive, half-hearted, double minded, lukewarm reality.

This deception is such a subtle one because we have decided what is good by our own, human, reasoning and standards.  When we elevate our finite judgment above The Infinite we are dealing with the original pride issue of Adam and Eve.  The ego continues to want to be its own god.[11]

In reality there is only Spiritual Life or Spiritual Death, death meaning complete separation from.   The Spirit is as contrasting to the Flesh as Light is to Darkness and Truth is to Deception.  Try imagining this description of the Flesh:  prideful, immoral, impure, immodest, intoxicated, hostile, envious, hateful, angry, selfish, carousing, undisciplined, deceitful, just saying and doing whatever it wants…[12]

Now imagine the exact opposite of those characteristics, the Spirit:  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control, Moral, Pure, Impartial, Alert, Sincere, Honest, Compassionate, and Humble…[13]

You see the Flesh and the Spirit are completely opposed to each other.

Instead of humbling ourselves as a product of the One Who Created us, we so naturally want to set ourselves above His Instructions by saying and doing whatever we like.[14]

Discipline vs Punishment

If the word discipline makes you cringe you are not alone.  English definitions even include the word punishment.   Discipline essentially means to learn not to punish.   Punishment dictates, forcing submission and blind obedience.   It also gives a very wrong picture of God, Who says He draws us with His Loving Kindness. [15]   Giving us complete freedom to choose between good and bad we learn by the consequences of our own actions.  “God disciplines those He loves,” Hebrews 12:6.

Blame and anger disappear when we know the Truth about God’s Character.   He is Everything Good, Gracious, Merciful, Compassionate, Faithful, Abundant in Loving Kindness, Just, Upright, He cannot lie because He is Truth nor do wrong because He is Righteous.[16]

To Learn

In the light of God’s Goodness, let us go back to the original meaning of the word discipline.  The Ancient Hebrew metaphors, (http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/12_learning.html).    These five different letter symbols all meaning to learn.

Alaph To learn by yoking Association
Lamad To learn by goading Instruction
Yarah To learn by pointing Direction
Shanan To learn by sharpening Skills
Yacar To learn by chastisement Discipline

Learning to be Grateful for Discipline

No discipline at the time is pleasant but it is training us to learn to do right, Hebrews 12:11.

Discipline simply teaches us to learn to walk in the Way that leads to Life.[17]  Just like children we do not always understand how discipline could be for our good.[18]   We may even become angry with God or blame Him for allowing bad into the world.  Without being rooted in His Unfailing Love, it is not possible to trust God and even to be grateful for the good and the bad.[19]    Knowing the purpose of discipline is intended to turn us, meaning repent, from bad to good helps us endure testing with joy.[20]

It is obvious that our flesh is opposed to the difficult way and why being lazy is so much easier.  For example, the flesh would never get up from a warm bed to pray before dawn when nobody is watching.[21]  What would give us the motivation to turn off the television and study God’s Word when nobody would be impressed?  The Right Way is never the easy Way.  The only reason we would discipline ourselves to do what nobody but God sees us do is because we believe that The Unseen Spirit is greater than the physical.  Our mind senses that prayer is better than sleep and True rest is evident only by trusting God completely.  Unless we believe discipline is good it is easier to ignore The Unseen.

Trusting God comes from hearing God’s Word.  This phrase, God’s Word, is synonymous with Truth.  His Spirit is Truth and Life giving.[22]  It is necessary to spend time meditating on God’s Spirit and His Word every day.  Like the flesh needs food and water, Truth is like bread and prayer is like water to our spirit as we spend time in unity with God.   When we find ourselves doing the things only God sees us do it is because we have faith that Truth is better than anything temporary.[23]

Self-Control or Controlled by Self?

Now look at how athletes discipline their bodies do what they tell them to do and this is just to achieve a temporary goal.[24]   We also have a goal that is worth more than anything temporary.[25]   Our goal is Love.[26]   God is Love.[27]   Love unifies us with God.   Discipline is how we achieve that goal, by taking every thought captive and making it obedient to God’s Love.[28]    Our thoughts are what control our actions so training our thoughts to stay focused on God’s Love keeps us in unity with His Spirit, His power and His lasting life.  Ultimately we will all know that God is Greater than any temporary desires we had for this world.[29]

It is by this discipline to Love one another that all people will see that we are His disciples.  John 13:34, 35; Leviticus 19:18

Deception is what Keeps Us Undisciplined, Isaiah 5:20John 3:19

How many times have you heard someone say they enjoy their obviously destructive behaviors?  Whether it is our overindulgence, grudge holding or gossip, everyone has a blind spot when it comes to their own vices.  By believing that we are in control or that our addictions are harmless or maybe that it is more fun to be undisciplined we are choosing to remain in bondage.

Let’s hold some of our hidden rationalizations up to the light of reality.   Try telling yourself no the next time you notice one of those natural desires.  You may be surprised by how convincing your reasoning is as you weaken, but remember, whatever you yield to is your master.[30]

Fasting for Self-Conrtol

Fasting is the best way to tell yourself no.  If anyone can tell their growling stomach no when there is an available or favorite food enticing them then they can probably say no to most any other desire of the flesh.   When we have humbled our feelings, learning to say no to our selfish desires we are able to turn toward God’s Spirit of Love.

It seems that from ancient times people knew that denying the flesh of food is a great way to keep it humble.   Many people fast when they have an important prayer request because they understand that pride inhibits God from answering prayer [31]

According to Isaiah 58, The True Purpose of Fasting is to humble our Flesh

True fasting is not abstaining from food while continuing to be controlled by our ego.  Fasting is about going without food in order to humble our flesh.  There are many stories in the Bible of people who knew that fasting from food had something to do with their prayers being answered.   But Isaiah tells us there were people fasting who continued acting as they pleased; exploiting their workers, arguing, fighting, full of strife, blame and speaking the same negative words.   God tells them through Isaiah, “This is not the kind of fasting that will get their prayers heard.”

Then He goes on to remind them, very clearly reiterating what is written in the Torah, the kind of prayer God hears, meaning answers.   True fasting will lose the chains of injustice, free the oppressed, give shelter to the stranger, share food with the hungry, provide for the poor and will not turn away from your own flesh and blood.

This is True Spiritual Discipline; as we learn to become humble we elevate God as our Master.  This is the Way that leads to Life.   As our ego becomes less, God’s Spirit in us becomes more.[31]    It is only by the discipline of choices that God’s Spirit empowers us to Love Him above our desires for the physical world.[32]  When His spirit reigns in us nothing is impossible.  It becomes possible to love our neighbor, every person, as ourselves.[33]   This is when we will notice our bondage to the flesh is broken.   Only by the power of God’s Spirit we are transformed.[34]   Spiritual Life or Salvation is a gift from God, so that our ego cannot take any credit or boast we must learn to recognize our pride and keep it disciplined.[35]

[1] Micah 6:8

[2] 2 Peter 2:19

[3] James 4:2

[4] James 1:15James 4:5.

[5] 2 Peter 2:19.

[6] [6]  2 Corinthians 4:18

[7] John 4:24

[8] Deuteronomy 10:16

[9] Psalm 16:11 

[10] Revelation 3:16.

[11] Genesis 3:5

[12] Galatians 5:19Galatians 5:20Galatians 5:21

[13] Galatians 5:22Galatians 5:23

[14] James 4:11Psalm 100:3 KJV.

[15] Jeremiah 31:3

[16] Exodus 34:6Psalm 63:3Exodus 22:27Daniel 9:9Deuteronomy 32:41 Thessalonians 5:21James 1:17; 2 Peter 3:9Psalm 100:5;  Exodus 15:13Psalm 106:11 Chronicles 16:34Psalm 107:1Psalm 118:4Psalm 136:22

[17] Jeremiah 21:8

[18] Proverbs 22:6

[19] Ephesians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

[20] 1 Timothy 2:42 Peter 3:9.

[21] Mark 1:35;  Psalm 119:147

[22] John 6:63

[23] Romans 10:17Hebrews 4:12.

[24] 1 Corinthians 9:251 Corinthians 9:27

[25] Philippians 3:14

[26] 1 Timothy 1:5

[27] 1 John 4:16

[28] 2 Corinthians 10:5.

[29] Matthew 6:33Isaiah 45:23 Romans 14:11

Some of these got out of order, working on them…

[30] Romans 6:16

[31] James 4:3 John 3:30

[32] Deuteronomy 6:5

[33] Leviticus 19:18

[34] Romans 12:2 

[35] Ephesians 2:8.

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