Spiritual Growth through Giving Up
I don’t know how it should look in your life, or what God may call you to give up, but I know there’s room for growth in all our lives… and it’s up to us to make room in our schedule, hearts, and minds.
It’s the sixth and final week of my How to Grow through Giving Up series for Lent. We started by looking at the question, What is Ash Wednesday? …Sorrow over the things that come between us and God. Repentance. Giving up to align ourselves with Jesus.
We moved on to What is Lent? …The giving up. More traditional fasts from particular foods or beverages. Quitting a bad habit. Making room to add something good, like acts of service. Giving up something that isn’t inherently harmful, but has become an idol because we place it before God or God-given responsibilities.
However we decide to observe Lent, our sacrifice must be meaningful. I chose not to give up hot cocoa because it wouldn’t have had a meaningful impact on my day-to-day life, and I was convicted about my lackadaisical approach to spiritual discipline and growth.
The approach of Ash Wednesday and Lent is ideal for reflection on what holds us back from open, vibrant relationship with God. Some people make New Year’s resolutions. Some consider the purpose and success of various parts of their life when a birthday, particularly one of the big ones, rolls around. There’s nothing wrong with that. NOW is always the best time to make a positive change, and if that gets you motivated, good.
The beauty of approaching change for Lent is the season’s focus on Christ, not self.
We all have habits. Good. Bad. Or just habits.
Lent is reminding me of the need to evaluate what I give my attention, time, and energy; and assess wants versus needs.
Questions to evaluate habits
Does it interfere with time with God or family?
Do I go to it before I go to God? Sometimes we don’t recognize bad habits. We need to think about how we react to stressors. At the end of a hard day, what do you do? Comfort eat? Pour a glass of wine? Netflix binge watch? What about when something hard happens? Do you jump into worry? Call a friend to talk about it? Why is turning to God and resting at His feet to receive comfort and guidance, not our default? None of those other things solve anything. Most just anesthetize. Worry only causes further stress, and makes the problem our focus, instead of God. Friends are wonderful to lean on, but if we rely on them more than we rely on God, we’re not going to get all we need.
Does it desensitize me? Do you know what happened when I stopped watching tv shows and movies for a while? I can’t enjoy, or even watch them the same way any more. The objectification of both women and men, the normalization of sin, the ridicule of Biblical Christianity, the glorification of secular humanism, the vulgarity and innuendo. I don’t ever want to be a mindless consumer of entertainment. Storytellers have worldviews. The best storytelling seamlessly weaves it in. But we even swallow un-Biblical worldviews when we’re beaten over the head with them, as long as we’re entertained.
Evaluate what you feed your mind – what you watch, read, listen to. Does it honor God? If not, does it tempt you to dishonor God, even in thought? As well as different calls, we have different weaknesses.
Do I rely on it? Okay, here I go, stepping into it… Based on social media, Jesus requires caffeine and/or alcohol to be fully effective in the lives of Christian women. Wine to unwind; caffeine to get us moving.
As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, and only occasionally ingests small amounts of caffeine, it can be easy for aficionados to discount my perspective as judgmental. But, consider, if you need wine, or anything else, to unwind, or it’s your ideal, is it distracting you from the Source of true comfort and rest?
If you can’t get going in the morning without coffee, caffeine doesn’t just alter your brain chemistry when you ingest it, it has altered your brain structure to try to compensate. You’ll experience withdrawal symptoms if you quit. I’m not arrogant enough to say drinking coffee or caffeinated soda is sin, but I can’t accept that it’s appropriate for Christians to willfully submit to chemical dependency.
As far as alcohol, aside from being a stumbling block for brothers and sisters in Christ who are recovering alcoholics, whenever our best argument is that we have a “right” to do something, we need to consider our motivation and the power whatever the object.
If you and I are on the same page with alcohol and caffeine, we’re not off the hook… We allow ourselves to rely on all sorts of things for various motivations. At one point for me, it was peanut M&Ms while I was working at the computer. I turned to them, rationalized as work fuel, and… overindulged… too often. I loved it when my husband brought home one of those big, yellow bags. And when editing or writing wasn’t going as smoothly as I’d like, out it came.
If I had to give it up, would I miss it more than time spent with God in prayer or reading Scripture? Oohh… Ouch… I remember hearing about a survey of Christians about heaven. Many people weren’t too sure they’d like to go there if it was just God, and not the pleasures they believed should be there.
Our understanding of God, and our experience of Him is so small. And that’s not His fault.
Do I have consistent time set aside for prayer? For reading my Bible? For Bible study?
With all the things we do regularly, that we find time for, and mindlessly stuff into moments, is time alone with God a priority? Let’s start there.
How about you?
Have you experienced the discomfort of conviction when God pointed out something it was time to let go of to move forward in your walk with Him? How long did you resist? Did giving it up move you into deeper relationship with Him?
How has God brought you spiritual growth through giving up?
On my own, I’d rather cling to “I will give you rest” than “take up your cross.” But one without the other, is incomplete. Too often, I’d just like to go with the flow, and do what is comfortable and makes me feel good. But we all know where that leads, right? Dissatisfaction. Endless searching for the next thing. Sooner or later, heartache.
Dying to self is painful. But leads to life.
Spiritual Discipline: What Faith Alone Won’t Do
Scripture Writing: A Heart-Healthy Breakfast
Who Can Understand It?
Listen When He Speaks
Check out the rest of the How to Grow through Giving Up series