Have you tried a new diet in the new year? Think back to all the time, effort, expense you have put into following a new diet or exercise plan. If we could only add the cost of exercise classes, videos, books, equipment, special food, supplements that go into all the different programs we have attempted, the total might surprise us. Let's say at age forty you spent around $3,000.00 on such items. Where is that $3,000.00 now? Have there been any lasting results? Can you see where that discipline has benefited you?
I'm not trying to discourage you from taking better care of yourself through diet and exercise. That is important to do. I do want to contrast the time, money and effort we readily put into an exercise program and their results with the time, money and effort we put into spiritual exercise and its results. Your physical discipline will benefit you by giving you a healthier body to live in while you are here, but your body will die eventually (at God's appointed time) and the investment into your body will end. Your spiritual discipline will benefit you now by giving you a spirit of peace, direction for your day, closeness with God; and every spiritual discipline you practice with a right motivation will be rewarded in heaven. What a great deal!
Think about your spiritual diet. What are you taking in? Is it listening to the sermon or homily on Sunday all you are doing? Do you get into the Word every day? God tells us in His word that He will reward us in heaven for the spiritual disciplines we practice on earth. As you considered adjusting your spiritual diet, keep these three guidelines in mind.
- Get Your Heart Checked First. (Matthew 6:5-8) With physical exercise, it is important that you check with your doctor before you start a new exercise program because you could actually hurt yourself through exercise if you don't have a healthy heart. It's the same with spiritual exercise, you will waste your time practicing spiritual discipline without a healthy heart. The Pharisees were willing to give up certain foods, activities, even thoughts for spiritual reasons. But, everything they did counted for nothing because their motivation was all wrong. All the spiritual disciplines they practiced were an effort to get praise from men. They may have gotten the admiration they were seeking, but it didn't do anything to change their eternal destiny. When you look at your spiritual diet, make sure you are being disciplined spiritually for the right reasons. A desire to get to know and love God more is the only healthy motivation for a spiritual discipline. That is the only kind of spiritual discipline that will be rewarded in heaven.
- Don't do it out of compulsion. (1 Corinthians 9:17) John Eudes said True obedience is impossible without intimacy. True spiritual disciplines are about intimacy with God. It's not how many Bible studies you are taking, or how many hours you spend in prayer. It is about how much you love God. Paul wrote; If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. Whatever spiritual discipline we are practicing, be it giving, praying, fasting, reading the Bible; it won't have eternal rewards unless it is done because of a surrendered, believing heart.
- Keep going even when you don't see the rewards. (1 Cor. 4:5) Just like with physical exercise, the rewards and benefits of spiritual exercises are not instant. In fact, sometimes I am more tired after faithfully sticking to my workout program. I have to lie down and take a nap. Spiritual discipline has the same reality. You don't always recognize right away how good it is for you to keep with the spiritual discipline. Over time the benefits will be made obvious. Listen to Paul's advice; Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
What is your spiritual diet? Do you need to adjust what you are doing, or why you are doing it? What rewards do you have now from your spiritual diet? Realize that these benefits are not all you get. Unlike physical discipline the rewards don't diminish, they get better in eternity!