There are numerous passages in the bible that encourage us to discipline the body, and be wary about serving our own appetites rather than serving God.
“I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)
“For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.” (Romans 16:18)
“live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)
“The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
The bible teaches us to discipline the body, so that we might live not to satisfy our own appetites and be guided by our body’s needs, but rather so we can hear more clearly God’s voice and be guided by His Spirit.
How can we do this? Here are three suggestions for things that you can give up for seasons, in order to discipline the body and strengthen your spirit to better hear and obey God’s Spirit.
Food: For centuries Christians have practiced fasting as a spiritual discipline, but it has largely fallen out of favour in the wealthy and materialistic West. We’ve lost sight of it because we’ve forgotten about the link between our bodies and our spirits. To go without food for a meal, for a day, for several days, even up to several weeks, is all possible for healthy people, and is a great discipline for ensuring we live to satisfy God rather than our own stomach.
Sex: Again, sex is a great gift from God, much like food. But also like food, it can be over-indulged. And if we allow our sexual appetite to rule our life, our thoughts, our emotions, then our spiritual life will be much diminished. So it can be a great spiritual discipline to fast from sex (including all thoughts of sex) for a period.
Sleep: A third great demand from our bodies, in addition to food and sex, is for sleep. Once again, sleep is a great thing, to rest our mind, body and spirit. But too much sleep is definitely unhealthy (and there are plenty of bible proverbs criticising the sluggard for staying in bed too long). Christians through history have again long understood the importance of occasionally going without sleep to take part in all night watchnight prayer meetings.
There are some things your body can’t do without for very long; it’s not a good idea to try giving up drinking water or breathing. But food, sex and sleep are all things we can occasionally give up in order to discipline our bodies, strengthen our spirits, and so become more alert and more alive to the life that God has for us, where we live for and from His Spirit rather than for and from our own fleshly appetites.
What will you do to discipline the body, and strengthen your spirit?
Mark Williamson works as a director of One Rock. He’s an experienced leadership trainer, author of biographies on John Wesley and William Wilberforce, and is also passionate about praying for London. He enjoys good films, good food, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markonerock.