Lent, Fasting, and the Art of Disciplining Your Desires

What kind of food makes you lose control? I’m talking about the food that once you start, you can’t stop. The food that you snuggle up to after a bad breakup or long day at work. For me, it’s popcorn. Sort of weird, I know. But I LOVE it. I love the butter, the smell, the salt, the soft crunch. I love that it pairs perfectly with a good movie. When I’m at the theater, I let that butter flow like a waterfall. My name is Adam — and I’m a popcorn addict.

My dog has this same reaction towards bacon. When we are cooking bacon, she literally starts to salivate. She’s a boxer, so drool starts dripping from her mouth — not her best look. She loses all control of her response and will do anything for a piece. She’ll sit, lie, roll, bow — anything to satisfy her craving.

There are certain things that we desire so much, we lose almost all control or rationality when we’re near them. Food is a major one, but it’s not the only one. Sometimes it’s the draw or buzz of our phone — every time we get a text or a like or a notification. Maybe it’s the need for noise or distraction or entertainment. Sometimes it’s the desire for money or success or things. Whatever it is, our desires cause us to lose control and act contrary to our values or identity.

“Our desires need to be disciplined or they become our gods.” — John Ortberg

I want to unpack this powerful quote a bit more.

Desires Are Not Bad

Let’s celebrate the fact that God has created us with desires. It’s human and natural to desire food. That’s what keeps us alive! It’s good to desire intimacy and worth and beauty and fun and sunsets and play. Often the Church and Christian community has been known for wanting to stifle any kind of desire. Dallas Willard says in ’The Spirit of the Disciplines”

How many people are radically and permanently repelled from The Way by Christians who are unfeeling, stiff, unapproachable, boringly lifeless, obsessive, and dissatisfied? Yet such Christians are everywhere, and what they are missing is the wholesome liveliness springing from a balanced vitality within the freedom of God’s loving rule…

I love this quote. Following Jesus does not require us to be unfeeling, lifeless robots — quite the opposite! We have more reasons than anyone to live a life full of joy.

Life is a gift. Our desires are a gift. However…

Desires Must Be Disciplined to Fit Within Our Value System

Although desires are good, we must discipline them, or they can control us and become our main pursuit. Our bodies become in charge of us, instead of the other way around.

There is an avalanche effect that can happen with desires. At first, they give us happiness and meaning, but as we indulge them more, they become a necessity, eventually leading to overindulgence or addiction. Our life begins to revolve around our desires.

This is where a spiritual discipline such as fasting comes in. By fasting, we train our stomachs, bodies, and minds to remember that food cannot satisfy us on a deep and soul-level. We reprogram our brain and place our desires in their proper place — letting them revolve around God and His kingdom.

Desire for God Must Outweigh our Temporary Desires

When we find more worth, pleasure, and peace in our temporary desires, they take the place of God. We think about them when we wake and when we go to sleep. They become are primary source of joy.

This is why we must make space to “feast” on God. We use fasting, meditation or solitude or stillness, and we quiet the noise around us — and tune our hearts to our Creator. I love the desire for God the Psalmist expresses:

“O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;”

Psalm 63:1, 5–6

We find our worth and meaning by looking deeper — to the places in our souls that material things cannot reach. We find true joy and worth by living

moment by moment

with God

in His Kingdom

trusting that he will provide for our deepest needs.

So, what desire do you need to discipline?

Is it a food or drink? A behavior? Something related to technology or your phone?

Lent is a great time to practice fasting. For this 40-day period, what can you give up to discipline your desires and feast on God?

I’m a communicator. I write and speak because I want us to learn how to flourish. adamhendrix.com

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