For many people, spiritual disciplines are associated with guilt and external coercion. They hear "fasting" and remember when someone tried to guilt-trip them into the practice ("If you are serious about God bringing revival, you need to engage in the 3-day fast with us").
But spiritual formation that actually works is never motivated by guilt or fear. It’s motivated be desire. This is going to be the main thrust of my class, which starts tonight ("Establishing a Life Rhythm"). For us to really go somewhere with God, we need to get in touch with our deepest desires, and then thoughtfully and prayerfully, in community, engage in spiritual practices that will give structure and space for God to transform us. Spiritual practices are never ends in and of themselves. We don’t pray just because that’s one of the rules or something. We pray because we want to experience intimacy with God (see, there’s desire again).
It’s scary, though, to get in touch with our deepest desires. Most of us are so used to abiding by rules and doing what we’re "supposed to" that we rarely get in touch with what we actually want. Is it even valid, we wonder? But it is – the path to spiritual growth goes through the dark jungle of our longings and desires, because it’s there that God has planted the seeds of maturity in us.
Maybe we’re concerned that if we do get in touch with our desires, we’ll "go off the deep end" and end up as raving pagans, hurting everyone around us. But we need not worry about that. Most of the time our hurtful behaviors aren’t a result of wanting too much, but actually settling for too little. What we want is intimacy with God, but we settle for viewing images that parody intimacy. What we really desire is to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but we settle for eating the entire bag of potato chips. What we actually want is the thrilling adventure of following Jesus, but we settle for the canned, voyeuristic imitation-thrills of watching CSI four nights a week.
C.S. Lewis said that we were like children content to play in the mud, not sure what was meant by the invitation to a vacation on the sea. It’s not that we want too much, it’s that we settle for far too little. Getting in touch with our true desires is the foundation of spiritual formation.