Principle 3. Use the body as a tool to get closer to God.
Spiritual discipline, then, is leveraging the body to know, love, trust, and serve God more. Obviously, we bring our bodies with us wherever we go, whether it is the prayer room, the church sanctuary, or the Bible study group. But more subtly, how we use our bodies can enrich such activities.
Here’s a simple exercise: the next time you pray, kneel and bow deeply down with your face on the floor. Feelings of submission, humility, surrender, awe, or brokenness will flood the heart which you don’t usually experience had you just pray while sitting on a chair.
Some disciplines can also be a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality. Fasting, for example, declares “Lord, I want you so much better than food.” Thus, we use our lunch hours not wolfing down the greasy stuff at the cafeteria, but in our private nooks feasting on the presence of God.
Principle 4. Be utterly ruthless with emotions.
To involve the body puts us toe-to-toe against the curse of our moods. If many would be honest, they would rather not be praying, reading their Bibles, or fasting. Interestingly, this also happens in the physical realm: many would rather not be mindful of what they eat or spend time at the gym.
I am guilty of them all. What looks more attractive is what’s on Netflix or what’s inside the fridge. It’s the path of least resistance. It’s the dopamine kick. It’s my innate laziness.
But if we want to draw closer to God and be the person He wants us to be, we embark on this central vision no matter what we feel. Consider Paul’s mindset of beating his body and make it his slave, so that he may not be disqualified in his service unto God (1 Corinthians 9:27). Or appealing to his protégé to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). As we use our bodies to pursue this good and beautiful God – despite our unruly appetites – we will grow stronger and shine brighter.
But the spiritual disciplines are not mere asceticism, i.e. the more severe you are upon yourself, the holier you must be. Neither are they a Mister Spock stoicism where you switch off your emotions and “just do it.” Rather, what Smith calls soul training is to set aside the baser pleasures in favor of those that are only found in His right hand forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Therein lies the balance and the true payoff.
To be concluded.