I love reading and writing. I have benefited from practicing these disciplines and can attest to their powers. However, it would be naive of me to think reading or writing is an end in itself. We read (and, or write) to gain knowledge, we do it to expand our horizons, we do it to understand one another. We can also use it to incite hatred or spread malice. The point is: the act of reading or writing is a tool and its usefulness depends on the person wielding it, among other things.

I take a similar view with spiritual disciplines like fasting, bible reading, prayers, and the likes. I have heard many extolling the value of bible reading in ways that makes you think the book itself contains magical properties, while some treat the act of prayer like a magic wand that grants all dreams and wishes. Needless to say, these spiritual disciplines are believers' lifeblood and we cannot do without them. But just like writing and reading, they are tools and can be used rightly or wrongly. More importantly, these activities lack any spiritual power of their own. You can go on a fast and benefit physically, but divine profit comes not from the discipline but from God.

It's bad enough using prayers, fasting, and bible study for selfish reasons, but it is worse when doctrines like holiness, faith, and giftings are set aside from their Source and touted as concepts that possess innate power. And while we may plaster the walls of our homes with posters of words like "Prayer is the most powerful force in the world", "A scripture a day keeps the devil away," or "By fasting the body learns to obey the soul", what these phrases promote are distorted thinking about the purposes of spiritual tools as well as what they can do. 

Of course, no one ever comes out to say spiritual activities are more important or powerful than God. As a matter of fact, everyone says the opposite. But when someone starts prescribing prayers like Ibuprofen for you to use and vanquish your "problems", then that is a sign of misuse.

What is the lesson here? The lesson is God first, then His gifts or disciplines afterwards. Anything else is a subtle diversion down dark paths.

** Photo used is "Holy Spirit Dove Window" by Hickory Hardscrabble and made available under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license

Link Up