The Gospel and the Purpose of Spiritual Disciplines
From the article, I see that Nwaka engaged in many prayers, bible reading, fasting, et all. We call these things spiritual disciplines. However, I see that there is a gross misunderstanding of why we engage in spiritual disciplines. He sees spiritual discipline as a way to prove that “I am worthy in God’s presence.” He also sees them as a means to get things from God, a way to persuade God to act in our lives or change our circumstances.
However, when we read the Scriptures, we cannot but see that Nwaka (and many others) do not recognize why Christians engage in spiritual disciplines.
The Christian life does not begin with us; it starts with God. God sent his Son to the world to lay down his life for his sheep (John 10:15). He did this as a demonstration of his love towards us (John 3:16), we who are rebels, God’s enemies (Romans 5:10). Through the atoning work of Christ, he cleansed us of our sins, adopted us to become His children (Ephesians 1:5). Because of the cross-work of Christ, we can now draw near to the very presence of God. Christ has brought us near to God (Hebrews 4:14-16).
When we experience this amazing grace, this awesome manifestation of God’s love, it changes us from inside out. Because God loves us, now we can love him (1 John 4:19). It must always be in that order. Our love for God proceeds out of his love for us. How do we express this love for God? One way is that we seek deeper fellowship. We aim to know him more and grow in intimacy with him. David (Psalms 63, for example) exemplifies for us the kind of deep yearning after God that characterizes those who have had a salvific experience with God. We seek to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Like newborn infants, we yearn for pure spiritual milk so that we grow up to salvation (1 Peter 2:2)
This is where the spiritual disciplines come in. When we pray, fast, and read the scriptures, we do all of these because we want to have a deeper communion and fellowship with the one who bought us and called us to be his own. That is the primary goal of the spiritual disciplines. They are the means of grace that God employs to take us deeper in our knowledge of him.
Secondly, the spiritual disciplines are a means of grace by which we overcome sin and grow in holiness. The more we behold Christ, the more we are transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). The more we discern the will of God (as we spend time knowing him), the more we move from conformity to the world to the renewing of our minds. The spiritual disciplines are weapons of war, but they are not weapons of war in the way we tend to see them. This is because many of us misunderstand the nature of the war God calls us to fight.
Yes, “these kinds don’t go out except by prayer and fasting” (Mathew 17:21). However, the goal of God in his dealings with us is to conform us to Christ (Romans 8:29). Therefore, prayers and fastings are primarily about conforming us to Christ. If we read many of Paul’s prayers, they are mostly about the spiritual wellbeing of the church. He labors in prayer so that the church can know God and grow. Ephesians 3:17 is an example among many. “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” The Lord’s Prayer contains many petitions, but only one is about our daily bread.
So while we pray and fast to offer supplications for our needs, we must never forget that prayer and fasting together with all the other spiritual disciplines are primarily means of grace by which we grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. They are the means by which we enter into deeper fellowship with God – the kind of deeper fellowship that transforms us into the image of Christ.
The Nature of Spiritual Warfare
There are many instances in the article where we see Nwaka praying and fasting to fight against witches and wizards. He prays in the middle of the night so he can sleep without nightmares.
Prayer and fasting (among others) are weapons of war. Yes, we are in warfare, and it is a bloody one. The Christian life is a call to arms. It reminds me of the song, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” There is a battle. However, what we often misunderstand is the nature of the battle.
In Philippians 2:25, Paul called his fellow missionary a fellow soldier. In 2 Timothy 2:25, he called Timothy to endure hardship as a soldier. However, in what context is he a soldier? In his task to commit the apostolic teachings to reliable men who will be able to teach others. In his role as an overseer, he is a soldier. In Philemon 1:2, Paul also called soldiers people who are fellow believers and possibly hold principal offices in the Church. Do you notice the kind of things Paul is calling warfare? Doing mission work is war. Extending the apostolic teachings to others is a war. Shepherding believers is a war. It is in doing these kinds of things that Paul calls people soldiers.
Paul also mentioned a war in 2 Corinthians 10. There he said that we “wage war.” He went on to explain that the weapons of our warfare are not human (weapons of the world). Contrarily, we wage this war with powerful weapons strong enough to pull down strongholds. However, it might surprise you what these strongholds are. They are arguments and pretensions that set themselves up against the knowledge of God. What are we doing with powerful weapons? We are destroying all sorts of arguments and pretensions that stand against the knowledge of God. We demolish (with spiritual weapons) every form of ideas, philosophy, worldviews that contradict God’s revelation. This is the war Paul is calling us to.
In Ephesians 6:11-18, we are also in a battle. This battle is against rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, and the spiritual forces of evil. Because we do not fight against flesh and blood, but these spiritual forces, we must be fully armed for the battle so that we can stand. What are the elements of the armor? It may surprise you. They are truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, and the word of God. With all of these, we are to pray on all occasions with all prayers and requests. The devil is the head of these spiritual forces. Therefore, if we know what victory looks like for the devil, we can understand what victory looks like for these forces. Consequently, we can know the nature of the war and why these are the components of the armor we need.
In 1 Peter 5:7, Peter informs us that the devil, our enemy is prowling around seeking whom to devour. What is the nature of this devouring? We know the nature of the devouring because Peter tells us how not to be devoured. In verse 8, he said, “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brother throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” Now we know what the devil is after. The goal of the devil is that we do not stand firm in the faith. Notice that Peter did not tell them to resist the devil by praying to avoid suffering or for the sufferings to disappear. No! The point that Peter makes is that the sufferings of Christians is not the victory of the devil. His victory is that the sufferings cause us to lose our faith.
Consequently, a victory for the believer is standing firm in the faith despite the sufferings. No wonder verse 6 was admonishing us to embrace humility and disdain pride. How do we stand firm in the faith? In verse 6, it is through humility; in verse 7, it is by casting our anxieties on God (which is trusting God). Humility and trust in God are how we stand firm in the faith despite our sufferings so that the devil does not achieve his aim – causing us to lose our faith because of our sufferings.
Now we can go back to Ephesians 6.
Now we know what the devil’s schemes look like. We know what the spiritual forces of evil, rulers, and authorities are gunning for. Their aim is that we will not stand firm. Paul used the word “stand” four times between verses 10 and 18. The whole purpose of the enemy is that we will not stand. To stand is Paul’s way of talking about perseverance, remaining steadfast in the faith. These spiritual forces aim to lull us to spiritual sleep. We saw from 1 Peter that the devil does not win because Christians suffer, he wins when we don’t stand in the faith. Therefore, our victory as believers is when we can stand no matter what the devil does. Our perseverance and steadfastness in the faith is the victory against the devil. This is the nature of the spiritual warfare Paul and Peter call us to.
There is one more warfare. It is the warfare between the flesh and the spirit (Galatians 5:16-26, Romans 7:7-8:1). The flesh wants to drag us down to sin, but the Spirit is working to conform us to Christ. We must fight against the flesh and live by the Spirit. It is warfare.
Immediately after the paragraph on spiritual armor, Paul is quick to remind the believers to pray for him in his work of making Christ known. Why? Remember, from the preceding thoughts that witnessing, spreading the apostolic teachings (the gospel) is warfare.
Fighting The Real Battle
To summarize, what the New Testament calls spiritual warfare is so different from what present-day Christians in many circles call spiritual warfare. There are four broad areas of spiritual warfare. Proclaiming the gospel so that the sheep that are still outside can join the flock is spiritual warfare. When we preach the gospel to our neighbors, fellow workers, friends, and families, we are fighting. When we go for mission work, we are fighting. The second area is the church. Pastoring a church so they can be faithful to the gospel and protecting them from the savage wolves (Acts 20:23-31) is warfare. Persevering in the faith with all steadfastness despite suffering, trials, and temptations is warfare. Keeping in step with the Spirit rather than yielding to the sinful demands of the flesh is warfare.
In essence, spiritual warfare is not engaging in some nebulous fight against some witches and wizards that are trying to cause us sleepless nights or make us fail an exam. There is a real battle God calls us to fight. We fight against the devil and his hosts by expanding the kingdom through gospel witness, contributing our quota to the purity of the church, standing firm in the faith despite trials, and yielding to the spirit rather than the flesh. Now you can understand why it is truth, righteousness, the word of God, faith, and the gospel that are the components of our armor.
Many believers think our battle with the devil is preventing him from causing us harm (sufferings). However, it bears repeating that all of our lives as believers are under the providence of God. He protects us from all troubles and trials. In his sovereign will, he sometimes allows those troubles and trials to come. When he does, it is to conform us to Christ in perseverance, patience, character, and hope (Romans 5:1-6). Therefore, every suffering of the believer is ultimately from God’s hands. Nothing touches us apart from his will. The devil does not win from the mere fact that we suffer. When we allow those trials to take away our faith, he wins. When we trust God in those trials and grow in Christlikeness, he wins. Should we ever pray for God to take away our trials? Yes, we pray (as I have said before). However, we pray to God, who holds every single day of our life in his hands (Psalms 139:16).
The spiritual disciplines are ways by which we go deeper in our fellowship with our Lord and Savior and become more like him. Yes, they are weapons. However, we must ask, what is the battle?