As we continue over the final few weeks of Lent to focus on practicing the Christian life, United Methodist Bishop William Willimon has a helpful word of warning for us in this week’s Christian Century magazine. He points out that any Christian spiritual discipline, absent of its object—the God revealed in Jesus Christ—can become a way of deflecting attention away from God.
Among other things, this means for me that the primary goal of fasting or temporarily “giving something up”— which we’ll talk about in Part 2 of our series this Sunday—is to help us hear the Spirit of Christ speak to us. If God doesn’t help us through fasting, we are ultimately not helping ourselves. If we derive any benefit from a religious practice, it must be because Jesus graciously meets us through it.
Christians have learned from bitter experience that many of our allegedly helpful means of climbing up to God are easily perverted into ways of defending ourselves against God. We’re always in danger of reducing Christianity to a matter of our experience. The true God can never be known through our practices but comes to us only as a gift of God, only as revelation. This is why I can say (as a Wesleyan) that Christian practices are not primarily what we do. Rather, our practice of the faith is something that God does for us, in us, often despite us.