"Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (1 Cor. 9:25-27)
Our Lord calls for bodily discipline and self-control. It seems to me that this falls into a variety of areas:
* Food - he calls for us to be disciplined in our use of the good gifts, the tasty treats, He sets before us in creation. Lent is coming in a few short weeks, providing a great time to work on this not as individuals, but as a community of faith. My suggestion is to observe the Lenten fast by 1) simplifying your food (if you will, more hamburger less filet mignon); 2) eating moderately every time you eat (consciously avoid pigging out); John Cassian wisely observed that the Father's had only one rule of fasting: "stop eating before you are full"; 3) plan to regularly skip meals and use the time saved for reading, prayer, or service. A discipline I've adopted in my own life that I've come to treasure is that I don't eat outside of mealtime, save for an apple in the middle of the afternoon. I treat each Sunday, though, as a little feast and allow snacks on that day.
* Drink - by which I mean alcohol. Again, moderation is the key. Drunkenness is never fitting for the child of God, but people differ significantly on how much alcohol they can consume before they cross that line. The discipline I try to follow is no more than one alcoholic drink per day - almost invariably a glass of wine. Sundays I allow myself a bit more, as with the food. I am not suggesting that as what any given reader of the blog ought to do, but just to provide an example.
* Sex - which is the real taming of the beast. The discipline to which the Lord summons us there means that sex is reserved pure and simply for marital intercourse and that there are no exceptions - within or without marriage. Gentlemen, you know what that means. I've written before that the problem with porn is not porn per se, but the behavior that accompanies it and if that behavior is changed, the problem with porn doesn't even exist.
* Exercise - I'll quote my good friend, Todd Wilken: "The old Adam hates cardio." Does he ever! But pushing the body into subjection is, as the Apostle said, "useful for this life."
* Tongue - hey, it's part of the body. I'm talking about talking, especially about grumbling about and criticizing the folks around us. We need a fast on that. I wonder what would happen if we promised that we'd not open our mouth to speak to our spouse, child, co-worker, whatever in harshness or judgment before we opened our mouth to speak to God about them in prayer? I think we'd have a bit more silence, and I think that would be a good thing.
These five areas supply most Christians, especially Christian men, with plenty of trouble. But in the great power of the Christ who lives within us, by whom we "can do all things through Him who strengthens me" even these areas of bodily indulgence can be disciplined and brought under control. And that discipline is, I would argue, pure freedom. And if you've managed by Christ's power to overcome in one or more of these areas, you know exactly what I mean when I say that it is not and can never be a source of pride - it's perfectly clear WHO gave the power and the strength, and who alone supplies it every day. And the warning of the Apostle is always apt: Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall. The "way of escape" that St. Paul mentions is given a few verses later: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread we break, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" He enters us to forgive us when we fall and to give us the strength to do what is impossible by human effort alone - for He alone can change our desires.
Hope the thoughts are of some help as you prepare to enter Holy Lent and give thought to how you will observe this time of bodily and spiritual training, "for the present form of this world is passing away."