In the past month I have been getting up every morning at either 6am or 5:15am. Anyone who knows me at all will realise that this is a miracle on par with the loaves and fishes. Why have I been rising with the sun? On the days I get up at 6am I study and work on my Masters degree for two hours. On the days I get up at 5:15am, I participate in a 1 hour “bootcamp” that leaves me exhausted and sore, in preparation for a big endurance event I am about to take part in.

I do not let you in on these things to boast at all (mainly because after 15 years out of school I need extra time to do study, and after 35 years or so sitting on my rear end I need extra motivation to get in shape). I tell you because I have certain goals I wish to achieve, and discipline is the only way I’m ever going to get there.

In my Masters course we have been studying the early Desert Fathers and Mothers, those crazy, wild-eyed prophets who went off into the wilderness alone to sit on top of poles and to fight demons. They all refer to their time in solitude, prayer and fasting as training and discipline. For what? For spiritual warfare. They renounced comfort, family, society, wealth, physical pleasure, intellectualism, all in order to be prepared for the trials and temptations of the enemy. They had a goal, and they knew that only extreme discipline would get them there.

Now, most of us would look at that kind of life and say: “No thanks. I like food, washing, and beds.” And perhaps we’d be right. Maybe the type of extremism practiced by those in the desert was too fanatical, too works-based, too self-hating. But maybe it was also appropriate for some in the context of the times, and maybe it should also cause us to pause and reconsider our own preparation for the spiritual war. We all want to live according to the “unforced rhythms of God’s grace”, and of course we should, but we should also be loath to take the commands of the Lord and the threat of the enemy lightly.

What are the goals in our prayer lives? What does our spiritual training look like? Is there anything holding us back that we should consider renouncing? Do we engage in a disciplined approach to spiritual warfare that causes the enemy great fear? These are not just desert prophet questions, these are biblical questions. The only way to learn prayer is by practicing it, giving long and sacrificial time to it. Prayer is not easy, it takes discipline. But it is a very worthwhile discipline, if we truly want to get fighting fit.

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