learning obedience?

Perhaps the main reason given for spiritual disciplines is to learn obedience. To train ourselves to submit to a higher authority, so that we may be more useful for God's purposes. But that raises the question of who we're learning to obey.

At the beginning of Luke 4, we read that "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit... was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days...." Quite different from a self-imposed fast to kick-start our spiritual lives. It's clear that Jesus is obeying God's leading. But as we pick and choose our spiritual exercises, who are we obeying? Or if our spiritual disciplines are imposed by another person, who are we obeying then?

There certainly may be some value in teaching our bodies to submit to the choices we make, our physical desires submit to our conscious, reasoned decisions, to the authority of our will and its higher purposes. There may be considerable value in such self-mastery. But I'm not sure that self-mastery makes us more fit for service to God. A strong will and practice in obeying our own will even seems like a detriment to abandoning our own will and serving God's will. "Not my will, but yours be done."

I recall that the 12-step program starts, not with self-mastery, but with admitting that "our lives had become unmanageable." This is the starting point for faith. Not the point of self-mastery where we're looking for a greater master to offer our valuable allegiance, but the point of affliction, confusion, and helplessness, where we grasp at the one hand that can lift us. Then we are ready to obey God. Then we are ready for Christ to be everything for us.