Over the last 20 years I’ve had an on-again off-again relationship with dieting. I’ve tried many things, most of them having to do with counting points. At the beginning of June, I started counting again to see if I could conquer my weight challenges. The biggest challenge for me is that I love food and eat it often, mostly when I’m happy or sad.

One of the foods that I crave most–believe it or not–is cereal. And the other morning, I found one of my favorites in the pantry: Oatmeal Crisp. With its clusters of almonds and other crunchy stuff, it. is. delicious. After I finished the bowl, I thought, “man, that was good” and promptly had another bowl.

You people who count points know where this is going. I put the cereal in my planner and scanned the box. It read 9 points…NINE! With the milk, it came to 13 points. And I had had two bowls! I get 34 points in a day and before 7:00 a.m., I had consumed 26 points. Talk about poor planning.

I had the rest of the day to reflect on this decision and realized life is a lot like this situation. Too much of the time we don’t plan our decisions and life gets away from us. We have only a limited number of hours in the day and yet we waste them on things that will not sustain us for the journey. Take a look at Proverbs 28:19 (Common English Bible):

19 Those who work the land will have plenty to eat,
but those with worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.

I have found that being intentional about dieting yields positive results. I have lost 11 pounds in three weeks. When we’re intentional in our methods regarding life and faith, we can prepare to live like Jesus. In the United Methodist Church, we call this preparation the means of grace.

On umc.org, it says the means of grace are ways God works invisibly in disciples, hastening, strengthening; and confirming faith so that God’s grace pervades in and through His disciples. The means of grace can be divided into two categories: works of piety and works of mercy.

Works of Piety:

  • Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
  • Communal Practices – regularly sharing in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

Works of Mercy:

  • Individual Practices – doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
  • Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor

Practicing spiritual disciplines is kind of like counting points. We must be careful not to fill ourselves with stuff that leaves us hungry and unable to be the people God has created us to be.

I pray I remember that the next time I find the Oatmeal Crisp.

-Pastor Robert