Three Things I Have Learned From Fasting

Since May, I have made a regular practice of fasting. I tell you this not to impress you or to top your own spiritual experience. I tell you this so that you will take what I am about to tell you with some seriousness because it is coming from someone that has a bit of experience.

First, let me explain that I appreciate Scot McKnight’s theory on biblical fasting. McKnight explains that fasting is a spiritual response to a sacred moment. In other words, when you see fasting in the Bible it is because something sorrowful, convicting, or deeply meaningful was happening. The apostle Paul would be confused by the trendy nature of fasting today that is not tied to any kind of sacred event or holiday. That being said, here are three things I have learned while fasting.

board bread breakfast bunch

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  1. Fasting resets me spiritually. Usually, my day starts with some kind of preoccupation, worry, or obsessive thought that is usually fraught with anxiety or worse, anger. On the days that I fast, my life has gotten simpler. I usually end the day realizing that God is here, I can trust him, and I don’t have to manage everything on my own. I face the fact that I need God and God will provide in all aspects of my life.
  2. Fasting slows me down. Like the one above, I have a fresh, simple outlook on my day. I do the thing that is in front of me, usually at a slower pace and with less frantic-ness. Fasting takes the edge off of the urgent and allows the day to flow with a rhythm that reminds me that there is so much more happening around me and I have just one role to play.
  3. Fasting focuses my prayer life. With a fresh, simpler perspective and a more deliberate pace to my day, I now have the freedom to pray and pray with focus and intent. Through fasting, I know that everything comes from God and the best place for me to be is in reliance on him and not on myself. That establishes my place in relation to God. I need him and he needs to intervene in my life and in the things and people around me. So I pray because that is the best response I can come up with in my current situation.

Next time, I will share some practical steps to complete a fast and make it work for you.

Developing A Waiting Strategy

If you have hit a dry period in your spiritual life and God seems distant and deaf, how do you find the strength to persevere in prayer? How do you hang on until help comes? What is your waiting strategy?

According to Emilie Griffin, our growth and our sanctification is found in the waiting:

We hate to admit that we are deepened by this waiting. Waiting makes us strong. We thought we were frivolous, impatient people, bent on self-gratification. Slowly, we grasp what we are made of. Patience sharpens and refines us. We endure.

fashion hand hurry outfit

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I am not a very patient person. I like action steps and plans and implementation. Sitting and waiting with nothing to do but trust is hard for me. Lately, I have been in a time of waiting. Here are a few things that have been my waiting strategy:

  1. Do the next right thing. Sometimes, the only thing we have control over is our next course of action. This can be as simple as to send that text of encouragement to someone; that run that will make you feel better; that point of service that is desperately needed.
  2. Written or memorized prayers. There are hundreds of written prayers full of deep theology, rich praise, and honest confession and hope. I find these speak to my condition much more than my often rambling and incoherent prayers. No doubt, God can look past my incoherent prayers but I feel better when I can verbalize things a little clearer and with some depth. Lately, I have been using the following prayer by Charles de Foucauld:  “Father, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you. I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul. I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.”
  3. Acknowledge the good inherent to the good. Look, I am not saying I am good but as a believer and practicing Christian I have access to blessings and grace. But am I paying attention? I need to recognize the quality of the worship that I just experienced at church. I need to be grateful for the sweet love of our daughters. I need to recognize all of the ways God is showing up even if I don’t see it in a certain area or as an answer to a specific prayer.

Waiting is not fun and is fraught with doubt, uncertainty, and questioning but it is a part of life, even the Christian life. Develop a strategy for waiting that helps you embrace the season you find yourself in and begins to strengthen you as you wait. Waiting does not have to be devastating or torturous.

Your Prayers Should Include the Truth Even If It is Ugly

Author and Anglican priest, Chris Webb, had the guts to tell someone that she could pray for her ex-boyfriend to die. By directing her to the Psalms, he claims her prayers didn’t need to be from a place of dishonesty.

I have heard this story in person and also in one of my favorite books of the last year. I encourage you to read it and just think about what your prayer life would look like if you prayed with honesty right where you are. Cut the bull, leave the platitudes aside, and just go at God with ruthless truth on how you feel and what you truly desire. As Webb says in the article, “What else are you going to do? Sugarcoat a lie? Do you think God doesn’t already know how you feel, what’s going on in your life? There’s no point telling anything other than the truth.”

closed eyed man holding his face using both of his hands

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You may not agree with Webb’s pastoral approach but the lesson about prayer and what you get out of the exercise is profound. Perhaps the very act of praying for someone, even if our intentions are suspect, changes our heart and helps us to see God and people in a different light.

There are many things I have prayed for over months, even years, and God seems silent or determined to do something different. But out of that practice I have found my vision of the situation changes; my actions in relation to the situation soften; that I am alive to the possibility of a more life giving and Godly trust and approach.

Perhaps that is the answer to the prayer. The outcomes are sometimes secondary to the transformation and heart change that arises out of the practices of prayer. So keep praying, it is doing you good and changing you for the better.

To hear Webb talk about his book and the story above go to this video (the story is found at the 30:00 mark).

What Jesus Had to Believe About Himself

Jesus told us that he is the way, the truth, and the life. Do you realize that Jesus had to believe this about himself also?

Wrapped in the human flesh, Jesus still had to trust his way was right.

With the limitations of flesh and blood, Jesus faced the temptation that maybe just maybe he was on the wrong path. Satan saw this as Jesus wrestled with his calling in the desert and presented to Jesus three potential paths that countered the one he was sent to fulfill.

First, Satan tempted Jesus to forgo any limitations that might be present on Earth and just take care of his needs completely by himself. Hungry? Turn these rocks into bread. Satan was essentially saying that Jesus didn’t need to trust his father to provide for his earthly needs, he, Jesus, could just provide it himself and forgo the whole trust thing.

Secondly, Satan tempted Jesus by trying to convince him that what mattered was showing off and drawing attention to yourself, that this was a sign of success and the only way to advance your goals.

Christ in the Wilderness by Stanley Spencer

Third, Satan tempted Jesus by offering the path of power and prestige and splendor. That he didn’t need to rummage around with all of these back woods and ignorant people, that he could skip small moments with small people and just go straight to the king part and the glory part.

Jesus had to face these temptations because these are the biggest temptations that we all face. We all are given short cuts that pushes God to the sidelines and stunts our growth in him. We all are lured by the sensational and the impressive that has no depth behind it and loses its power because it doesn’t touch the heart of things. We all are tempted to think that strength only comes from power and possessions and domination of others.

Jesus, after overcoming these temptations and establishing his own way, the Jesus way, tells his followers that the only way to save our life is to lose it.  Dallas Willard says, “To take him as our master means that we trust his way is right and, as he himself did, always look to the larger good under God. Like him we keep on entrusting ourselves to the One who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23). This is “losing our life and thereby saving it” in the manner Jesus taught.”

Did you catch what Willard said twice in that statement? Twice he makes the point that Jesus had to trust his father, that we we are not taking on a path he himself wasn’t already choosing. That Jesus, in the wilderness under temptation, chose trust in his Father over everything else. We can do the same.

If you find yourself taking short cuts in your spiritual life then you are not following the Jesus Way. If you are constantly seeking the grand and the splashy and ignoring the mundane and the ordinary then you are not choosing the path that Jesus chose. If you are concerned with only who has control and how much forceful influence you have then you are embracing an approach that Jesus rejected.

To live this Grown Up life, we must keep trusting the One that Jesus trusted. Nothing else will bring us truth and the life that we genuinely desire.

 

Books I Read in 2019

They say that you can learn a lot about a person’s personality by looking at their bookshelf and their CD collection.

I read 17 books this past year. Some I read using Audible, some on Scribd, some through Kindle, some I checked out from my own library, and some I purchased.

Not all of them are related to Spiritual Growth but I notice that I don’t read much fiction and that if I do read for entertainment only, it is usually about music. It used to be about sports but that is not as important to me now.

Maybe this list will spark your curiosity and motivate you to read more in 2020. It is one of the most rewarding things I do.

The Art of Letting Go by Richard Rohr

Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) by Jeff Tweedy

Folsom Untold: The Strange True Story of Johnny Cash’s Greatest Album by Danny Robins

God-Soaked Life by Chris Webb

12 Rules For Life by Jordan B. Peterson

The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Climbing With Mollie by William Finnegan

The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu

The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore

Miracle Hour by Linda Schubert

The Common Rule by Justin Whitmel Early

Glittering Vices by Rebecca DeYoung

The Cloud of Unknowing by Unknown

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton