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Posts Tagged ‘fasting’

wildernessThen Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted . . . [Matthew 4:1a]

He went willingly into the wilderness. Me? Not so much, more like kicking and screaming. It’s not like I haven’t been there before. I have stumbled through a number of dry seasons and harsh conditions. I have walked blindly and without water, but not because I chose to do so. The supplies got left behind.

Jesus fasted as a norm to the moment before him. He just knew that this challenge would require all of himself. If He could not survive this, then the rest of the mission would fail. 40 days and 40 nights and an evil companion dropping in and out, taunting along the way, was only a small portion of what He would face in the end.

This would not be a wilderness that would kill him. That much He knew. But the his test results could put a major crimp in the plan, in the method, in the progress. This was phase one.

I always mess this up. I look at the wilderness and almost always cry “Uncle.” I project into the wilderness more than is there. It’s like being hungry before I’ve started to fast. It’s rolling over after the alarm sounds because I’m just “too tired” to face the morning. It’s letting my memories of former excursions into the tough times set the tone.

So I know that. Right now. I see it, I know it. So, let’s do it differently this time.

I’m going in.

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Gods handWhether I like it or don’t like it, whether it’s fair or not fair, whether it’s convenient or not, I am a child of the Living God and this is my journey. When calamities happen to people (losses, illness, or trauma) and we did nothing to set the stage for those things to occur (we didn’t drink ourselves into stupors or ride the edges of cliffs), then peace comes only from knowing that God is God. And like many others, I too have been given a set of circumstances to navigate and learn and grow and maybe, just maybe, help someone else.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind. . . . [Job 12:7-10, NIV]

Throughout these months of grieving over Mike’s death, eight months ago now, people have asked me if I was angry yet. I suppose the implication is that I would become angry at Mike for dying or God for allowing it. But in neither case do I find these to be good material for anger. That’s not to say I haven’t had an array of other emotions like disappointment, sorrow, loneliness, and even misery, but anger, not so much.

Well, that’s not totally true. I did cut loose on my son one day for being so self-absorbed and insensitive to my chaos and insecurities and bafflement. But really, what twenty-two year old would do much better? He’s already boxed up his feelings about his father and he’s uncomfortable with any further displays of anguish. (He can save these up for the therapist down the road.) And perhaps, if I had to analyze that horrible episode, my ravings and tears and emotional collapse into a heap on the floor could have been anger as well, pent up and explosive.

I scared myself that day. I fasted soon after. For a week. Looking for the center of God in me. Again.

In the end, there was only the same certainty, God’s hand is on my situation and with me. My years are not over yet and time will reveal what is still intended for me to know, to live, to walk, to understand. Job figured it out. I guess I can too.

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secretplace1After life gives you lemons and even the lemonade is undrinkable, it’s clear that God has something else in mind. I am, by nature, a doer and problem-solver. I have made a lot of lemonade in my life. But I have come to the borders of my self-sufficiency. Whatever comes next is new territory. He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” [Psalm 91:1-2, NKJ] So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. [Daniel 9:3] I am peeling away then at the layers that have shrouded that secret place where God and I have met in the past. It is a slow process, like pulling English Ivy, the tentacles of memories and circumstances, loss and sorrow, missteps and futility, have covered the way. But I must push on and push in, for whatever I do next must be directed by God; I need confidence in the hand of God guiding me. I don’t have that anymore. Whatever has sustained me in the last six months is no longer enough. Even though people offer to help, unless the direction is clear, we are all going in circles. What next? That’s my prayer. What next?

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time is now[If you truly fast . . . ] Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” [Isaiah 58:9-10]

Oh the promises God gives in so many different voices. I am slow. I am slow to respond with internal change.

I am reading a book by John Sarno, M.D. on healing back pain (and many other aches & pains) through a mind-body connection that we have lost. And in it, he says how slowly the subconscious responds to change. In another venue (not sure if it was a book, web site, or magazine article), I read about the difficulties that overweight people have in maintaining their weight loss and that the body, for many years even, wants to return to its former (heavier) state. It’s literally a battle within for the psyche to accept the “new you.” Or,  I think of more serious scenarios where abused and battered women stay in marriages and partnerships because it became the norm and a “new normal” hard to imagine.

These illustrations reveal tendencies in my personal spirit too. I have a comfort zone within which my spirit does not adapt out of easily. Our bodies, our minds, and our spirits experience a time of confusion when we try something new, when we step out of the familiar, when we dip our toes into unknown waters.

jumping inHow do you walk into the ocean? Do you run full tilt and jump headlong into the frigid waves, exulting in that blasting sensation? Or, are you like me, slowly wading in and letting each body part get used to the water beforslow ocean walke going the next step, the next depth. Only when the ocean takes charge and bursts over my plan do I give in and dunk in. But there are times when I don’t even get past my knees. Maybe the first steps are too cold or too rocky or too slimy and I turn back. I don’t give the ocean a chance to envelope me. I go back to the sand (and really how comfortable is that?).

There are four parts to a complete Lenten experience:  fasting (the change up), prayer (the conversation),generosity (reaching out to others), and confession (owning up to our mistakes). This is the perfect time to enter the ocean of God’s love, God’s invitation, Christ’s work, and the Holy Spirit’s waters. Whether slow or fast, the time is now.

I will never be one to jump in with full abandon. But I do commit to a slower journey. I choose it. I choose to work inward so that my outward self becomes less judgmental, more connected, and filled with the Light of Christ. I want my night to become like noonday. It’s a process. And like everyone else, it’s outside my comfort zone.

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Fasting

soul connectionIs not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? [Isaiah 58:6]

Fasting has been narrowed in recent years to being about the food and beverage consumption: no lunch or no sugar or no alcohol or no carbs (oops, that’s a diet option). And that’s the problem, we live in a dieting world where the giving up of one element or another is this short term option that will give us some relatively immediate results. But I am pretty sure that fasting for God is a different mindset. It’s not even intended that this “giving up” be over the long haul. Not really.

Just because Jesus fasted for forty days doesn’t mean we need to fast from food and drink for the same amount of time. Besides, unless we have the the other disciplines going hand in hand with the fasting, it will be a futile effort. Fasting, in and of itself, is not the point.

It’s the change-up. It’s doing life differently. It’s making room for something else. It’s intentionally making a sacrifice in order to intentionally choose time and energy for God.

I remember trying to explain this process to my kids when they were younger and it never really quite took hold. Generally, they concentrated on those food items they could tolerate being without: ice cream, soda, desserts, pizza (well, no, I don’t think they ever did give up eating pizza for Lent or any other time).

This year, I am tossing in a few sacrificial lambs like sodas and lattes and even Words with Friends, but my sense of them is different. These acts feel inconsequential in the face of what I want this time to be about: a centering inside time, a time to know prayer in a deeper way, an unearthing of my soul from the tangles of my busy life (this is my yoke referenced in Isaiah). Can I slow down enough to do it? Can I open the clock for meditation and silence?

When Jesus met the woman at the well, his disciples were out getting carry out. When they got back, they offered him his share but he didn’t need it. He was full from the discourse and connection of two souls.

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Art by Joseph Liner

Thirty two years ago, I responded to a nation-wide call to Christians around the country to fast and pray in Washington, D.C. II Chronicles 7:14 was the keystone verse to that call and that day became known as Washington for Jesus. I arrived with national hope for healing but left with disappointment.


II Chronicles 7:14
“. . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

I had taken the call seriously. I traveled a long way, prepared myself to fast, and meditated on the scriptures. In my imagination, the Mall would be filled with prayer like in the days of David and Solomon and the Shekinah glory would fall. Instead, there was amplified praise music and prayer from the stage area, political rhetoric, picnics, vendors selling “Jesus Junk,” street proselytizing, and tracts, tracts, tracts. Hope was being directed to a political agenda and not to the instruction and promises God had given to Solomon.

Granted, it is much more difficult to turn a country’s focus. Change begins at the grass roots level, it begins with the individual.

So, here are the steps to healing that I have gleaned from this scripture. This is where I must begin:

  1. Know who you are. God is speaking to the “people called by my name.” Am I a child of God? I am. I have accepted God’s authority over my life.
  2. Humble yourself. As long as I believe my way is the best way, I can interfere with the divine plan. Humility with others is tough; with God, moreso.
  3. Pray. There are thousands of ways to pray, from casual chat to ritualized liturgy. They are all useful as long as the heart is bent toward God.
  4. Seek God’s face. A little different from prayer, but certainly an aspect of prayer, this seeking implies expectation. If I am told to seek then I am expected to find. The key is understanding that God’s face is reflected in a myriad of ways including the faces of human beings.
  5. Turn aside from the old ways and habits. This is probably the most difficult step if it’s done out of order. It’s not just a quarter turn, it’s a 180. It’s a decision. I don’t even have to walk in that new direction, just turn, and God will show up.

These are steps that will bring healing to any situation. And physical healing? I don’t know, perhaps that too. Perhaps, as the heart and soul are healed, the body follows. But I can’t speak with any authority about that, I have not yet grappled with serious illness.

The promises are threefold if we follow the five steps: God will hear, God will forgive, and God will heal.

I am reminded of the four friends who broke through a ceiling to lower their paralyzed friend down to Jesus [Mark 2:3-5] and it’s revealing to me that Jesus forgave his sins first.

I don’t know how to bring a nation around, but I believe we could start with our own lives. The “land” is basic, it’s the foundation of our Earth. What is foundational in our daily lives?

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Paul exhorts the Ephesian believers to pray and to pray often. This is nothing new. What strikes me today is his additional caution to “be alert.” For what? There must be potential danger in the prayers of the spirit, those deeper prayers, the ones that emanate from the union of Holy Spirit and true me.

Ephesians 6:18
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

I started my Christian journey way back in the seventies. This was the time of explosive faith when many believers began seeking the signs and wonders [Acts 2:43]. What started on Azusa Street in 1906 with ecstatic spiritual experiences and the birth of the pentecostal movement, found mainstream acceptance in the charismatic movement that crossed all denominational lines. In both cases, the most conspicuous sign was speaking in tongues, officially known as glossolalia.

No different than my other faith contemporaries, I was speaking in tongues like the rest of them. To speak in tongues for long periods is like chanting or meditating, it clears the mind and allows the spirit to roam freely within. There is a strong feeling of communion with God. I have nothing particularly negative to say about tongues except for some of the abuses that have come out of this phenomenon as well-meaning people have attempted to “interpret” or “translate” tongue messages proclaimed loudly in public [see I Corinthians 12:9-13]. I am less confident of an accurate interpretation that seems to always start the same way: “my children, my children . . . ” or something like. Anyway, how does one interpret things of the Spirit in our 3-D world? I think that’s tricky. But, that’s for another time to consider.

Here’s my point: I assumed this scripture reference to “pray in the spirit” meant we should pray in tongues (many people began referring to tongue speaking as “praying in the spirit,” a more accessible phrase for those who disdain tongues as authentic in any form). And yes, tongue speaking would be included in this exhortation. However, what about the second part of the admonition, “with all kinds of prayers and requests.” I take the word “all” to heart here and believe the Spirit is to under gird and author ALL prayers, whether they are written down, flashed in fear, supplicated petitions, or anything else.

A prayer without Spirit participation has no power and presents no danger to the “dark world.” [Ephesians 6:12] It is only when we engage the Holy Spirit and our own personal spirits in prayer that there is a need to “be alert.” This is where the true place of battle is raging, where the true enemy plays and where the evil of our world is birthed.

I’m thinking there is a particular call on believers who are living in relative comfort compared to the rest of the world. We cannot expect those who are faithful and yet starving and struggling for their daily unmet needs to enter into this type of warfare. We, the wealthy, who have warm homes, cars, food for holiday feasts, and designer clothes, have no excuse for standing on the sidelines of this kind of prayer. I have allowed my busy life to excuse me. This cannot continue.

I want to be “in the game” as they say in sports lingo. I want a reason in my life for Paul to warn me to “be alert” in prayer. (And I don’t mean staying awake.)

Today is the last day of my food fast. After eighteen days, I have also come to the end of the book of Ephesians and I see clearly my charge for this upcoming Advent season and beyond. I began this fast journey when I recognized for the first time how my words and behaviors were grieving the Holy Spirit. The solution is working together with the Spirit in prayer, from within, authentically radiating love and faith and God, supported by practicing the presence and breaking open the barriers that evil causes pain, suffering, and isolation in our world. Amen.

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