The benefits of pursuing and obeying God are always worth the cost. The Word says in Hebrews 11:6, “[God] rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
Jesus taught His disciples this simple and powerful truth in Matthew 10:39, “…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
One of the great paradoxes of Scripture is that we find life when we willingly lose it by giving it up to God. This doesn’t mean that we earn our salvation or God’s favor, but it does mean that we experience His favor more fully when we align ourselves with God by earnestly seeking Him and faithfully obeying Him.
Every good thing we have in our lives is because of His goodness and grace, but if we disobey Him or follow Him with a lukewarm passion, we’re going to miss out on some of that “goodness” He has for us.
This is why God sometimes rebukes and disciplines us. It is because He loves us and wants us to know and experience everything He has designed for us and destined us to become. That’s why I believe the benefits of pursuing God and obeying Him are always worth the cost. When we say yes to God, we experience more of the adventure and His abundant life.
First, I’ll be honest, I hate to fast; it makes me furious! (I love food and food loves me!) But what makes me even more furious is the brokenness I see all around me in this city and in our world.
• I am furious about people being consumed by materialism and greed because they’ve forgotten that Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?”
• I am furious about sickness, disease, and poverty that destroys so many whom God so deeply loves.
• I am furious about how many people don’t understand yet that God is good and gracious and merciful and how much He longs to be in relationship with them for eternity.
Fasting is one of the most feared and most misunderstood things in the Bible. It’s feared because we all love food, and it’s often misunderstood because we think only fanatics fast. It’s feared because we think if we don’t fast we might go to hell. It’s feared because it flies in the face of our culture that is all about satisfying our needs and desires with very little (if any) concern for denial or self-sacrifice.
I know how hard it is to read about fasting. Some of you are looking for the UNlike button on this post.
1. Fasting is willingly sacrificing something of value (i.e. something that gives us life) as a spiritual discipline. Strictly speaking, fasting in the Bible is generally voluntary abstinence from food for a spiritual purpose.
2. The word “fast” in both the Hebrew (tsom) and Greek (nesteia) refers to the practice of self-denial. An author, Richard Foster, defines it as “the voluntary denial of a normal function (such as eating) for the sake of intense spiritual activity.” So, again, the key concept is abstinence for a spiritual purpose. You can fast to lose weight, but that doesn’t make it a spiritual exercise of faith!
3. In the Old Testament, sometimes people fasted when they were brokenhearted and in grief (such as Jonathan in 1 Sam. 20, and David and his men in 2 Sam. 11).
4. In the New Testament, there are examples of leaders and the church fasting when in need of divine guidance or facing a new ministry challenge (Acts 13 & 14). Jesus Himself fasted prior to the beginning of His public ministry (Matthew 4).
I like to describe fasting as prayer on steroids because fasting enhances the intensity of people’s heart-cry to God! It almost always is an act of desperation for the intervention and manifestation of God in their midst.
That being said, let me make sure that you understand what fasting is not:
1. Fasting is not a means to manipulate God or to somehow twist His arm. It is not a spiritual hunger strike!
2. Fasting is not penance (self-punishment) for our sin because our debt is paid in full. For Christ-followers, it is not a way to placate the anger or wrath of God. God’s not mad at you; He’s mad about you!
3. Fasting is not self-sacrifice as a way to earn God’s love or favor. There is nothing you can do to make Him love you any more or less than He already does.
4. Fasting is not a religious ritual done to impress others or ourselves with how spiritual we are (Jesus addressed this in Matt. 6:16-18).
5. Fasting is not a “divine weight loss program” either! (Sorry.)
Fasting is a humble and voluntary act of self-denial where we willingly sacrifice “something of value” as a spiritual discipline for a spiritual purpose.
Again, quoting Richard Foster from his book The Celebration of Discipline, “…the very first statement Jesus made about fasting (in Matt. 6) dealt with the question of motive. To use good things to our own ends (so that we look good or to impress others) is always the sign of false religion. Fasting must forever center on God.”
Simply put: Fasting is about God and for God. And it’s important to understand that fasting is not so much about us getting His attention as it is about Him getting ours. (Click to tweet the last line, and go back and read it again.)
Here’s a little truth about humans: What we focus on we drift toward, and fasting helps us focus on God and His Kingdom. Fasting is one way of reorienting ourselves toward God. It is a way of refocusing our attention on Him.
To reorient toward God is to adjust our lives and our hearts (what we do, what we believe, and how we live) to God, His purposes, and His ways. When we fast, we become more aware of our need for God. We become more aware of our inadequacies and absolute dependence on Him. We become more attentive to His Word, His ways and His will. And that’s why through fasting we better position ourselves for breakthrough by Him.
I encourage you to fast, but let’s make this season and our fasting all about God and His desire to see His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Like I said, I hate to fast, and it’s not easy or fun to do so, but the fruits (no pun intended) can be fantastic!
There’s an awful lot of talk these days by some pretty famous folks casting doubt on the relevancy of the Church. I hesitate to add my voice to the cacophony out there in the blogosphere, but I must…
I’ve been in the Church almost all of my life. For the past 57 years (except for about a year or so when I wandered), I’ve attended church gatherings faithfully. In fact, I did the math, and I’ve been to at least 7,000 church services in my lifetime.
I started my journey in a denomination called the Christian & Missionary Alliance, but I’ve also been a Baptist, an Evangelical Methodist and a neo-charismatic. For a huge part of my life, I’ve been in non-denominational churches like the one I pastor now.
Some of you are impressed. Some of you are depressed (you feel sorry for me), and some of you don’t really give a rip! It’s okay. Hang in there with me.
You would think my background in the Church would make me very confused. Am I a fundamentalist, an evangelical, a charismatic, or what? In truth, my experience has given me a great deal of clarity about the Church, its purpose, and its place on planet earth.
• I know the Church is not a building.
• I know the Church is not an hour on Sunday.
• I know the Church is bigger than our pet peeves, our pet doctrines, and our pet organizational structures.
• I know the Church is far from perfect. We are, after all, the fellowship of the broken yet redeemed.
From Johnny MacArthur to Jack Hayford, from “strange fire” to on fire, we are the Body of Christ, His Bride forever, and eternally linked to one another whether we like each other or not.
• Unless she is more of an organism than an organization, more of a living, breathing entity rather than a club akin to the Knights of Columbus.
• Unless she provides a meaningful place for connection and functions effectively as a community of faith. It’s not about the size of the church (big or small); it’s all about the depth of our relationships with one another.
• Unless she provides a place for celebration expressed through vibrant worship, public baptisms, Holy Communion, and authentic and relevant teaching. God does not live in a building, but there ought to be something unique and special about the Church when it gathers together to worship, pray and praise.
• Unless she motivates and engages her members to live otherly-focused.
• Unless she becomes a safe place for people to discover God’s grace and to develop along their journey of faith.
• Unless she engages all involved to realize and utilize their spiritual gifts for the benefit of others and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
• Unless she pools her human and financial resources to do more together than any one individual can do alone.
• Unless she provides a place for the demonstration of the glory and power of God to transform broken lives and to heal broken bodies.
The first church was established with power and in the context of deep and abiding community (Acts 2). It was known for demonstrating God’s power and experiencing meaningful kinship that transcended race or status.
May I humbly suggest that the Church of today becomes extraneous to a watching world, and especially to a younger generation, when we have a “form of godliness, but deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). We can become a stumbling block through an emphasis on “eloquence, persuasive words and human wisdom” rather than “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2).
As my friend and co-laborer, Jeff Kennedy, wrote in his recently released book, Father, Son, and the Other One, “The contrast between powerless American religion and the first-century church is startling.”
If the Church, for you, has become nothing more than a weekly meeting where you sit and listen to a talking head, then it may very well be irrelevant!
However, God intends so much more for the Church. As Christ-followers, our mission and mandate is the mission and mandate of Jesus found in Luke 4:18-19. To follow Him is to live like Him. It’s just that simple.
And Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” John 14:12 (NIV, emphasis added).
If not, what will make your more church relevant and vibrant? What hope does your church offer the world that will draw people to Christ by the hundreds and thousands? And on a broader scale, what will mark the next great movement of God in our western culture?
I hope you wrestle with these questions as I do.
Perhaps it’s time to add to what we have learned in the past several decades about teaching the Word, worship, creativity, seeker-sensitivity, and leadership (all valuable and necessary). Perhaps the Church will rock our world again when she is a powerful community of sold-out followers who seek to set the captives free, to heal the broken, and to engage people in meaningful connection to the Bride.
• We take risks.
• We come to our gatherings (whether in a home, a theater, a former K-Mart, or a cathedral) with desperate and expectant hearts.
• We hold on to the important values and practices we have become comfortable with while being willing to venture out into the uncomfortable and unknown.
• We guard against the flesh. (I refuse to make something happen.)
• We yield to and live filled by the Holy Spirit.
• We let new wine fill new wineskins.
Let me be clear as I wrap this up. I’m not suggesting we all become Pentecostals. I’m not suggesting we have missed the boat as evangelicals.
I am, however, strongly suggesting it’s time to shut the mouths of those who call us outdated and irrelevant. And I am suggesting this happens best not through wise discourse or through a more creative show, but through the same means that turned the first century world upside down: God’s love, His power and a life-giving, authentic community of faith.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me.
He has anointed me to tell the good news to poor people.
He has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners.
He has sent me so that the blind will see again. He wants me to free those who are beaten down.
19 And he has sent me to announce the year when he will set his people free.”
Luke 4:18-19 (NIRV)
Admittedly, what matters a great deal to me may not matter at all to you. There are things and issues I am passionate about that others yawn over. We all grow up with a set of values, and we tend to develop strong feelings through the years that are sometimes shared by others and sometimes not.
I get it.
But . . .
Are there times when we make a big to do about relatively nothing? Are there things we care about that really shouldn’t matter that much in the grand scale of life?
• Okay, your boss was a jerk today. Sorry. But how does that compare to a person who is facing divorce or the death of a spouse?
• What? Your kid came home with a C instead of an A in algebra! The nerve. But what if you had a special needs child who will never be able to do math?
• Dang! Your back is killing you. How does that compare to your friend with cancer?
• You’re starving because you had to skip lunch today. Growl. But do you have any idea how many people will go to bed hungry tonight, and they’re literally starving?
Take a breath. I’m not saying you don’t matter. Of course you do. You matter to God, and what matters to you matters to Him.
I’m just asking some simple questions here: When you’re struggling, do you have a big-picture perspective of life? When you’re in the thick of it, can you see past your needs and struggles? Here’s a crazy idea: Maybe it’s really not just about you (or me).
First, I’m convinced that the best way to maintain an attitude of gratitude no matter what you’re dealing with is to remember the needs of others. The secret to “giving thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18) is putting things into perspective. “Yeah, my back is bad, but at least I’m not dead yet!” Regardless of how bad things are, there’s always something for which we can be thankful, and someone struggling more than we are.
Second, when I stop being overly focused on my problems and I see the needs of others around me, it typically motivates me to action. It’s there I find the truth that it’s “more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).
And finally, I develop an eternal perspective and find hope when I remember that nothing, and certainly no problem, lasts forever. Paul wrote, “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
This morning I held in my hand our church’s weekly prayer requests. Twenty people presenting more than twenty desperate needs . . .
A parent struggling with a child over addiction issues.
Friends worried about others who are fighting for their lives with cancer.
Children with broken bodies and no healing or answers yet.
A daughter asking for prayer for her dad who just got out of prison and needs a job.
A wife separated from her husband and brokenhearted.
A half dozen Christians praying for their lost friends or family members.
It broke my heart. It also took my mind and soul beyond my relatively lesser needs. Sometimes I make much to do about nothing earth-shattering in my life and not enough about the agony of those all around me.
How about you?
It’s something to think about . . .