We must understand ourselves correctly from Scripture. We are not mostly the good we hope to be, but mostly the evil that exists in our sinful nature. When we were saved we were made into a new creation with the ability to choose to do good, not the inability to do wrong. It still takes work to be able to do good, but before our justification we had no ability to do so.
Our sinful nature is what comes out by default in us. It takes work to overcome it. James tells us this in his epistle over and over again. Chapter 4 is his treatise against fights in the church. As Paul says in Philippians 2:21, “All seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus,” it is hard to find even a believer who is not in this life for themselves. Paul could only think of one: Timothy. And James tells us that all the fights and wars within the church are because of covetousness and jealousy. By default, our nature will fight and kick and scream to get what we want.
James tells us that the things we want are available to us if only we ask, but that a good amount of time that even when we do that we ask with wrong motives. He’s speaking primarily about material goods when he says, “so you can spend it on your pleasures.” We can have confidence that God will gently correct us if our prayers are asked amiss if we truly submit our heart to His will, but often we are like the thousands who, during Jesus’ ministry, only came to hear Him because they heard He fed the multitudes.
James calls all this what it really is: friendship with the world, our old nature in other words. As much as we give in to our old nature, we make ourselves enemies of God. But like James says, “He gives more grace.” If we humble ourselves before God, He will give us MORE grace than we already operate under to overcome our old nature that rises up in us.
If we submit to God and resist the devil, God will draw near to us. How do we do this? Through devotion. Only through spending time with God, daily, can we hope to overcome this fallen nature. By spending time in prayer and reading scripture can we draw our hearts nearer to God so that He will draw nearer to us. He can purify us!
James tells us that one key to truly drawing near to God in this way is to willingly submit ourselves to mourning and weeping. When we ask God to show us our frailty, our weakness and our miserable state of sinfulness can we attain to understand how to overcome. If we willingly take on sorrow and mourning for ourselves and others will we begin to understand our state. That’s a state God can work with. He won’t leave us in that mournful state, but He will fill us with true joy instead of the helpless substitute we so often settle for. When we give up the joys we think we have and submit our hearts humbly to God we will learn new joys that we never could have imagined.
So we must give ourselves to greater humility. And there’s no greater way to embrace humility than to give up our fake joy and embrace the weakness and wretchedness of our sin. When we do so, we have nothing to be proud of anymore.
Such a state of humility is one that God will reward with more of His presence.
As we begin 2011 it is important to reenlist into the fundamentals of our Christian faith. It is so easy as our year progresses in business and a multitude of distractions that we lose sight of the things that are important for keeping us “rooted and grounded” in the love of Jesus. Studying His written Word is too important not to consider each January 1st.
Studying the Word, praying and fasting are the threefold cure to what ails the church in America and the world, but we’ll just talk about the importance of the written Word of God right now.
So many people may start reading the Bible only to quit after a few weeks because they don’t see the value they’re getting out of it. This is the most disastrous thing you can do this new year is to take up the Bible only to set it down again before February rolls around. We must not look at the Bible as something that’s going to give us instant microwave-style gratification. Over time as we fill our hearts and minds with God’s Word we are filled and equipped in ways we can’t discern at the time. That’s what should be your resolution this year–not that you’re going to begin reading the Bible; but that you’re not going to quit.
Daniel went to Mr. Miagi in the movie The Karate Kid to learn karate from a master. The first thing Mr. Miagi had Daniel do was wax his car every day. After a few weeks of tedious toil doing seemingly menial tasks for Mr. Miagi Daniel had enough and complained to him about not learning karate. Miagi threw his first punch at Daniel and he blocked it immediately. Daniel’s “wax on, wax off” routine had been training him in ways he didn’t understand until the first punch came at him. He’d actually been training his muscles to respond in a new way all along.
In the same way, reading our Bibles is an exercise in disciplining our spiritual muscles to learn new ways of responding. We may not perceive the value or what we’re getting out of reading our Bible, but after a year of reading when we’re attacked by our enemy it’s amazing what will come out of us.
When Satan attacks us we’ll have a response from scripture to fight off temptation. We won’t even know where it comes from right then, but when our hearts are full of the Word of God we can defend against anything thrown our way.
So set your heart this year to read your Bible. And don’t even think about whether or not you’re getting anything out of it until January 2012. Or maybe January 2013. Or, better yet; January 2020. Just keep reading, studying and praying through scripture and you won’t be the same person for long.
These days our churches in America have great worship times. We have lots of gifted teachers scattered throughout our land. So why does the church in the West lack any power over sin? Why is the divorce rate the same in and out of the church? Why are 25% of women in the church having abortions? (It’s actually probably higher than that)
50 years ago, corporate prayer meeting were a much more natural part of church life in the United States. Today, very few churches have any corporate prayer meetings, and often times when they do they aren’t really prayer meetings at all, but another “church service.” What I mean by that is there are still a few holdout churches that have Wednesday “prayer meetings,” but the meetings are prayer in name only.
Corporate prayer is one of the most important aspects of church life, but has been all but disregarded in the Western church. We have lots of teaching and lots of good worship these days, but why do our churches still lack power over sin?
The apostles told the other disciples in Acts 6:4 that they couldn’t spend time feeding widows (a great endeavor) because they had a very clear mandate as the primary leaders of Jesus’ church. They had to devote themselves “completely” to prayer and the Word. They took their mandate before God so seriously that they lives radically differently because of it.
Most leaders in the body of Christ today wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if all they did was spend time praying and studying the Word. Most of their congregations probably wouldn’t either, for that matter. But if the American church has any hopes of seeing God move in power in this country, marketing and slick services will have to take a back seat to the more important things that Jesus requires of us right now. Marketing and slick services aren’t necessarily bad, but if that’s what a pastor spends most of his time doing, he’s not fulfilling his mandate before God.
But enough about those “bad old pastors”, what about you? If you want to change your church, your city, and your nation, what are you doing? How much time do you spend in prayer on a daily basis? What kinds of things distract you from fulfilling your mandate before the Lord. If you fall into the 15-minute-a-week in prayer category (or even 15 minutes a day) you’re not going to ever go very far in your life in God.
If our salvation is real, why wouldn’t we dedicate our lives to the one who saved us by giving him the time before Him that He’s due?
I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend who I had partnered with in a prayer ministry several years ago. The entire ministry was pursuing the Lord in prayer, fasting and giving to the poor. We often had extended fasts that everyone partook in and many of us fasted a day or two a week. During this time my friend took a short-term mission trip to Nigeria for a month.
Last weekend at a party for this friend I met one of the Nigerians he had spent time with who had come to the United States to study medicine. The man told me that when my friend came no one had ever met a missionary from the United States quite like him. He recounted how my friend would sneak away amidst busy days of ministry to pray in secluded places. He spoke of how often my friend would fast while he was there and how he encouraged everyone to fast on a regular basis. The Nigerian said he and everyone at his church had never met an American Christian missionary who spoke or acted like this before.Jesus was very clear when he spoke to the Pharisees and said that while the bridegroom (himself) was with them, there was no reason to fast but that soon the bridegroom (again, Jesus) would be gone and his followers would fast. Our understanding should be that fasting is a part of normal Christianity; a very important part of normal Christianity.
I meet few people who speak about fasting or even know what its purpose is. I’d like to outline a few things about what fasting is and what it isn’t; how to do it and how not to do it. I think a discussion of this kind is very necessary for American Christians because the times we are living in demand a people who fast before the Lord.
First and foremost, fasting is not eating food, pure and simple. When you fast you give up that sustenance that our bodies rely on for energy. Fasting is not giving up television, meat on Fridays or alcohol. While those things may be good, they are not fasting. Pictures of food on a menu may look good, but a meal they are not, so let’s begin this with a proper definition: fasting is giving up all food.
Now, there are several types of fasting: complete, water, juice and “Daniel.” A complete fast is where you give up food and water–you take in absolutely nothing. These types of fasts should be limited to a few days (seriously). Water fasts are where you only take in water, nothing else. No calories whatsoever. “Water fasts” can last up to the 40 day mark or so, but extreme care should be taken when attempting this kind. Juice fasts are the most common and they involve eating nothing, but taking in an extremely reduced calorie count only through drinks derived from juices and vegetables (don’t puree a hamburger). The last type is called a Daniel fast, derived from the passage in Daniel where he said he ate “no choice foods, no meat of wine touched my lips.” (Daniel 10:3) Personally, I don’t consider this a fast (because eating continues with fruits and vegetables), but I’m not going to impose my view on an overwhelming majority who believe this to be a valid fast.
Whether a Daniel fast counts or not is of little importance, truthfully, when viewed in light of why we fast. I will defend myself here in saying that fasting only involves food (not television) because even a Daniel fast involves taking in fewer calories and fats than our bodies are used to. When we fast we send our bodies down a path they’d rather not go and we hear about it. Hunger pangs, headaches and weakness ensue when we fast, depending on the duration. Your body doesn’t go through physical withdrawals when you give up television or tennis for a month which is why I am adamant about maintaining the integrity of the term fasting only to refer to food. I believe this is important because we are willingly giving up something our body rightfully needs to survive in exchange for a closer walk with the Lord.
They physical aspects of fasting cannot be divorced from the spiritual aspects; they are one and the same. That’s what makes it such a hard thing to do and do often. Everything within our bodies screams for attention when we fast which in turn calls attention to why we are doing it in the first place. For the duration of a fast you bear within your body the desire of your spirit in a more tangible way than we normally experience. This can be a positive or negative thing, so care must be exercised when undertaking a fast. The fact that the physiological and psychological aspects of our selves are in such concert with one another during a fast has dramatic effects on what we choose to set our hearts on. Whatever you fast for you will become more set on and convinced of, no matter what that thing is.
If you fast to grow in the Lord, you most certainly will. If you fast to appear more spiritual, your heart will become increasingly locked into a realm of a hyper-spiritualism that will only be destructive to your soul in the end. We have the Pharisees to look to here. Some of them fasted two days a week, but their hearts were locked out of growing closer to God or recognizing the truth. Beware of this danger–carefully study your motives for fasting before you begin and ensure that they will not be damaging.
This brings me to probably the most important part of this topic: what are the proper motivations for fasting? I strongly believe that fasting does not get you anything with God, it only has the power to take you places with God. What I mean by this is that fasting doesn’t automatically make you a better or stronger Christian and thereby draw you closer to God. You don’t become a super-saint the more you fast. This was the Pharisees’ fallacy when they fasted. Fasting only has the power to set your heart before the Lord to grow and therein lies its power. To put it another way is to think of fasting as an accelerant rather than an ignition. It doesn’t get you where you’re going, it can only help you get there faster.
Fasting is a very hard thing to do well. I personally believe that if you fast well, you’re probably not getting it. I don’t think the Lord wants us to be good at fasting, only to try it and keep getting up when we fail. I’ve fasted quite a bit (but not nearly enough to brag about–there are so many people who fast much more than me) and I’ve broken two day fasts after 8 hours more often than I’d care to admit. I get better at it the older I get, but the struggle between spirit and flesh that goes on never goes away. My body tries every ploy to get me to eat it can come up with and sometimes my body wins.
There’s so much that can be said about the logistics of fasting and how to do it healthily, but I’ll let Google answer those questions for you. I’ll only say that if you are capable of fasting you should and if you’ve fasted before and it caused you serious health problems you need to reevaluate what’s going wrong.
It should be stated that fasting is not a good time to pray more. Thinking of fasting as just a way to carve out an extra 15 minutes of prayer time when you would have been eating is selling fasting short of it’s true beauty. I find that I often have to really work to even maintain the amount of time I pray when I fast. I know many people who break their fasts during busy days because they figure “what’s the point in continuing if they don’t have time to pray?” I wholeheartedly believe that if you feel you need to spend more time praying while fasting, what you really need to do is make a lifestyle adjustment to add more prayer time to your daily routine every day, fasting or not.
Most Americans lead relatively prayerless lives, so my goal here is not to help people pray more through fasting. No, fasting is again an accelerant when combined with the fuel of prayer. Your car won’t run very well if you don’t have the proper amount of fuel mixture entering the chamber, so when you add what is meant to be a turbocharger things will only continue to sputter along unless you first deal with the fuel itself. So make a commitment to increase the time you spend in prayer every day, then add fasting to make that time more fruitful.
I want to end by speaking to a difference I see between regular fasting and extended fasts. Please understand that I have few Biblical sources to back me up on this, so this is really my opinion from experience rather than a deeply held belief from the Word.
In my experience I have found that regular fasting is a choice. I choose to encounter the Lord through regular fasting and He tenderizes my spirit over time. That’s what I mean by choice, is that I choose to devote myself to the Lord in that way but I don’t normally feel called to fast. Extended fasts, however, I have experienced to be ordained. When I began to give myself more to fasting and began doing longer fasts (3+ days) I found that there was often God-ordained reasons to fast that long. For example, for a period of about three years I did several 10, 14 and 21 day fasts, during which I would have the same friend call me within the first three days every time and tell me how long I was fasting for and what the three things I was praying for were (I always set three things I’m praying for when I fast to give me direction and focus). The prophetic confirmation of those fasts meant to me that when I “chose” to go on extended fasts, I was really responding to God’s grace to fast for some ordained reason. Again, I don’t believe this to be a rule from scripture, only my personal experience, but maybe it will resound with some reading this.
Fasting is good for believers and all Christians who physically can, should. We Western Christians will begin to encounter the Lord in fresh and life-giving ways when we enter into the grace of a life of prayer and fasting.