Why Do You Fast?

Some things are more important than religious practices, and we need to focus on what matters most

Why Do You Fast?I plan to fast one day a week. While I’m not as consistent as I would like, I follow through more often than I miss. Fasting is a spiritual act of worship for me. It better connects me with God and sharpens my prayers. I (mostly) anticipate my fasts.

Fasting provides me with spiritual focus – providing I fast for the right reasons. As such, I must fight against fasting for lessor, secondary benefits: saving time in meal preparation and eating, increased productivity throughout the day, and a means to keep my weight in check. Those may be good, but they miss the main point of fasting.

Sometimes I fast with the right perspective, and other times I don’t do so well. It seems Zechariah has my struggle in mind when he cites God asking, “Was it really for me that you fasted?” Yes, we can fast for God or we can fast for ourselves. The first brings glory to God and the second, detracts from God. If we’re going to fast – or engage in any spiritual discipline, for that matter – we need to do so for the right reasons. If we fast, may we do so appropriately.

Yet a few verses later Zechariah seems to offer a better alternative to fasting. Again quoting God, he says to “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.”

When done right fasting honors God. However acting with justice, mercy, and compassion honors God and benefits others. While the first is good, I suspect the second is better.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Zechariah 5-7, and today’s post is on Zechariah 7:5-9.]

Can Technology Hurt Our Relationship with God?

God doesn’t want part of our attention; he deserves 100 percent

Can Technology Hurt Our Relationship with God?As the main speaker talked at a business conference, I looked around our table of eight. Seven people had their smartphones out, pushing buttons with intention and staring at those tiny screens as if they showed the most essential of images.

Why were they doing this? They paid a lot of money to be there, yet they weren’t fully there. A few, no doubt, had checked out, either bored by the speaker’s message, or they presumed their smartphones’ news was more important. The others, I’m quite sure, thought they were multitasking. (Even though many experts say that true multitasking is a myth.) They were attempting to listen to the speaker with their ears and read email with their eyes, while their minds compartmentalized both. I suspect neither activity received the attention it deserved.

Yet, how often do we treat God this way? Does our desire to stay connected with the world impair our ability to connect with the Almighty?

The Bible says to “be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10). This doesn’t mean we need to just keep our bodies at rest; we need to keep our thoughts still as well. We must occasionally stop all we are doing, to still our motions and our minds, so we can be fully present in his presence. Then we can best know him; then we can best hear him.

How often do we ask God for answers and then allow distractions to keep us from listening? Yes, people can distract, busyness can distract, and life can distract, yet I suspect today’s technology might be the biggest distraction of all.

I’m not against technology. I rely on technological tools every day to work. I tap social media and email to connect with friends and followers of Jesus, and I use online resources to study and write about God.

Yet I wonder if sometimes I need to disconnect. Should we occasionally fast from our technologies so we can fully focus on God?

How long could you go without technology? A few minutes? An hour? A day? What might you learn about yourself and God if you did?

Turn off the smartphone and tune into God.

Should We Confess the Sins of Our Nation?

Daniel reads the scriptures, fasts, and prays, confessing the sins of his people

Should We Confess the Sins of Our Nation?When I think of praying, confessing my faults to God is not the first thing that comes to mind. And when I am convicted of the need to admit to an errant act or a missed opportunity, I don’t linger there. I make it quick and then move on to more pleasant communication with my Maker, Savior, and Guide.

Basking in the spiritual reality of the almighty God is where I want to be. Acknowledging my faults to him is not nearly so much fun.

Personal confession is hard enough; corporate confession – admitting the faults of our community – is barely comprehensible to me. Yet that is exactly what Daniel does.

Daniel studies the prophecies in scripture. He sees that his people are receiving punishment for turning away from God. He reads the foretelling that their exile will last seventy years. That time is almost up.

Yet instead of thanking God that the allotted season of deportation is about over, Daniel is driven to contrition and fasting. He confesses the sins of his forefathers and countrymen. It’s as if he takes the sins of the nation upon his shoulders and confesses them to God: “We have sinned …”; “We have been wicked…”; “We have turned away…”; We have not listened…”; “We have not obeyed…”; “We have rebelled…”; and on he goes. Mixed in with his confession for his people is praise and affirmation to God.

In this Daniel, for whom the Bible records no sin, takes on the collective “we” to confess his nation’s faults. He doesn’t need to do this, but he does. Maybe we should do the same for our country.

How do you feel about personal confession? How do you feel about confessing the wrongs of our nation? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Daniel 7-9, and today’s post is on Daniel 9:1-19.]

Is Jesus Our Model For Masculinity?

Should we emulate the man who drove merchants from the temple and denounced hypocrisy?

Is Jesus Our Model For Masculinity?When I blogged about the need for a male role model I wondered if the life of Jesus might stand as an example for men to follow. Is he the perfect blend of godly power and God-intended masculinity?

Indeed the character and actions of Jesus is compelling, more gripping than any other. Here are the lessons we can learn from Jesus:

A Man of Action: Incensed over sacrilegious commerce being conducted in the temple, degrading worship and exploiting people, Jesus makes a whip and drives the merchants away. He scatters their money and overturns their tables; animals flee. He makes a real mess. Jesus takes bold action to confront wrong behavior (Matthew 21:12-13, John 2:15-17).

A Man of Strength: Jesus is physically strong, able to endure the barbaric tortures of crucifixion. Being flogged (Mark 15:15) was enough to kill some people; Jesus survives. He withstands the soldiers as they beat him (Luke 22:63-64) and carries his own cross (John 19:17). In this Jesus stands as our modern view of manly power.

A Man of Faith: Jesus prays (Luke 11:1) and fasts (Matthew 4:1-2). He places priority on his relationship with God.

A Man of Boldness: Not afraid to condemn misguided spiritual practices, Jesus speaks against hypocrisy (Matthew 12:34). His concern is righting spiritual wrongs, and he has no worries over offending religious leaders in error.

A Man of Spiritual Power: With supernatural insight Jesus knows what others are thinking (Luke 5:22), has command over nature (Mark 4:39), heals people (Matthew 4:23), and raises the dead (Luke 8:54-55).

A Man of Love and Compassion: Jesus blesses children (Matthew 19:13-14). He longs to love and protect them (Luke 13:34). He cares about the masses, offering compassion (Matthew 9:36) and loving them (Mark 10:21).

This is an impressive list, one truly worthy of emulation, yet Jesus is not our model for masculinity. Instead Jesus stands as a model for humanity, both men and women. Jesus is the ultimate paragon, our model of excellence and perfection, a peerless example.

Jesus is an example for all to follow, not just the guys.

Which of Jesus’s characteristics do you most identify with? Which ones seem aligned with one gender more than the other? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Confessions About Fasting

Last Sunday’s post about sharing our spiritual struggles was really the introduction for this week’s post, my groaning to reach what I strive for. My confession is that my normal joy of fasting has been mired in a season of misery.

For most of the past ten years, I’ve pursued a 24-hour fast from food once a week. I often talk about this, not to call attention to myself, but to encourage others to pursue it: if I can do it, so can you.

Fasting has not been a burden, but a pleasure that draws me closer to God, heightens my prayers, and focuses my thoughts. Most weeks, I look forward to it, and most of those weeks, I find what I seek. While not every fast goes as anticipated, most do – until last winter.

I fast on Thursdays, so when Thanksgiving rolls around, I skip that week. Last Thanksgiving was no exception, but afterwards I struggled mightily to resume my routine of fasting. More times than not, I fell short.

It took six months of effort, agony, and despair to reverse my fasting failures, but once again, I have mostly resumed my weekly fast. Though my fasts do again draw me to God, sharpen my prayers, and focus my attention, they have not been easy. I must strive to start my fast, strive to maintain it, and strive to end it well.

I don’t know if this is the new normal or if, with persistence, things will one day return to the old normal. What I do know is that for those who struggle with fasting, you are not alone.

Two Kinds of Fasts

A curious phrase pops up in the book of Joel: holy fast.

A fast is going without something, such as food, to draw closer to God. By implication it should be a holy act, so why does the prophet Joel make a point of specifying a holy fast?

I wonder if it might be because the people lost sight of why they were fasting. Perhaps they were going through the motions and forgot the God focus of their fast.

When done for the right reasons, a fast is a physical denial that elevates our spiritual awareness. When done for the wrong reasons, a fast is a physical denial that just makes us feel deprived, forgoing any spiritual benefit. I guess that would make it an unholy fast, secular and meaningless.

If you practice the discipline of fasting, may it be for the right reasons. If you’ve not experienced a fast, I encourage you to consider it.

Either way, may you fast well, may it be a holy fast.

[Joel 1:14 and Joel 2:15]

The 2014 Bible reading plans are now available:

[Discover more about the Bible at A Bible A Day.com: Bible FAQs, Bible Dictionary, Books of the Bible Overview, and Bible Reading Plans.]

 

How to End a Fast Well

In an earlier post, I talked about fasting. I admitted that despite the spiritual benefits — while tangible and profound — fasting is a mystery to me. I also shared that the most difficult part of my fast was ending it well.

From a physical sense, when that initial morsel of food touches my tongue, I am often filled with a nearly insatiable desire to make up for what was lost. If I am not diligent and self-controlled, it is easy for me to continue eating far beyond what is needed to fill my belly.

The real challenge, however, is spiritual. I am normally at a spiritual high during my fast and when it ends, the pendulum sometimes swings in the opposite direction, resulting in a spiritual low. It seems that if the enemy can’t keep me from fasting or deter me from experiencing God during my fast, he will try to discourage me afterwards.

The solution, while simple, has evaded me for years. Just as I prayerfully begin my fast, I need to prayerfully end my fast. By seeking God’s provision to break my fast well, the residual effects can carry into the time that follows it.

Praying is a great way to end a fast — and then I eat!

The Mystery of Fasting

Fasting, after falling out of favor, is being reclaimed as a viable spiritual discipline.

While I admit to regularly fasting, I also admit to being regularly perplexed by its practice.

Fasting is simply going without something (usually food) for a period of time in order to draw closer to God. When I fast, this does happen, but I’m not sure why. In a theoretical sense, when I fast, my craving for food (a physical need) heightens my craving for God (a spiritual need). While I comprehend this, it explains little.

My fasts are from food, usually for 24 hours; I endeavor to do this weekly. Occasionally God has told me to cut my fast short and a few times he has prompted me to extend it (and once or twice, I bailed midway through). When I fast, the times I would normally spend preparing and eating a meal are reallocated to spiritual activities, such as praying, meditating, journaling, or simply listening. At times this is an effort, but usually it is a significant spiritual experience. As such, I generally approach my weekly fast with joyful expectation.

Here are some of the things I have learned about fasting over the years:

  • Fasting is not about earning spiritual Brownie points; it is not about manipulating God or getting his attention.
  • Fasting is best done with little fanfare and not to gain the “respect” of others. I only let people know I am fasting if it will be an encouragement to them (which is why I am blogging about it) or to explain why I am not eating when they are.
  • For me, fasting also has side benefits (I am more productive when I fast and I lose weight), but whenever the side benefits become the focal point, the fast loses its spiritual power.
  • The hardest part of my fast is ending it well; that is, not overeating at its conclusion.

Despite my frequency of fasting and the significant spiritual aspect, it is still largely a mystery to me. Nevertheless, I will persist in it because it more fully connects me to God than when I don’t fast.

Does Ritual Have Any Value?

A byproduct of my spiritual formation is a disdain for ritual. To me, a ritual is a meaningless religious activity that is mechanically performed; it is an empty ceremony and a mindless habit, devoid of substance.

This perspective is due in part to what I read in the Bible, where God repeatedly criticizes his followers for their meaningless rituals. (I don’t think he was attacking their rituals, but their attitude behind that it; after all, much of the Old Testament Law prescribed ritual.)

The other reason for my dislike of ritual is that I was always repelled whenever I was expected to participate in one. It may be that I see rituals as a relic of the past, something that Jesus freed me from — or it may be nothing more than a rebellious spirit. I am even resistant to the traditional mealtime prayer because it is so hard to keep it from becoming a requisite and meaningless habit that must legalistically precede the proper ingestion of food.

However, I also know that, unlike me, many people find spiritual ritual to be an inspiring and meaningful act. Perhaps this is why some churches have a liturgical service and others do not. Different strokes for different folks.

Despite my adamant abhorrence of ritual, it was recently pointed out that I have in fact adopted my own rituals, which I call “spiritual disciplines.”

For example, I usually end and begin each day with prayer; I regularly have a time of daily Bible reading and contemplation, I generally fast one day each week, and so forth. These are my rituals, they are not done mindlessly, and they do hold meaning for me.

They have become a significant part of my spiritual formation and growth. So, when it is done right, there is value in ritual after all.

Book Review: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

By Donald S. Whitney (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

As stated in the book’s title, “Spiritual Disciples for the Christian Life,” this work discusses spiritual disciplines for those who follow Jesus.  Spiritual disciplines are willing and intentional actions that promote spiritual growth, making us more like Jesus.  They should not be thought of actions that earn us anything, get God’s attention, or are an attempt to manipulate God into doing what we want, but rather as training that draws us closer to God and prepares us to better serve him.

Donald Whitney discusses ten such spiritual disciplines in this book: Bible “intake” (that is, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Bible), prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning.  Each is expertly covered in detail and through practical example.

This book is a great primer for anyone who is serious about more fully following Jesus and being his disciple.

[Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, by Donald S. Whitney. Published by NavPress, 1997; ISBN: 978-1576830277; 272 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

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