September 23, 2014

Do You Fast?


Do you fast?  I suppose if this question were very technical in nature than the answer would be a resounding yes.  Everyone fasts when they sleep.  That's why we have  Breakfast.

But my question is not for the cycle of rest our bodies undergo every night.  The type of fasting I am bringing to the "table" in this post is Biblical fasting.

And let me be the first to say that fasting was never a top priority in my spiritual life.  I had read about it in scripture and for some reason always believed it was for those super spiritual people like the prophet Elijah or beautiful, Godly queens like Esther, or the disciples, or even the Son of God.  But fasting for the every day, ordinary Christian gal?  Really?.... why?

That was the question I often asked whenever this topic came up anywhere.  Why on Earth would a person willingly put themselves through that if it wasn't to lose weight, get over the stomach flu, or prepare for surgery?  It just didn't seem like something a Christian living today had to do.

I used to believe that it wasn't as important as paying your taxes, loving your enemies, and tithing.  But then I was convicted when I read Matthew 6:16.  Jesus begins this verse by saying,

" And when you fast..."

Not IF you fast.

Jesus was talking to his followers and talking in the future tense.  He was giving instruction on what was proper behavior during fasting and expected that fasting would be a natural part of the Christian life.

Hm.  It wasn't a part of mine.  Once I realized this I knew I had to make a decision.  Would I obey in this or... not.  I certainly had a list of reasons why it would be better to just ignore this verse.  I mean, I'm a tiny, petite young woman to begin with.  I struggle to gain weight and keep it on.  So to skip meals for several days at a time just didn't seem wise.

So I took this excuse to the Lord in prayer and He led me to examples of different fasting.  Some were as long as forty days!  Others were as short as one skipped meal.  The one commonality of each type of fasting was that the faster (fastee?) would spend their time praying and reading the Bible instead of eating.

So, I understood that fasting meant serious one-on-one time with the Lord but why does He expect us to do it in the first place if we are already reading and praying each day?

When I went back to the Bible for this answer I learned that fasting always precipitated breakthroughs in the lives of those who fasted and sometimes in those who were the subject of those prayers.  And then the lightbulb turned on in my head.  There have been a few areas in my life were I was still waiting for answers. There were some areas in my life where I was still struggling. Fasting helped me and I'm so encouraged that I felt it a good idea to encourage each of you to do it too.

As I stated earlier I really can't handle a long fast.  And before you try fasting do pray about it first and do your own research concerning how the body is affected by skipped meals.  Please use common sense and know that fasting may not be possible for everyone such as: diabetics, pregnant or nursing women, the very sick, the very old, the malnourished, and people on medications.  A person who fasts should be healthy at the time of fasting.

When I began fasting I decided to start by skipping one meal and spend all that time with the Lord.  After a few tries I felt good about skipping two consecutive meals.  I paid attention to how I felt emotionally, spiritually, and physically by writing in a journal my experiences.

Work days keep coming don't they?  So either plan to fast on a weekend or when you won't have a heavy load of responsibilities at your job. I started keeping track of how much time, in terms of days, my body would need to be back to full strength and scheduled accordingly.

I also began planning what would be acceptable to ingest.  Under no circumstances should anyone be fasting for lengthy periods of time without drinking anything!  There are exceptions in the Bible but those were special cases and miracles in their own right.  Forty-day fasts must be planned and carefully monitored.  The Holy Spirit will never ask someone to do anything that would be detrimental to their health.  The idea of fasting is to achieve a closer relationship with the Lord in this world, not just the next.

After a time of practicing fasting for two meals I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to fast for a full 24 hours.  Because of my physical needs I did continue to drink water and fruit juice in the form of orange juice and apple juice.  I also prepared several days in advance by eating smaller meals as I drew closer to my fast in order to help my stomach transition.  I also planned my meals after the fast. 

I was careful not to do anything physically strenuous the day before, during, and after my fast.  I wrote down a list of things I wished to bring before the Lord and I asked for His direction in planning what to focus on in Bible reading.

I made certain to get a good night's rest before and after my fast and I removed all distractions as much as possible.  And I decided to put on a summer dress. Something I felt pretty and presentable in since Jesus is my best friend and I like looking good for my friends.  It really did help me get focused on why I was fasting in the first place.

Things I noticed:    

As long as I kept to a scheduled time of drinking the hunger pains were minimal.  
I did experience feeling cold later in the day and had a warm tea and put on a blanket.  
It soon passed.  

I was careful not to stand up too quickly to avoid dizziness.

I experienced several breakthroughs concerning my life and God spoke to me profoundly through His Word.  I feared I would run out things to pray about but I never did.

I did experience a few bouts of fatigue.  By the end of the 24 hours I was quite tired.  
In fact I did take a short 20 minute nap during the day.

After the fast I felt renewed, invigorated, and very happy and content as I haven't felt in a long time.  And those feelings have lasted to this day.  I have no doubt it is because of the time I spent seeking the Lord and I want more.

Something to keep in mind is that not every prayer will be answered as we wish.  God cannot be manipulated.  He is not a genie in a bottle.  

You will probably face opposition but if the Holy Spirit is leading you then obey Him anyway.  It is soooo worth it!

Never fast in order to brag about it.  Fasting is to humble us.  No one is "more spiritual" by fasting since we are all called to do so.   Those are common reasons why other religions fast (monks, nuns, etc.).  Fasting can never replace salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

I will continue to incorporate fasting into my life and I hope that you will too.  The benefits are wonderful and if you are struggling with strongholds in your life, or if you are wrestling with defeat or discouragement, then let me urge you to fast.  

No way around it.  Fasting is hard work.  So start small... one meal and go wherever God leads you from there.  It is possible to fast.  You can do it!  God will help you as He did I and so many others.

And when fast you will be joining the ranks of Christians leaders who rocked the world.  People like:  Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Finney, etc.

Blessings to you as you seek to know the Lord more deeply.


September 04, 2014

An Unexpected Visit

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There was an unexpected knock on the door one evening. When the front door was open an old friend was standing on the other side.  Once we were all settled in the living room after warm greetings the nature of the visit came to light.

The friend was in need of encouragement.  You see this friend of mine has been battling depression and confessed that recently it has worsened to thoughts of suicide.  This individual is a Christian and loves the Lord but the world and life circumstances have been cruel.  There has been much suffering and grief in this person's life.

It was shared that in recent months the Lord lead my friend to seek professional Christian counseling and to begin mild treatment with medication.  And there have been struggles to remain on the medication too.  The devil has been busy trying to shame my friend by feeding the lie that a person should only need to read the Bible and pray to get over depression.  But this not always where God wants us to stop.

Yes, we should always turn first to the Lord in prayer and the Bible seeking His wisdom.  But there are certain conditions of the physical body that need physical solutions.  Certain things, if not discovered and stopped early, can become dangerous.  Heart attacks, a burst appendix, a severed limb, high blood pressure etc. can all be life threatening. 

In certain cases it is well and good to use the tools, knowledge, and experience of modern science and medicine to aid the body when its in deep distress.  Similarly severe chemical imbalances can be very dangerous to the mind and may require medical intervention.  

I share this because I have known several people who have battled depression and have found help through medication.  When our bodies are suffering our spirit and soul suffers too. This can directly weaken a person's will to live.  And the Bible is full of examples where God addressed the physical needs, sometimes even before the deeper spiritual needs, of people in great suffering.

Besides applauding my friend for taking the initiative to seek help I pointed to examples in the Bible where God comforted mighty Christians who suffered from depression.  The first example God brought to my mind was Elijah.  I have written a post about him and his incredible struggle on my blog a while back.  It is possible to be a strong Christian and have a powerful testimony yet still suffer depression.  

I also pointed to a living day example of someone who suffered tremendous depression and even attempted suicide: Dr. Ravi Zacharias of RZIM.  He is today considered one of the greatest apologists in the world.  Truly his life is phenomenal and he carries with him, besides his incredible intellect, a tender heart.

It is no mistake, from what I have read in scripture and from the testimony of people I have met, many times those who suffer from depression possess a sensitive spirit.  Meaning that these individuals have the ability to feel very deeply the suffering of others. This is a double-edged sword because it can be used very powerfully in God's hands or it can destroy when handed over to the devil.

I reminded my friend of the promise God gives us in Psalm 34:18 which says, " The Lord is  close to the brokenhearted and rescues those who are crushed in spirit."  A tender and sensitive spirit can notice the needs of others more keenly and can be more specific in providing comfort and aid.  This upsets the devil greatly and can make them targets.  These individuals can also be more vulnerable to spiritual warfare and so must be certain to put on the armor of God.  

Another important thing we discussed was how important it is to share with trusted friends and family the anxieties of the heart.  I again applauded my friend for coming, even if unannounced, and seeking comfort and support.  That was the right thing to do.  We prayed and embraced and finally said our goodbyes.

It dawned on me the next day that what happened was exactly how everyone in church should be towards each other.  We should be hospitable and non-judgmental of others.  We should always be ready to encourage and point fellow believers to God.  It is very possible that by being receptive, attentive, and loving that evening the Lord may have used me to save my friend's life.  There were tears and sighs when I spoke of God's love that evening and so I knew the Lord was working a deep healing.

There are times when Jesus will knock on our doors.  Sometimes it is literally, sometimes it is figuratively but always it is with purpose.  May we always be ready and willing to open the door even if it is inconvenient.  The blessings are abundant and life changing.

" When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you? The king will answer and say to them, 
' Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine,
even the least of them, you did it to me.'"
~ Matthew 25: 39, 40