Saturday, February 6, 2010
Any helpful comments, experiences, observations, resources or questions, please!
None of us are experts, let's learn together.
If you want to post a comment, I've changed it so that you don't have to follow, or register an email account.
When prompted, just select 'Anonymous' at the end of the list, but write your name at the end of your contribution, so that we know who's said what.
If you want a challenge, work through the list of Bible passages below and see if they all fit into one or more of these categories!
a)To develop our closeness to God/sense of His presence.
b)To hear God.
c)To make prayer more effective because we hear God with more certainty, which develops faith.
d)Mourning, to understand and humbly submit to God's will in the confusion of disaster or bereavement.
e)Trying to understand difficult circumstances, even with a sense of complaint – God can handle this, as long as you are genuinely humbly listening for His word or comfort.
g)Commissioning people in a God ordained role.
h)Confession, or to identify sin, even as a group/Church when not everyone is involved.
Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept. They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.
2.1 Samuel 7:6
So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the LORD and fasted on that day and said there, "We have sinned against the LORD." And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.
So, this is a call to:
Experiment, try things, compare notes
Learn, Teach, Report, Share current and previous experiences (e.g. Blog) to help and inspire each other, that's OK, but not to boast.
Remember, We're ALL novices
Could it make a difference to Church life?
Keep a record of what you do to help you to learn: Start small, note and record somehow as you learn, how it helps, what was difficult, what was tempting or distracting, and what you could do next time to make your fast more effective and fruitful.
The final Blog section will be a Bible Study resource containing 56 Biblical examples of fasting.
Fasting is worth studying and experimenting with, in the knowledge that none of us are experts, and we can support and teach each other if we record and share our learning.
We don't do this to make ourselves look spiritual, but to help each other learn how to use fasting as a tool to help us Hunger after God, and grow closer to Him.
Do YOU hunger after more of God?
This section is not the Biblical purpose of fasting, because that is to devote yourself to God, by removing distractions.
This is best defined in one sentence in Zechariah 7:5, when God questions and reveals the people's misuse of fasting:
“Say to all the people of the land and the priests, 'When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me (unto me) that you fasted?'”
The true direction of fasting is towards God, not secondary (even good) goals.
But there are related secondary purposes or outcomes, and it's a fine line, you can fast 'for' some of these, but enhanced undistracted relationship to God is still the main goal, or you can end up trying to force your agenda on God, rather than drawing close to Him to hear His agenda.
So, here are some pointers to the Biblical contexts that you could use, or WE could use at Blaze, or in any other Church context:
To develop our closeness to God/sense of His presence:
2 Chronicles 20
In short, No!
So that's that, you don't have to do it!
...... in Jesus' thinking, fasting is expected, and taken as completely normal. Look at the Sermon on the Mount.
1 Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 So, when you give … your Father who sees in secret will reward you......
The Lord’s Prayer
5 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites... when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you......
...9 Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven (The Lord's Prayer) ......
...... 16 And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast, anoint your head with (hair gel, oil, or any other hair or scalp products to make you look grrrrrrreat!!!)
and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Here are 3 Lessons from Jesus' teaching in this passage:
Consider these from the earlier list of types of fast:
TV for a day/a week
In some ways, fasting in these areas are more pertinent than fasting from food these days. Fasting from food still reveals a level of dependence, greed, and distraction that we need to tame in our hunger for God ... but consider the role and impact of food, meals and eating in Biblical times, compared to today in the 21st Century West.
History and Now:
Think for a moment about life in 1st Century Palestine:
Family and social life gathered round the meal; they had less convenient food buying, storage and preparation; and then they ate with prolonged conversations and time spent in company.
These social times with family, friends, neighbours, and community were their Facebook. A chance to catch up on who's doing what, who thinks what, what's happened to who, who's saying what about who, and where the buzz is in life right this minute.
You can fast from:
All food for a day
TV for a day/a week – that's a MASSIVE one for 21st Century Westerners
Internet – ditto
Emails – ditto ditto!
...... or indeed, anything neutral or good that you might like or love too much, which could become too high a priority for you, and distract you from the main calling in all our lives – to know, love and glorify God.
Biblically, in terms of Fasting from food, there are 3 types of Fast:
'Partial' fast: Specific selected types of food (Daniel did this)
'Normal' fast: Drink, but no food – the most common Biblical fast.
'Absolute' fast: No food or drink – this is VERY RARE, God ordained, and often Biblically involves supernatural sustenance.
The dilemma can be that the discipline of giving something up can reveal so much to you about your level of dependence on it, that at first it becomes a massive distraction.
When you want to study/pray on your own, what's the first thing you do?
Put the kettle on!
So if you cut that out, it can at first reveal the strength of the temptation that you don't normally notice because you don't normally bother resisting it: The 'NEED?' for caffeine.
That can play on your mind ... especially in something as basic, normal and not wrong as hunger pangs!
That means that to fast effectively, you need to go through a learning process that involves fasting badly and feeling useless, and feeling like giving up.
This is normal,
and we should fight through it and learn.
I would say that most of us don't. My job is to challenge us, me included, to try this again, or for the first time.
So, all this means that Fasting is normally defined as giving up food, but it can also involve giving up other things that distract us, or things that we place wrongly above God's presence in our order of priorities.
It's not wrong to pray for what seems right when we're not completely sure what God is saying,
He's given us principles to apply as we pray
(e.g. The Lord's Prayer – Pray that you won't be tempted, and that you will have your needs met, and that you will be forgiving)
and examples to follow
but it's better to pray on the basis of hearing His voice,
and being certain of His will in faith.
This is actually a major issue in prayer, as seen in these repeated messages from Jesus.
Note how simple Jesus wants to makes prayer sound, and ask 'What's the common factor here? Is it just an open invite to ask for whatever you wish?'
So, fasting is a spiritual discipline because if we can cut out our wrong priorities and distractions, even around necessities like food (but not just food)
then we are more likely to be able to be undistracted in hearing His prompting and guidance, and in sensing His presence and hearing His voice,
and so we will pray in greater faith, in response accurately to His voice or promises,
rather than not knowing how/what to pray, and praying for things that seem good, but aren't based on His voice.
Fasting is a God ordained method of removing or distancing ourselves from normal distractions, temptations or interruptions, to focus in on Him, to reduce the likelihood of anything preventing us from interacting with Him.
The Gospel of Genesis!
Think of Genesis 1-2 as the original blueprint design for mankind and his relationship with God. They would walk, talk, listen to each other.
In this context, don't read Genesis primarily as a Science text book! Instead, simply ask what message is God giving us about our friendship with Him.
The message is that God created man(kind) as His delegated ruler over creation, and then enjoyed a close relationship with him.
His custom was to walk with man in the perfect Garden of Eden. There was nothing between God and man.
Then mankind/humanity was tempted to declare independence, to become like God, to stop being delegated ruler, and try to take the top spot.
At once, Sin changed the relationship. It damaged, separated, and in some way broke the connection between God and us, and His Creation.
A God ordained method of removing or distancing ourselves from normal distractions, temptations or interruptions, to focus in on Him, to reduce the likelihood of anything preventing us from interacting with Him,
In other words, it's a Spiritual Discipline, not primarily about physical things. It is more about removing things that prevent, tempt or interrupt us, than doing anything that turns God into a more effective or powerful God.
We may experience greater power in our prayer life as a result, but that's not because God is impressed with us or contractually obliged to give in to our demands.
It's because we are more likely to be able to be undistracted in hearing His prompting and guidance, and in sensing His presence and hearing His voice, and so we will pray in greater faith, in response accurately to His voice, prompting or promises.
Otherwise, we can often pray without knowing how/what to pray, and we pray for things that seem good, but aren't based on His voice.
NOT Impressing God with your spirituality or holiness.
NOT A means of earning God's favour, admiration, or answers to prayer. Our need for God's grace tells us that earning/deserving ANYTHING from God is IMPOSSIBLE.
NOT Impressing or trying to impress each other with your spirituality or holiness.
NOT Twisting God's arm, persuading a reluctant God, cajoling, browbeating, bribing, pushing, cornering, coercing or forcing God.
and IN PARTICULAR, it's NOT A super prayer hyper power technique, guaranteed to generate improved results (or your money back) which can be dangerously close to the most common current idea of fasting. Increased faith, and a greater sense of God's power, can result from fasting, and we'll look at why this is the case in Section E.
This is a full outline of the Fasting talk, with some extra teaching areas and practical advice.
It will be on this Blog in 12 sections, the last of which is just a full list of references to fasting in the Bible, for you to dig into and come to your own conclusions, followed by an open section for any feedback, questions or advice.
Section C puts the subject in the context of our restored relationship with God, The Gospel, and to some extent applies to all the Spiritual Disciplines. If you aren't a Christian, or if you're not sure, start with this section.
The goal of all of this material is to entice us all to experiment with a neglected invitation from God: 'Lay aside distractions, and come after me.'
Hunger after God.
Here are the sections, so you can look at specific issues rather than trawl through the whole thing:
A: What fasting is NOT.
B: What fasting is.
C: The context of Fasting – Struggle, Distractions and Yearning.
D: Fasting redefined.
E: Fasting and Prayer.
F: Fasting attacks distractions, but first it makes them worse.
G: Types of Fast.
H: Making Fasting relevant now, compared to Biblical times.
I: Is Fasting commanded?
J: Biblical outcomes of fasting.
L: 56 Biblical examples.
M: Your turn! Any helpful comments, experiences, resources or questions, please! None of us are experts, let's learn together.