Engaging in Fasting

ill_do_itContinued from here.

If you have never engaged in any form of fasting, I strongly encourage you to try it. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, options for fasting are not limited to refraining from eating. What matters is that you are telling your body/sinful nature that it is no longer in charge by denying it something it wants and replacing that with a deeper connection with God. You will find that after a period of denying your sinful nature, your body will become less resistant to submitting to your spirit as you submit your spirit to God.

We live in a self-indulgent society, but we cannot allow the culture around us to drive our actions. Fasting is biblical and should be practiced, at least from time to time, by those who claim to be disciples of Christ. Jesus said that to be a disciple of Christ, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. So, what are you denying yourself? If your answer is nothing, you need to take an honest assessment of your life to determine whether you are truly a disciple of Jesus. Denying oneself is a requirement of discipleship.

While I will probably never look forward to seasons of fasting, I have grown to appreciate the value of this spiritual discipline and feel blessed to have this tool in my toolbox to help me get back on track when I find that I have loss spiritual ground. I accomplished (really God accomplished) more in one day of fasting than in the prior weeks of willpower and good intentions. God honors our actions of fasting and will work with us to help us get in alignment with Him.

Some forms of fasting, such as from words, are easier to do in solitude, so consider withdrawing from your life for a day as you engage in fasting. Adding the discipline of solitude to fasting can help supercharge the transition from your body/sinful nature being in charge to your spirit being in charge as you align with God. Give it a try! You’ll be amazed by the results!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hands on her hips saying, “I’ll do it!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Fasting that Does Not Involve Food

shhContinued from here.

I was surprised to learn from Dallas Willard that fasting is not limited to food. An example he gave is fasting from words. Let’s say you struggle with “potty mouth” and that no matter how much willpower you use, you simply cannot help cussing people out when you become angry. Or let’s say you struggle with gossip. You have the best of intentions of controlling your tongue, but you simply cannot help yourself when the opportunity arises to pass along information that you know should be kept private. Willard’s advice is to fast from words!

The same principle of denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus applies to this form of fasting. Set aside a full day to spend in solitude, and do not permit yourself to speak. For one full day, tell your tongue that it is not in charge: tongue submits to spirit, and spirit submits to God. A day of fasting from words invites God to realign your tongue so that it learns it is the tail, not the head. After engaging in this spiritual discipline, you will find it easier to control your tongue because your spirit is directing the tongue, not the other way around.

Fasting can apply to other areas of your life as well, such as fasting from secular television programming or music. The idea is to temporarily deny yourself something that indulges your body/sinful nature so you can, instead, honor God. You can apply different forms of fasting to any area of your life in which you wrestle with self-control. Perhaps this is what Paul was talking about regarding married couples depriving one another of their bodies for a time by mutual consent. Note that this denying of oneself is not done in a vacuum – the behavior is replaced by prayer.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace saying, “Shhhhh.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

My Personal Experience with Fasting

garbage_canContinued from here.

God has led me to fast a handful of times over the years, always when I was struggling with the misalignment of my body/flesh/sinful nature trying to be in charge. Most recently, this became an issue for me after being sick for 26 days in December 2017, when my cold transitioned over to an antibacterial-resistant sinus infection that took two rounds of antibiotics and a round of Prednisone to clear up. I engaged in as many spiritual disciplines as I could, but between the physical illness and the holidays, I attended church less, I served less, and I engaged less in meaningful praise and worship time.

I’m not beating myself up over any of this – it was simply my reality. When I am physically ill, some of the spiritual disciplines will be much more difficult for me to engage in, and some simply have to be put on hold, such as not attending church services when I am contagious. Regardless of how or why I got there, the end result was that I was much more “full of myself” after recovering from the illness. I found it much more difficult to be humble, and this was affecting my interpersonal relationships. I have found over the years that the more humble I am, the easier it is to be in personal relationships with prideful people. Conversely, when I am filled with pride myself, those same relationships can feel intolerable because both parties are filled with pride, leaving little room for God. I knew what the problem was, but lots of prayer and the best of intentions was not beating back my sinful nature. I was disappointed in myself for the lost ground, and feeling sorry for myself only fed my sinful nature. Thus, God called me to fast and accomplished in one day what I had been unable to do after weeks of prayer and good intentions.

For me, fasting is going on a liquid diet. I’ll buy a six-pack of Ensure, and I’ll drink an Ensure shake for each meal. Whenever my stomach growls, I’ll pray to God and remind myself that body submits to spirit, and spirit submits to God. By the next morning, I felt like I had awakened from a deep sleep. It was simply easier for me to stay focused on God instead of myself after a day of fasting.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace peeking out of a garbage can. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Value of Fasting

Continued from here.

When I would read about fasting in the Bible, I saw it as people trying to communicate to God that they really, really, really wanted Him to intervene. They would pray, fast, and put on sackcloth and ashes. To me, this seemed like the child who says she will hold her breath until her face turns blue until the parent gives in. That’s not at all what fasting is about!

Dallas Willard is the one who taught me the value of fasting, such as in his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Fasting is a tool we can use to get our spirit, soul, and body correctly aligned. God designed us so that the body obeys the soul/spirit, which obeys God. That’s not how humans naturally live since the Fall, though. Instead, we let our bodies drive the train. Our bodies desire to consume something, and we allow our bodies to drive our emotions. We believe our emotions over God and indulge our bodies, which leads to sin or separation from God.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that reverses this process and teaches the body that it is not in charge. When we fast, we tell our bodies that they are the tail, not the head. In other words, we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. The body learns that it is not in control – that it must submit to the soul/spirit, which is submitting to God. As we choose to deny our bodies and follow Christ, our emotions change allegiance, reflecting our soul/spirit’s alignment with God rather than our body’s whims.

Paul struggled mightily with the battle between his body/flesh and his spirit. His sinful nature would lead him to do things that his spirit did not want to do. That’s the same battle that rages inside of all of us, and it’s a battle over which part of ourselves is in charge: our bodies or our spirits? Fasting is a spiritual discipline that helps teach the body that it is no longer in charge.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

feed_my_face_notFasting is a spiritual discipline that I don’t often hear talked about from the pulpit, which is surprising considering how frequently fasting is mentioned in the Bible. A quick search of the term “fasting” on Biblegateway.com yielded 25 results. Fasting was done both collectively and individually. Jesus himself fasted. Considering the importance of fasting in the Bible, I’m surprised I don’t hear many lessons on it, and when I do, it’s generally in a book about spiritual disciplines where fasting is included in a list of other spiritual disciplines. Why is that?

I speculate that our self-indulgent culture has a lot to do with it. The last thing we want to hear about is depriving ourselves of anything, including food, and yet to be Jesus’ disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. What is fasting if not “denying ourselves?” Considering God’s plan for Christians is to become disciples of Christ and that denying oneself is an integral part of that process, why do we ignore what the Bible has to say about fasting?

I confess that fasting has never been one of my favorite spiritual disciplines, and it’s one I refused to engage in for most of my life. I have previously shared that I was enslaved to a binge eating disorder for most of my life, which is similar to bulimia but without the purging. Fasting was the absolute last thing I wanted to do because bingeing on food was how I managed my emotional pain. As I binged, I would temporarily “stuff down” the emotional pain. No way was I going to fast, which would provide me with no way to “stuff down” all I was feeling. I did not realize that fasting actually could have helped me heal from my eating disorder. I chose the idol of food over the Living God.

I have since learned how powerful of a tool fasting can be in helping us develop as disciples of Christ. I’ll share the value of fasting and my own personal experience with it.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace saying, “Feed my face” with a symbol across it not to do it. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Becoming a Humble Person

true_storyContinued from here.

I ended my blog entry yesterday by saying…

Here’s the best part – even though you will do these things to develop humility, the point is not about what you do so much as who you become.”

Let me give you an example to serve as a parallel that is easier to explain than humility. I used to be a very passive person. I was a people-pleaser and would twist myself into a pretzel to avoid offending anyone. I had very few boundaries and no concept of what boundaries even were in many areas of my life. I would let people take advantage of me, and I had a very difficult time saying no.

My “homework” during my therapy years was learning how to set and enforce boundaries. This required me to do what assertive people do, even though I was not assertive. Let’s say that someone asked me to volunteer to do a task that I didn’t want to do. Before therapy, because I didn’t want to upset anyone and wanted everyone to like me, I would agree to do the task but stew and complain about it. Through therapy, I practiced doing what assertive people do – I would force myself to say no, but I would experience an enormous amount of anxiety leading up to the no, and then I would replay the conversation in my head and worry about whether the person still liked me.

This is the state that the Pharisees stayed in, which was why Jesus was so hard on them. They did righteous acts on the outside, but they were not righteous on the inside. They made a point of doing righteous acts, but they never transformed into being righteous people.

In 2014, I had the epiphany that I had become an assertive person. I was no longer a passive person doing assertive things. God had transformed me through my obedience to Him and practicing doing what He called me to do, and I had actually become an assertive person. The assertiveness that people see on the outside flows naturally out of the assertiveness that has developed on the inside as God has transformed me from a people pleaser into a God pleaser.

Humility develops in the same way. As you choose to do what humble people do (defer your preferences to God and others), God will transform you into a humble person on the inside. You won’t be doing humble acts to impress other people – humble acts will naturally flow out of the humble person you are becoming because you love God and have made Him the center of your life instead of yourself.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting on a chair in front of a fireplace holding a book and saying, “True story.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

How to Develop Humility

yes_or_noContinued from here.

Humility is a choice that (sadly) few people choose to make. We live in a “me” culture that focuses on our comfort, feeds our pride, and lures us with its temptations. Choosing humility is counter-cultural, but it’s the key to the Promised Land living that God wants for us – a life filled with joy, peace, contentment, and purpose. Those are promises for Jesus’ disciples, and you cannot be his disciple without humility.

The obvious question (assuming your goal is humility) is how to grow it. The critical first step is choosing discipleship. You need to decide once and for all who you are going to live your life for – yourself or God?

The Bible exhorts us not to be deceived because Christians can be deceived by the father of lies. Either you are living for God or you are living for yourself. There is no third option. Either every word out of your mouth and every action that you take is being filtered through what God has to say about that word or deed, or it is not. Don’t let yourself off the hook for this, which is my tendency when confronted with something I don’t want to face. No more excuses.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” ~ Deut. 30:19-20

Your options are life (living your life for God) or death (living life for yourself). Unless and until you choose life, you aren’t going to experience Promised Land living.

Once you make this decision, you need to do what God tells you to do in the Bible. The seven fundamental practices are a good start.

Here’s the best part – even though you will do these things to develop humility, the point is not about what you do so much as who you become. More on this tomorrow.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up two signs: “Yes or No.” Courtesy Bitmoji. ]