Fasting: The Cure

 

 One of my favorite authors, who wrote the masterpiece “Celebration of Discipline” destined to become a classic, is Richard Foster. He writes, 

“Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”

This notion of instant satisfaction does not need much explaining. It is the reason why some people cannot step away from their technology, why some people are obese, why some people have to be noticed, why some people eat out all of the time, why some people can’t stay at a job for any length of time, and why some people, well, you fill in the blank. We have drifted so far from the truth that we forget that one of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control. What is the cure?

One cure to this illness that effects modern man in epidemic proportions, including the Christian, is fasting. That’s right,  I said it. One of the “F” words we do our best not to mention. It is inappropriate. Our lives are too busy. People’s souls, including our own, are just not that important anymore. We are too efficient. To production-minded. Go without food? Go without something else you love and that consumes so much of your time and energy and focus? I had a friend, a really close friend, fast going to the gym for three days this week. Every time he went this week, the Lord would tell him before he got out of his car to pray instead. So he chose, each time, to not work out so he could us that signfiicant amount of time to commune with the Jesus. He denied himself and used this time to stand in the gap and pray for me. That is a true friend. 

In fasting, your flesh starts to roar. You quickly learn what gives you joy each day, what you look forward to the most, what controls you, and what might have too strong a hold on you. But in the midst of it, what else happens? You learn that you can say no to your flesh. That the death of your flesh might be a good thing. In fasting, our faith rises that if God can give us grace to say no to whatever we are abstaining from, then He can give us strength to say no to EVERYTHING else in our lives He is wanting us to deny. And better yet, the act/art of fasting also increases our faith that God can also give us strength to say yes to whatever it is that we have not been able to say yes to up to that point. 

The bottom line is this: Quit whining about your inability to say yes to what you need to say yes to and no to what you need to say no to. Do you lack self-control? Then do the unthinkable: fast and pray. Obey Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, through fasting, will come along side you, breathe deep into your spirit, and cultivate the wonderful fruit of self-control. As Brother Dan always points out, Galatians 5:22-23 does not mention these nine fuits being the result of self-determination, self-effort, or self-mastery. The Holy Spirit produces all nine of these fruits. Character for the Christian is essentially the Spirit’s job. What remains for you? To allow Him to work. To give Him a fulll yes. To play your part by putting yourself in the right position. Fasting is one of the premier ways we can do so.

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The Gift of Tongues

 

 Let me say right up front that I am not going to delve into all of the theological debates concerning this spiritual gift. I am admitting to you up front that I am taking the following for granted:

1. That spiritual gifts are still alive today (I am not a cessationalist).

2. That the Gift of Tongues is a just that, a gift, and should be embraced by the church.

There as always been a passage that I have not understood. However, today, I believe that the Holy Spirit gave me a bit of revelation. Below is the passage:

1 Corinthians 14:26-28 NIV    “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. [27] If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. [28] If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.”

First off, as with all gifts, Paul writes that every manifestation of ANY gift, at ANY time, ought only to occur with the motive of building up the church. 1 Corinthians 12:7 reads, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” We are never to use our gifts to promote/serve ourselves. On a side note, does this not strongly suggest that an individual cannot fulfill his/her God-given purpose without being a part of a church? For how else would you use your spiritual gifts for the common good

Now, in verse 28, a person with the gift of tongues is instructed to keep quiet in the church and to speak to himself and to God if there is no interpreter. I always struggled with this because of the following thought: How does a person with this gift know before he/she gives the utterance whether or not there will be an interpretation? But today, I saw this passage differently. God’s desire is that we in the body of Christ are not only aware of our own gifitings, but also the giftings of those around us. The picture I had today was that if a person with the gift of tongues senses the move of the Holy Spirit in them to give an utterance, he or she should be able to look around and know whether or not a person is there who has the gift of the interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:10). If a person is not present who possesses this gift, then the utterance should be kept between that person and God.

This implies that this gift is under the control of the believer. An out-of-control charismatic who cannot submit to spiritual authority with this gift is in sin. Rebellion. 

Lastly, this idea suggests that it is crucial, absolutely crucial, that not only you know what spiritual gifts you have been given, but that you are so connected relationally to the people in your spiritual community that you also know several other people’s giftings. This should also challenge pastors. If I am correct in interpreting this passage, this implies that spiritual leaders need to strive to know their people’s giftings. 

What a challenge to the church in America who, comprised of individuals who tend to be radically individualistic, tend not to open up even to the people in their own church. We need people. As Pastor Allen Hickman always says, “If God has brought you to this church, that means you have something we need and we have something you need.” So I ask, will you step up and be part of the church (a community) or will you merely attend (“attend” carries with it the idea of the church being a mere building)? 

“Marked” (An anti-Sartrean View)

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“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2a NIV) 

The word “marked” really stood out to me the other day when I read this verse. I do not do this with every verse, but I decided to look up the word in the original Greek. The transliteration of the word is prokeimai. This word in the Greek means, “to lie before the view, i.e. (fig.) to be present (to the mind), to stand forth (as an example or reward):–be first, set before (forth).” For the longest time, one of my favorite phrases to pray in the Scripture is the first part of Psalms 16:8. It reads, “I have set the Lord always before me.” He goes before me. He paves the way. He open and shuts doors. He is the God who goes first. He is the God that, no matter how lost or forgotten or ill-placed you may feel, no matter how few connections you may think you have, with one word or twitch of his nose (remember the real old show, Bewitched), all can change. 

Here is what really touched my heart regarding this word, marked. I believe it is pretty clear that I am not the one marking my path. Nor am I the one expected to mark out my path. If there is no God, one must create one’s own path. The same principle applies to ethics. If there is no God, there is no way to philosophically justify any reference to objective, universal values. All is subjective, whether that be ethical subjectivism, emotivism, or or cultural relativism (official names of theories). If there is not a God, a person is on their own, with all of the angst and pressure that comes with such a predicament, to create something out of life. The weight is on your shoulders. But if there is a God, which Christians clearly believe, then one does not create one’s own path (or moral code for that matter), but rather, one discovers it. In other words, one, the One, has gone before us and marked out a path. It already exists. What else would Paul be referring to in Ephesians 2:10 when he wrote concerning the future, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” In advance? He has gone in front of you. He is not looking at you saying, “Pick any path, and I will bless you.” Rather, he is looking at you saying, “I have already laid (word is in the Greek definition) before you a specific path that you are created to walk. I am a specific God that has created you for specific purposes.” To borrow from the Greek mentioned earlier, our job is to allow this path to become present, to stand forth. God has marked out for you a path that only your feet will fit. Don’t fool yourself. Do not get too relaxed with notions of destiny and purpose. Just because we toss these words out like candy at a parade does not mean we know what we are talking about. Stop. Pause. Reflect. Dig a little deeper. Discover. You are not called to be your own god. Your path is something to be found, to be discovered, not made. It is tucked away in God’s heart. God has done this on purpose. You cannot find your path without seeking Him. Granted, God will call upon your creativity as you walk his path, but the path is his choosing. Solomon wrote, “The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:1). 

Jean-Paul Sartre, the face of existentialism, was an atheist. In a Godless universe, all is absurd. There are no meta-narratives, no story true for all people in all places at all times (according to his view). His famous statement is, “Existence precedes essence.”  He was saying that in the absence of God, there is no meaning waiting for us. One exists and only later decides, with much angst, who he or she will be and what path one will take. This is the person’s essence. But for Christians, we are called to believe the opposite: “Essence precedes Existence.”  God has already “marked” out a path for us. Essence is already given. Did God not tell Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). So pray, fast, dig, wait, and enjoy the discovery process. Find your pre-furnished essence and live it up! And remember, quite often it will come to you, via revelation, in pieces. Enjoy the ride.