Friday, January 2, 2009

Stop the World, Fasting Part 1

Stop the World
Fasting, Part 1
My friend Rhonda has a saying in regards to disciplining her children--stop the world. What she means is dealing with a matter on the spot. It is inconvenient at times, but it gives children clarity when an offense or problem is fresh. No comments such as wait until we get home are made. Children are taken aside and the issue is addressed right then.

When it comes to the spiritual discipline of fasting it's much the same. Fasting is about stopping the world and allowing God to work in our inward being on the spot by removing distraction and focusing upon Him. Fasting has become popular in some circles and the increased emphasis is opening doors to teach fasting to believers who have never practiced this spiritual discipline.

Henry Blackably says in the study Experiencing God that believers are to ask God where He is at work and join Him. It is not our position to tell God to join us. This is a subject that quickly arises with fasting. It is important to know what fasting is not:

* It is not demanding a list from God.
* It is not about a formula for dieting.
* It is not about getting to know a God only interested in the external areas of our life.
* It is not about winning the heavenly lottery and receiving financial blessings.

Richard Foster says in Celebration of Discipline, "We must always remember that the path does not produce the change; it only places us where the change can occur. This is the path of disciplined grace."

That's what fasting is all about--stopping the world and putting ourselves before God so He can work in our lives as we pray and worship Him.

Foster goes on to quote Leo Tolstoy, "Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself." I joyfully agree with Foster as he observes, "Let us be among those who believe that the inner transformation of our lives is a goal worthy of our best effort."

Fasting is the road to personal revival and change. The greater blessing of fasting is coming out renewed and refreshed on the inside with the outward evidence of a changed life. As one comes closer to God change occurs. Sin is addressed, the mind renewed, increased love for the Lord and His Word can all be lasting results. In addition, fasting can unclog ears to hear His voice, open dimmed eyes to see clearly His vision, and put purpose to hands and feet for His ministry. And it all begins with removing the distractions of life by fasting and focusing fully upon the Lord.

The result of fasting is an inner transformation that exceeds any goals I set up on my own. It is about growing in the grace and knowledge of God. We must realize that eating a certain way or removing things from our lives for a period of time are just mechanics. One can fast days on end to no result. This is because it is not about getting, it is about knowing and worshipping God and allowing Him to change us.

Fasting should not be focused more on the process or blessings than the relationship. Just like Rhonda we should say stop the world and allow the hand of God to move freely in our lives today through fasting.

While a bit long I want to close with Richard Foster's eloquent explanation of fasting in Celebration of Discipline:

The Purpose of Fasting
Richard Foster, from Celebration of Discipline

It is sobering to realize that the very first statement Jesus made about fasting dealt with the question of motive (Matthew 6:16-18). To use good things to our own ends is always the sign of false religion. How easy it is to take something like fasting and try to use it to get God to do what we want. At times there is such stress upon the blessings and benefits of fasting that we would be tempted to believe that with a little fast we could have the world, including God, eating out of our hands.

Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained. Like the prophetess Anna, we need to be "worshiping with fasting" (Luke 2:37). Every other purpose must be subservient to God. Like that apostolic band at Antioch, "fasting" and "worshiping the Lord" must be said in the same breath (Acts 13:2). Charles Spurgeon writes, "Our seasons of fasting and prayer at the Tabernacle have been high days indeed, never has Heaven's gate stood wider; never have our hearts been nearer to the central Glory."

God questioned the people in Zechariah's day, "When ye fasted...did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?" (Zechariah 7:5) If our fasting is not unto God, we have failed. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights--these must never replace God as the center of our fasting. John Wesley declares, "First, let it (fasting) be done unto the Lord with our eye single fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this only, to glorify our Father which is in heaven..." That is the only way we will be saved from loving the blessing more than the Blesser.
28399: Celebration of Discipline, 25th Anniversary EditionCelebration of Discipline, 25th Anniversary Edition
By Richard Foster / HarperOne

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