Saturday, March 28, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: PRAYING WITH PAUL

D.A. Carson is in his element here as an inspirational teacher. As co-founder of the Gospel Coalition, he is passionate about spiritual reformation and for being gospel-faithful.

This is a great study tool for examining the nature and content of the Apostle Paul's prayer life.


Rather than focusing on giving us information, Carson writes to stir compassion and a more eternally grounded focus to our prayer lives.

A study guide, DVD, and leader's kit are available through The Gospel Coalition ( www.thegospelcoalition.org )

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"Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Baker Books in exchange for an honest review."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

GRACE IN THE LOW PLACES

Hudson Taylor spent 51 years of his life serving as a missionary in China. He was among the first Protestants to do so and founded the China Inland Mission. While Western missionaries have sometimes been criticized for colonial thinking and trying to Westernize converts, Hudson understood the need to come in humility and adapt the language, dress and culture of the people he cared about.


This is like Jesus. He humbled himself when He was born among us and experienced the common, human experience. Hudson Taylor described an observation about fasting.


Hudson Taylor said, “In Shansi I found Chinese Christians who were accustomed to spend time in fasting and prayer. They recognized that this fasting, which so many dislike, which requires faith in God, since it makes one feel weak and poorly, is really a Divinely appointed means of grace. Perhaps the greatest hindrance to our work is our own imagined strength; and in fasting we learn what poor, weak creatures we are-dependent on a meal of meat for the little strength which we are so apt to lean upon." [1]

We would like to think that we would get in God’s good graces by behaving well, or doing extra chores (like fasting). It is quite the opposite in reality.

The spiritual practices bring us low. We are never so aware of our humanity and weakness as when we encounter the strength of God. Selfishly, we would much rather feel self-reliant and full.


Matthew 6:
31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 


In fasting from food or some time-filling habit, we create the opportunity for hunger. A hunger for God is an essential appetite for the spirit. We choose to not worry about the usual things. Rather, we increase our appetite for God’s presence and goodness.






[1] The Daily Thought Shaker by David George, p.283, WestBow Press, 2014

Sunday, March 22, 2015

UNBOUNDED WORSHIP

When you go to church on schedule, you can count on the service consistently being of a similar format and duration as the week before. Depending on your church, you have particular ways of expressing worship in keeping with shared values of the group. 


With a personal fast, you set aside time that is on a different clock. You purposely block out extended time and purpose to suspend regular activities for this more important focus.

If you are truly alone, you may feel freer to sing, dance, kneel, nap, laugh, cry and ponder. The place of unbounded worship is hard to come by unless you purpose to do so.

Worshipping God has its own reward. How else would someone like the prophet Anna have lived the servant life?


Luke 2:
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.


Here was a woman who discovered the timeless life found in fasting. The dullness of waiting slowly changes to the quiet presence of God. What a way to live! In fasting, we discover the secret place of rest-- contentment with God.




Thursday, March 19, 2015

GOD AT THE CENTER

Zechariah 7:
Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?


God asks his people what their motives are for fasting. It’s possible to do so with a selfish reason rather than placing God at the centre of our attention.

One quickly finds in a time of fasting your motives come to the surface. The constant hamster wheel of distracting thoughts must run down. There are so many things our mind has been consuming, that we have indigestion of the soul.

John Piper said, “The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night.” [1]

Buddhists and Hindus may fast to reach a state of emptiness; and so should we. But once, the clutter is gone we do not enshrine emptiness. Instead, we move to being filled with God’s Spirit. As we are filled, we become those whom God has made us to be. We become ourselves in God’s Presence.

Dr. Dan Allender is a Christian counsellor who said this:

“Fasting from any nourishment, activity, involvement or pursuit—for any season—sets the stage for God to appear. Fasting is not a tool to pry wisdom out of God's hands or to force needed insight about a decision. Fasting is not a tool for gaining discipline or developing piety (whatever that might be). Instead, fasting is the bulimic act of ridding ourselves of our fullness to attune our senses to the mysteries that swirl in and around us." [2]

In the turning away from the mirror on ourselves, we look around for the face of God. A fasting from earthly appetites may clear the way to embrace our spiritual appetite. In fasting we place God at the center of our life.







[1] A Hunger For God by John Piper, Crossway Books, 1997
[2] To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future by Dan B. Allender, Water Brook Press, 2006

Monday, March 16, 2015

THE REWARDS OF FASTING


C.S. Lewis said, "In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give."[1]



Jesus talks in different places about a Father who likes to reward His Children. Did you have a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle who you always were glad to see? Do you remember that one who was usually encouraging and seemed to genuinely like you? The reward of being with them paid off in a lifetime of affirmation and acceptance.


Matthew 6:
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.


In the matter of fasting, Jesus does not paint a dismal picture. When a personal fast is secret, there are rewarding outcomes. I had a dreadful idea about fasting. When I was alone on a personal retreat, I found myself feeling weak and more tempted by the flesh than usual.

It may be that God’s silent presence was not undesired; it is more likely the fear of being alone with myself is what I ran from.

You will have to face your weaknesses when you fast. It’s important to understand that this is a good thing and that you will find it rewarding if you use the time to pray, worship and rest with the Lord.

Let’s explore ways that fasting can be rewarding.





[1] C.S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy, p.126, Praeger Publishers 2007

Friday, March 13, 2015

HOMESICK FOR GOD

In our exploration of the spiritual practices we should be reminded that our goal is to be in God’s presence, not to improve our standing or convince God of our worth. In the disciplines, we find perspectives from which to view the grace of God.


When it comes to fasting, there may nothing more dreaded by those who believe they are constantly on thin ice before God; those who believe they will disappear into the depths of cold condemnation if they dare presume to be standing comfortably in God’s presence.

There are one thousand reasons each day telling us not to fast. Abstain from food or any good thing? Why on earth would we do that?

If we watch children at play, we remember how difficult it sometimes is to get them to the table for a meal. Their imaginative play, game or movie is more important than food.

If you watch someone whose loved one is suddenly rushed to the hospital and hanging on by a thread; you will someone who is not pre-occupied with eating or even having a drink of water. The appetite is set aside as if it were unimportant.

Maybe in the pictures of child’s play and the sick bed we catch some hints about the true nature of fasting.

The child of God who is deeply fascinated with God can fast for the simple joy of pre-occupation with God. Daily routines and eating our vegetables get in the way of that which matters more to us.

The troubled soul at the hospital bedside ignores an empty stomach with the sense that nothing else is more important than being focused on the crisis.

These are two ways in which you might want to explore fasting. John Piper wisely said, “Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God.” [1]






[1] A Hunger For God by John Piper, p.14, Crossway Books, 1997

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