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Showing posts with label Spiritual Disciplines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spiritual Disciplines. Show all posts

Thursday, February 11, 2021

6 Tips For A Safe Spiritual Fast

Introduction

Fasting is a spiritual discipline where people abstain from eating food for a period of time in order to help them focus on spiritual growth.  Fasting is an ancient practice found throughout the Bible.  Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah all fasted in the Old Testament (among many others).  In the New Testament, Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness to prepare for his public ministry (see Matthew 4:2).  

In Matthew 6:16, Jesus said, "And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get."  Jesus assumed his followers would fast and wanted them to do it the right way.  Proper fasting is neither a test of our nor a way for us to prove our spiritual fortitude.  Fasting should be a private matter between you and God.  And rather than being a reason to boast about your deep devotion, fasting should reveal your deep spiritual need.

When done properly and with the right attitude, fasting can help you grow closer to God.  It can teach you to endure suffering with joy.  It reminds you to be thankful for blessing you take for granted.  It helps you rely more on God's providence.  It can provide spiritual clarity.  Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.

For centuries, fasting was a common practice among Christians throughout the world.  Unfortunately, few Christians in 21st century America fast as a spiritual discipline.  Many people today have forgotten how to fast safely as a means of spiritual growth.  Here’s are 6 tips for a safe spiritually fast.

6 Tips For A Safe Spiritual Fast

1.   If you are sick or have a health condition like diabetes, it may be unsafe to fast from food.  Talk to your physician.  It may be better for you to choose something else for your fast, like abstaining from TV or the use of social media or from drinking coffee.  There are many are great alternatives that can be just as effective as fasting from food.

2.   If you fast from food, please drink plenty of water.  It is dangerous to go without drinking water for more than a few hours.  You could choose to drink juice while you fast. (called a “juice fast”).  A juice fast is milder than going completely without food.  You still feel hungry, but it’s not as overwhelming and you may have more energy. 

3.   Don’t fast for too long.  If you are new to fasting from food, you could start out by just skipping one meal you usually eat or fast from sunrise to sunset.  Don’t overdo it with your fast if you are new to fasting.

4.   Pray as much as you can while you fast.  Fasting reminds us how weak we are and how much we need God’s help.  Our weakness and desires while we fast remind us to pray and seek God’s help.

5.   Fasting is something between you and God.  Jesus makes it clear we should never use fasting to impress people with how spiritual we are.  The whole point of fasting is to recognize our helplessness without God.  So, don’t brag about it.  Just do it and keep your focus on God.

6.   End your fast gently.  If you’ve gone without food, you will be hungry and may be tempted to gorge yourself.  Don’t.  Your stomach may be sensitive and eating too much can make you sick.  It is better to eat a small amount of light food for your first meal after your fast.  A modest bowl of mild soup is a good choice.

Never abstain from drinking water or other fluids for long periods, unless instructed by a medical doctor.  It is crucial that you continue to drink plenty of water.  For especially long fasts, I recommend you also drink fruit juice.  You will still feel hungry, but your body will stay hydrated and receive enough calories from the juice to sustain your energy.

Take care when you stand up while fasting.  Do not stand up too quickly as you may experience dizziness.  This is only temporary.  If you feel light-headed, simply sit down and wait for it to pass, which usually happens in just a few moments.  Move more slowly next time.  Understand that you may have less energy while fasting.  The more experience you have, the more you will understand how your body reacts to fasting.  If your fast makes you truly ill or becomes unbearable, go ahead and end it with a light meal.  Don’t gorge yourself; it may make you sick.

Do not make your fast into a survival contest. If you want to see how far you can push your body before it gives out, you have lost the spiritual focus that needs to be first and foremost on your mind when you practice spiritual fasting.

Make sure you spend a lot of time in prayer while you fast.  It is also helpful to read your Bible and devotions, and to meditate on God’s Word.

When you are ready to end your fast, do it slowly and carefully.  It may be tempting to gorge yourself, but don’t because it could make you sick.  Start with something light like broth or a soup.  Then, slowly work yourself back up to regular food.  You may be surprised to find you are full after eating only a small amount of food.  Thank God that He has filled you and you needed less food.

Do not fast again until your body has a chance to rest and recover.

 Ash Wednesday Fast

I invite you to pray and fast with me on Ash Wednesday, February 17.

What do I do?

Sign up to pray for 30 minutes during our 24-hour prayer vigil and pray at your chosen time.  To fast, eat dinner on Tuesday night, February 16th.  Then, skip breakfast and lunch on Wednesday, February 17th.  Also refrain from any other solid foods during your fast, but please do drink plenty of water.  (You may also drink coffee or fruit juices during the fast if you choose.)  Then, eat dinner after the sun goes down.

Alternatives

If you are not sure if you can go that long without food (or if it is not healthy for you), consider an alternative.  You could only skip one meal you normally eat.  Another idea is to give up coffee (or something else), or to fast from a non-food item like social media, using your cell phone, or watching TV. 

Is Fasting Safe?

Fasting for short periods is safe for healthy individuals when done properly.  It is not recommended for those who are ill or have certain conditions like diabetes.  Please ask your medical doctor if you are unsure whether fasting is safe for you.  Please be sure to drink plenty of water (or juice) while fasting. 

But Won’t I Be Hungry?

Yes.  You will probably be hungry while you fast.  This is normal.  Let your discomfort remind you to pray.  Every time you feel hungry, focus on God and pray.  Ask God to reveal anything you need to change about your attitude and character.  Ask God to fulfill you in ways that food never can. 

What If It Makes Me Sick?

It is normal to feel hungry and uncomfortable and have less energy while you fast.  However, if you feel ill or unable to continue for any reason, please be safe and end your fast.  God will still honor your spiritual work.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

9 Acts of Service


Service is an attitude of the heart, but it is an attitude that's lived out through tangible acts.  Here are nine practical kinds of service you can give throughout life. (These are based on Richard Foster's book, The Celebration of Discipline.)


  1. Secret service. We are all given many opportunities to serve in ways that no one else sees. There is great blessing in secret acts of service, whether large or small.
  2. Small acts of kindness. We don’t always have to do big, important stuff. Bringing someone a drink, cleaning up a spill, giving someone a ride, stopping by the store to pick up some milk for your spouse. Nobody is too important to do the menial tasks of life. And those who think their time is too important to be wasted on small acts of kindness may think too highly of themselves. 
  3. Guarding someone’s reputation. There is real wisdom in the old adage: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Be someone who builds up others instead of tearing them down. Don’t participate in gossip and urge others to stop as well. 
  4. The service of being served. Many people are like Peter, who didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. Don’t steal someone else’s blessing by refusing to let others serve you. 
  5. The service of common courtesy. In our fast-paced, socially disconnected age of technology, common social customs are even more important. Be polite. Remember to say “please” and “thank you”. Hold the door open for ladies and your elders. Be sure to RSVP promptly when requested. Don’t be rude by neglecting common courtesies as outdated. 
  6. The service of hospitality. Hospitality is making people feel welcome and comfortable and seeing that their basic needs are met—especially when they are away from their home. Don’t get so caught up in the details of hospitality that you lose sight of making people feel loved. 
  7. The service of listening. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is just to listen. Give people your undivided attention. Put down your phone, turn off the TV, and focus. You don’t have to have the right answers. Just listen and care. Listening to others also quiets and disciplines the mind to listen to God. 
  8. Bearing one another’s burdens. It is a great act of service to
    offer care and compassion when others are going through troubles. Send a sympathy card. Offer a meal. Sometimes we don’t know what to say. That’s ok. Just say you don’t know what to say, but that you care. Sometimes, I’ll that’s needed is to be there and say nothing at all. 
  9. Sharing the Word of God with one another. We are all part of the Body of Christ. It’s not just pastors and Sunday school teachers who hear from God. God speaks to us all and moves in all our lives. When we keep it to ourselves, we cheat the rest of the world. One of the greatest gifts of service can be simply to share what God is doing in you or saying to you with others. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Spiritual Disciplines - Introduction


Galatians 6:8Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.

You are what you practice regularly.
If you want to get good at anything, you have to practice.  I started training in martial arts when I was 11-years-old.  I went to class two or three times a week until I graduated from high school.  I took a few years off, but started back training again when I was 27.  I’m almost forty-five-years-old now and I still try to train two or three times a week. 

People sometimes ask me, “Can you teach me something about how to defend myself?”  They often have this misconception there might be some secret karate move that will save them if they ever get attacked.  Sometimes, I will show some trick I’ve learned.  But always in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “You can’t learn one karate move and think it will keep you safe.  You can’t even just take one class and expect to be prepared for a violent encounter.  You have to practice and practice and practice until self-defense becomes second nature to you.” 

Practice is essential in any sport.  Professional football players run some of the same weekly drills they ran when they were just kids starting out.  Singers and musicians know how important practice is too.  Our church pianist, Sara Forester, comes out and practices almost every week in the sanctuary.  You will often find her on a Saturday morning by herself in the sanctuary practicing the offertory or prelude music she will play on Sunday morning. Our church choir practices at least once a week, sometimes twice.  Singing in the church choir is probably one of the best ways to really get better at singing, simply because of the regular practice you get.  Your voice is a muscle that grows stronger and better the more you exercise it.

Can tell? I’m a strong believer in practice and training.  And here’s why:  what you practice regularly comes out when the pressure is on.  If you know how to fight because you practice all the time, your fighting skill will come out naturally in that unexpected moment when you’re attacked and you need to fight.  You won’t have to think about it.

The same is true of the Christian virtues in a person’s life. You are what you practice and it will come out when the pressure is on.  You might be able to fake being Christian for a little while when everything is easy; but when the squeeze is on, the real juice on the inside is gonna come out. When you’re stressed out and under pressure, who you are on the inside is gonna come out—compassion, forgiveness, grace, and mercy or frustration, retaliation, unreasonable demands, and a mean spirit.  When someone squeezes you, the juice that comes out will be from whatever fruits are in your spirit.  What kind of person are you when the going gets tough?


The exercises Christians practice to help develop their spiritual muscles are called Spiritual Disciplines.  Some of the most useful spiritual disciplines are:  meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.  Each of these disciplines have been used by Christians for thousands of years to nurture the growth of the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Over the next few months, I’m going to teach about each of these spiritual disciplines.  We will try to understand each one better.  What I really want, though, is for you to practice them.  What good would it be to know all about prayer, but never pray?  It would be as useless as a recipe for a pecan pie, but never cooking or eating one.

Two Dangers
There are two dangers I need to point out from the very beginning in regards to spiritual disciplines.  First off, there is a danger of using the spiritual disciplines for the wrong reasons.  There are many—chief among these were the Pharisees in the New Testament—who misunderstand the purpose of the spiritual disciplines.  They think that by their very strict and strenuous practice of prayer and fasting and study and worship, etc. they might work their way to God’s blessing and salvation.  Remember the prideful prayer of the Pharisee from Luke 18:11-12?  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector!  I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ 

You see, the Pharisee thought his religious devotion made him special and better than others.  When spiritual disciplines are misused in this way, they actually lead you away from God and not toward Him.  Pride is one of the deadliest sins in the human heart.  Fasting and tithing are spiritual practices that, when used rightly, can help drive pride from your heart and remind you of your utter dependence on the merciful providence of God.  However, if you use your fasting and tithing to convince yourself you are something special, you have increased your pride and defeated the purpose for fasting and tithing altogether.

Another common misuse is related and stems from using the spiritual disciplines to try to impress others.  Again, the Pharisees in the New Testament were very diligent with their prayers, but they did it to impress people.  A common practice—which Jesus condemned—was to go out on a busy street corner and blow trumpets to get everyone’s attention.  Then a Pharisee would handout charity and pray so everyone could see them and be impressed (Matthew 6:1-6).  Jesus said you should pray in private so no one sees it—except God.  In Matthew 6:16, Jesus said, “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.  Jesus taught we should fast in such a way that no one would even notice we are fasting, except God who knows what we do in private.  So we have to be careful not to misuse the spiritual disciplines to try to impress people or God. 
  
That brings me to a second danger in regards to spiritual disciplines.  There is the danger that we neglect the spiritual disciplines, because we assume we can’t do anything at all to help transform our spirits.  It is true that we are saved by grace and not by the good things we do.  But that doesn’t mean we just sit back and let Jesus to do all the work without any help from us. 

Notice what Jesus said in Matthew 6:16.  He said, “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do…”  He said “when” you fast.  He assumed we would indeed fast (which is one of the spiritual disciplines).  He just wanted to make sure we fast and pray for the right reasons.  This applies to all the other spiritual disciplines as well.  The reasons we practice them make all the difference.

Meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration open us up to the power of the Holy Spirit and nurture the growth of the spiritual fruits in our hearts.  The spiritual disciplines are the means God gives us to receive His grace. They are the methods by which we place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.

The Spiritual Disciplines are for Everyone
Unfortunately, people these days often think spiritual disciplines are only for spiritual gurus or people who live in a monastery.  That’s only because so many these days have forgotten about the disciplines.  For centuries, most Christians practiced these disciplines on a regular basis.  They were even incorporated into their communal life.  People automatically knew it was time to pray when they heard the bells ring in the church steeple.  People knew fasting and penance were the order of the day during the forty days of Lent leading up to Easter.  Some of these practices survive today.  Most have been forgotten by the masses.  And we are weaker for it. 

I want to revive these spiritual disciplines as a regular exercise within our church.  And really, it shouldn’t be too difficult.  These spiritual disciplines aren’t too difficult to understand or practice.  It’s just we have to make them a priority in our busy lives.  We have to exercise our spirit the way we exercise our body.

My hope then, as we go through this series, is to better understand each of the disciplines in order that we may practice them.  But the key is in the practice.  Understanding the spiritual disciplines is not as good as practicing them.  Understanding and practicing them is the best of all.  So I hope we will grow in both understanding and practice together over the next few months.