Time to get our fast on

People in the Bible loved to get their fast on. Perhaps they didn’t love it, but they fasted regularly. God called his people to fast for a myriad of reasons. Fasts were personal, communal, and national. People fasted for the salvation of others, as an act of worship, and when times were bad. Fasting was a big deal in both the Old and New Testament.

If you’ve ever participated in a fast, then you know the experience is rich and rewarding, and somehow, brings you closer to God. As we deny ourselves the satisfaction of a full belly, we are more prone to listen to God. There is a deep hunger stirring within us, but this hunger can be directed towards a more meaningful fulfillment. Laruen Winner said “When you are fasting and you feel hungry, you are to remember that you are really hungry for God.” That is part of the experience—realizing that God is enough to satisfy us. Kind of like what Jesus reminded Satan when said, “Man does not live on bread alone” (Matthew 4:4). Food alone is not enough to satisfy us.

It’s important to understand though, that biblical fasting is more than just the absence of food. It’s not so much what you give up when you fast, but what you decide to replace it with. Fasting is a discipline where we invite God to be at the center of our lives—spiritually, physically, and even emotionally. During a fast, we take away something we desire and use the time for spiritual purposes. When you don’t have to prepare food, or watch TV, or log onto Facebook ten times a day (a personal addiction), you have a lot of free time on your hands; free time that can be spent hanging out with the Father.

Fasting also provides an opportunity to grow in love with one another. Some of the more poignant examples of fasting in Scripture happen when the nation of Israel fasts as one, or when the early church spent their time praying and fasting as a community. Our youth group is preparing for a national event called 30 Hour Famine. We’ll be abstaining from food for thirty hours in an effort to raise money for hungry people all over the world, and also to experience what it’s like to go without. The experience will be eye opening for all who participate. John Piper said “Fasting is meant to awaken us to the hunger of the world, not just our own hunger.” That is our prayer for this event—that our group will be awakened to the powerful workings of God in our lives and community. We’re praying for a night of encounters with Jesus, and conversations with one another that will help us love and care for each other in the name of Christ.

Fasting, like other spiritual disciplines, reminds us that God can be found in our every day happenings. I love the emotion the psalmist employs when he says “where can I go from your presence!?” How can I escape you!? God is like a clingy girlfriend (or boyfriend) with no concept of personal space. God is very near. Fasting can help us open our hearts to this truth and allow his goodness to change us.

The Story So Far

I’ve read a number of books about management and leadership. Typically, these books espouse market trends, personal development plans, and how to be a successful person. I was really into that sort of thing for a while. And, while I learned a lot about business and leadership theory, I felt I was missing something. It’s not that much of this literature was lacking practicality; rather, it was lacking something deeper. It didn’t feed my soul. After reading these books, I noticed I cared a lot about numbers, and spent a lot of time writing goals. I had an umpteen amount of goals—goals for practically everything. This goal obsession made me laugh when I thought about my New Year resolutions.

My past experience with New Year resolutions, or goals, was that they go in one year and out the next. They never stick. Maybe the reason is becasue goals, as Donald Miller says, need to be apart of a narrative, because then they make sense. Someone can say I want to lose 20 pounds on Jenny Craig and not be that motivated. However, if someone says they want to run a marathon or climb a mountain, they will certainly be motivated to lose the excess pounds.

One of my stories that I want to develop for 2010 is more spontaneity in my daily living. I call this “Spirit-led living.” I didn’t come up with this out of thin air; Scripture talks about this quite often. Throughout the Bible, we learn that God created us to walk with Him, never leaving his presence. So far, I’ve seen the fruit of my new sense of awareness. Conversations have gone forth, and I’ve met new people I normally wouldn’t have spoken to. In the past, I’d dread waiting in lines or eating lunch by myself. Now, it is an opportunity to obey God and share His goodness with strangers. Soon these strangers become familiar faces.

Frank Labauch said “The first business of every day is to look into the face of God and ache with bliss.” I’ve started to notice that the face of God shows up in others more often than I thought. And that is where I’ve started looking for Him.

The Gas Station

I usually go to the gast station to get gas. Sometimes if I’m feeling dangerous, I also get a bag of Fritos. For whatever reason, I tend to frequent the same gas station more than others. During my trips, I started to notice the awkward atmoshphere of a gas station. I don’t know why, but most people seem more annoyed at gas stations than say at the grocery store, or in line at a fast-food restaurant. I met a man there a few weeks ago who was running from car to car, asking if he could pump people’s gas or wash their windows for a few bucks. Sadly, most of the people just shoed him away, like he was a fly and he was bothering them.

As I watched this, I was reminded of a story in the gospel of Mark where Jesus unleashes compassion. In Mark 5, a demon possessed man walks over to Jesus as he is stepping out of his speed boat. The man is described as being strong, probably naked, and I’m guessing a bit frightening to the kiddies in the neighborhood. The man is full of demons and when Jesus asks him what his name is, he replies “Legion, for we are many.” This doesn’t even phase Jesus. He decides to send these demons into the non-kosher animals herding nearby. Suddenly, this legion of demons is thrust out of this man into a herd of two thousand pigs, who fall into the nearby lake and drown. Jesus then looks at the pigs and smiles and says “That’ ll do pig.” Okay, he doesn’t really say that.

The owners of the pigs get a little miffed at Jesus, I mean, how inconsiderate to kill all those pigs at the expense of this crazed, demon possessed man. The text then says they were afraid and pleaded with Jesus to leave their region.I guess Jesus listens becasue he gets into his boat and tells this newly healed man to go and share how the Lord has shown him mercy. The man’s testimony grew and people were amazed (Mark 5:20). This story causes me to pause.I wonder what people were thinking when Jesus stopped his boat and got out. There was a crazed, demon possesed man, probably naked, I imagine yelling expletives, and throwing rocks.He could have easily just stayed in the boat and kept going downstream. But he doesn’t. He stops and gets out of the boat. Jesus practices reckless compassion. His compassion isn’t cointingent on time or circumstance; where Jesus is, compassion exists.

I wonder how often we neglect to share the love and compassion of Christ because it is easier to just ignore people. As Robert, the man at the gas station, approached me I didn’t do anything heroic. I didn’t write him a check for a hundred dollars. I didn’t tell him he could stay in my guest bedroom. But I didn’t ignore him. The small amount of money I gave him, didn’t amount to the expereince we shared talking for a few minutes in a place where no one wants to be bothered. If we are called to be like Chirst, we are called to reckless compassion.

The Early Surf Session

Today I decided to be the early worm and catch the bird—or something like that. I woke up earlier than normal and headed to the beach with my friend, Paul. We planned to have a morning surf session. I have to say it was a great time. I’ve only been surfing a few times and I am what people call a “beginner.” This is a very accurate title to describe my surfing abilities because I begin quite well on a wave and end up not finishing what I started. Not that I’m a quitter, I just fall a lot.

Most of the morning I spent sitting in the water and talking with Paul and watching him catch a few waves. I watched him catch waves because I was a little intimidated by them. There definitely was some trepidation inside of me as I watched the wave’s crash into the sand. Some of them were fairly large and powerful, almost like they were coming from the ocean or something .I tried a few times to ride them which was fun. There was one time I came really close. I stood up on my board and looked straight down the wave and began to drop in. It felt like I was on the Goliath ride at six flags, until I fell. Then it felt like I was in the ocean, getting crushed by a large wave. Nevertheless, it was a good time and I realized something.

Whenever I take time to hang out with friends and try something new I feel very alive and a part of something much bigger than myself. I was reminded of this in the ocean. I was a tiny dot in the middle of a huge sea, dodging a surfboard that was being propelled like a torpedo. It was a great way to start the day and the month of March. Surfing, no matter how close to death I may have come, was a good experience and a needed reminder.