Note: Our church is using the season of Lent to do a church-wide fast and prayer. Many of us are fasting from food for 24 hours (Sundays at 6:00 pm to Mondays at 6:00 pm) in order to bring us closer to Christ. While we are doing this fast, we are also journaling about our experience. I am using the church’s blog to post many of their thoughts anonymously to share our experience. The thoughts expressed by members of Harris Creek are in blue below.
This week we focused on the theme of anticipation when it comes to our spiritual lives. There are both positive and negative forms of anticipation. Scripture calls us to live our lives in anticipation of Christ’s return, so I wanted us to focus on this idea during the fast. The other thing that came to the surface through the fast was the Gospel and grace. There were a few people that failed to make it all the way through the 24 hour fast this week. This obviously produced frustration in these people, but I believe it opened up room for the Gospel to come flooding in as well.
Much like the times you have a vacation planned to somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, there is an excitement leading up to the actual event as you think, dream, and plan for what it will be like when you get there. Scripture is clear: We are called to live our lives in anticipation for the return of Jesus Christ. As 1 John says, “But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.“ (1 John 3:2–3 THE MESSAGE) We know Christ will one day return. Until that day, we are called to live our lives in light of that event with anticipation for His coming Kingdom. With that being said, here were some thoughts on anticipation.
- The second coming of Christ is something I do think about time to time. I would be hard pressed to say that it shapes my actions. Rather, I think about it when I am saddened about the world around me. The second coming of Christ, the promise of Jesus reconciling all things to Himself, is one of the foundational truths we as Christians must hold on to. It gives us strength and hope for tomorrow in a world of so much hurt and despair. It is a beautiful hope, and is indicative of the true nature of Christ. Our Lord cares for us deeply, and ultimately restores. With this truth, we become properly grounded in a confusing world. If He came tomorrow, I would be ready for Him. Certainly there are countless sins that I would prefer to have had put to death before then. I will never have enough time to be spotless before Him. He has already made me clean. My faith tells me that He would therefore receive me with open arms. In the mean time, my pride has been pressing on my heart as of late. I currently seek His forgiveness and healing with this matter.
- It was wonderful to reflect upon the Lord’s second coming, especially while chewing on the Romans 8 passage. In the sunshine, as I went to my classes, the Lord taught me about the groaning of my Spirit, my weakness, his incredible strength with my dependence, and how I can have such hope and joy exuding forth as we wait patiently! This completely parallels the practice of fasting, because I felt sick, lacked focus and therefore had to constantly talk with the Lord while fasting. I pray my life would look like that, when we encounter such sufferings and pain, we fall at the feet of the Father and we anticipate with such joy and hope that we will actually see his face and his glistening purity one day! I am convinced I want to make fasting a monthly discipline in my life, because it reminds me so many things! Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven!!!
- For some reason, this week as I thought about the idea of anticipation I found myself thinking a lot about death. My thoughts about dying were not in a fearful or anxious way (which is typically the case with me). Instead, it was almost a feeling of looking forward to one day leaving this physical body behind and being made new (whole) with Christ at the resurrection. It was definitely something I don’t feel on a typical day, something very deep and joyful (not dependent on my emotion or physical well-being).
- In my moments of anticipatory stress before big life changes, I tend to ask, “God, are you going to continue to bless me? If so, just go ahead and start doing it so I know it’s happening,” rather than trusting that, because of the work he has done before, he will continue to do so. And that’s all the assurance I need. The God who has blessed me in the past is the same God who will take care of me into the future.
- Monday evening I had a meeting at 6:30 and didn’t get home until 6. I was wondering how I was going to eat before I had to be there. Talk about being anxious, I was becoming concerned. I was able to get something to eat before I left, but started thinking why was it an such an issue. I had food available at home.
- The newness of the fast has worn off, and I simply dread the hunger that I know is coming on Sunday/Monday. I actually think that the anticipation makes fasting worse than it actually is. A friend and I were talking about it last night and I thought he had a very perceptive take on it. I confessed to him that I didn’t really think that I had felt any closer to God during the fast. If anything, I was starting to feel like this was just a dumb religious ritual. He said that when he participates in Lent that he feels that denying himself certain things actually creates anticipation and momentum as Easter approaches. He said that when Easter gets here (and Lent ends) he is so much more appreciative and inspired by the Easter message. I thought that was the perfect message for why we choose to deny ourselves certain pleasures during this season, and why as followers of Christ we choose to deny ourselves certain earthly pleasures during our time here on Earth. We deny ourselves things in this life in anticipation of something greater in heaven.
The Gospel of Grace
Now that we are a month into practicing this discipline, it is hard not to focus on the legalistic side of this practice. I noticed this struggle come out in a number of us this week. I’ve said all along, we do not partake in spiritual disciplines to gain favor in God’s eyes. Our favor in God’s sight is found in the work Jesus did on our behalf and nothing else. It is important to keep this in mind while fasting. You have God’s favor in your life because of the work Christ has done, not because of any good work you have done. That being said, it is difficult to deal with the disappointment of failing to reach a set goal. As a perfectionist, I can totally relate. I really appreciated the honesty, transparency, and candor expressed by some of our people:
- I don’t know what to say except that I’ve failed. It wasn’t even a mistake, like someone else who said they had mindlessly picked up a cookie and taken a few bites last week. It was a conscious decision to do what I knew I shouldn’t do, and now I’m ashamed and I have no legitimate excuse as to why I did it. I know that this fast is not about legalism or rule following or anything like that. It’s about committing myself to do something that will in some way bring me closer to God, and I chose to mess that up. Now that I’ve had a nice satisfying lunch, my belly is full and I no longer feel the sense of peace and communion with Christ that I have felt on these days when I’m not eating. So now the question I’m asking myself is, “Do I just give up on the fast for today and go back to my normal eating habits and routines, or do I give it another try for the next 6 hours?” Although I feel like I have severely hindered my ability to hear what God was speaking to me through the fasting experience today, I do think it’s worth the effort to get back up and finish the race. I’m not one to give up on New Year’s resolutions when I mess up on January 3, and I look at this kind of the same way. It’s about the long-term, big picture aspect of the experience and not about each little success or failure. Hopefully God will still use today as a tool to teach me something valuable about Himself or about me even though I hit a roadblock along the way…
- I did NOT finish my fast. I felt guilty at first, and then, not so much. After finishing, I became very depressed by my actions as I had promised myself to go throughout the entire evening. Further, I found myself watching a TV show which prompted not-so-Christian thoughts and realized that, once again, I was slipping. This within hours- probably less- of recognizing how little I focus on Christ. This caused me to turn off the TV and re-reflect a little on what had just transpired. Some thoughts after that: I found myself nearly sobbing on the way to work today as I listed to Crowder’s song “How He Loves.” I’ve heard it a million times but one line that really got to me today was the lyric: “And Heaven meets Earth like an unforeseen kiss.” The God that created everything in this world sent his to son to become flesh and blood and die for me. For me! A corrupt, disrespecting, can’t-even-give-up-a-couple-of-meals sinner. What a display of love that is! Where is THAT kind of love in my life for Christ? The thought of His sacrifice and my inability to provide one of any substance is just tearing me up today.
- The theme that was prevalent for me during this fast was self-control. I had to go home around 1:30 Monday afternoon. There was a lot of snacking going on in the house around me. I worked from home the rest of the afternoon, but was unable to resist eating. At 3:30 or so, I broke the fast. That evening I went for a run, and as I ran, I thought a lot about self-control. I wanted to quit running earlier than I planned, but my mind was brought back to the fast. I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Paul sees it as important to discipline his body, so that he may not be disqualified (This is scary). But he knows the dangers of a lack of self-control and the results of not walking by the Spirit (Read Gal. 5:19-25). It is easy for many of us Baptists to dismiss fasting as legalistic, but we may want to think about what other practices of discipline that we have incorporated into our life to help teach us self-control. This is an area I need to take more seriously.
- I think my biggest shortfall is not sustaining my end of the relationship I have with God. I struggle to faithfully pray everyday, I struggle to maintain my fasting, I struggle to read my prayer guide (I am ooooh, about a week behind). This isn’t a pattern which has recently popped up in my life, but one I have struggled with for years. I gravitated to one of the verses which came across my path this week: 1 Timothy 1:12 ” I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.” I cringe when I compare this verse to Thessalonians 5:24, “He who calls you is faithful…,” as it is a constant reminder that our relationship is one-sided. But, on the bright side, the verse from 1 Timothy specifically reminds us that God is the one who gives us the strength to be trustworthy and faithful to Him. I.E., He already knows I am weak and need some help! It renews me and makes me want to try harder knowing that He has endless patience with our relationship and isn’t going to show me the same apathy I sometimes show Him.
We also had other thoughts on grace and legalism coming through this fast:
- I’d have to say that out of all the weeks we’ve fasted this was the easiest (physically). I’m not sure whether to attribute it to fatigue (I was falling asleep ALL day) or that I’m just “getting used to it”. Honestly, during this week’s fast I relied on God very little and I have found myself facing some guilt. Maybe it’s because last week was physically the most difficult for me up to that point and I found my strength in rejoicing over seeing God move in several exciting ways through the previous week. Can all this guilt be boiled down once again to legalism?
- I think I anticipated my fast too much this week, in the sense that I did it with a legalistic flair of rule keeping. I tweaked the hours of my fast so I wouldn’t feel the pain or deprivation of hunger. I went from 4 pm to 4 pm. Because I was at work and so busy Monday I did not pause to contemplate My heart during the fast. It all came later after the fast in which I was convicted of these things. He did show himself to me by exposing my heart.
Here is a final thought by one of our members talking about the importance of fasting and what it is doing to their heart:
- I went into this 6-week fast with the naïve assumption that fasting would get easier as the weeks went on, but the opposite has actually proved to be true. I think that this is similar to following Jesus in the sense that the longer I am following him, the more invested I am in my commitment to Him. However, with that deeper commitment comes more and more sacrifice as God reveals things in my heart that need to be stripped away. But in both fasting and the stripping away of my heart, there also comes a joy and recognition that nothing is worth so much that it can’t be sacrificed for the sake of Christ.