Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Facinating thoughts about "Fasting"

Primary purpose of Fasting
Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained.
Secondary purpose of Fasting
More than any other discipline , fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear - if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is with in us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.
Fasting reminds us that we are sustained "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt 4:4). Food does not sustain us; God sustains us. In Christ, "All things hold together" (Col.1:17). Therefore, in experiences of fasting we are not so much abstaining from food as we are feasting on the work of God.
Fasting helps us keep our balance in life. How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives. How quickly we crave things we do not need until we are enslaved by them. Paul writes," 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be enslaved by anything" (1 Cor. 6:12). Our human cravings and desires are like rivers that tend to overflow their banks; fasting helps keep them in their proper channels.
You are to be the master of your stomach, not its slave!
Where are the people today who will respond to the call of Christ? Have we become so accustomed to "cheap grace" that we instinctively shy away from more demanding calls to obedience? "Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross." Why has the giving of money, for example, been unquestionably recognized as an element in Christian devotion and fasting so disputed? Certainly we have as much, if not more, evidence from the Bible for fasting as we have for giving. Perhaps in our affluent society fasting involves a far larger sacrifice than the giving of money.

The Practice of Fasting
With all disciplines, a progression should be observed; it is wise to learn to walk well before we try to run. Begin with a partial fast of twenty-four hours' duration; many have found lunch to lunch to be the best time. This means that you would not eat 2 meals. Fresh fruit juices are excellent to drink during the fast. Attempt this once a week for several weeks. The most important thing to monitor is the inner attitude of your heart.
After 2 or 3 weeks you are prepared to attempt a normal fast of 24 hours. Drink only water but use healthy amounts of it. If the taste of water bothers you, add a teaspoon of lemon juice:)
(All the above are excerpts from Ch 4 in Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster)

I still think you should run out and buy a copy of this book:) I am so excited about what I am learning each week as I read a chapter a week and how it is challenging me in finding discipline in my own life and thus spilling out into the lives of my children:) Who would have though!
This book will have it's 30th anniversary in print in 2008. My cousin and I are going to Celebrate it's anniversary by declaring 2008 "The year of the Disciplines". We will have a chat room so we can share our discovery's of each discipline each month as a group! I hope you will plan to join us. You have a few months to think about it:)
This is what the year will look like:

The Inward Disciplines
January / Meditation Ch 2
February / Prayer Ch 3
March / Fasting Ch 4
April / Study Ch 5

The Outward Disciplines
May / Simplicity Ch 6
June / Solitude Ch 7
July / Submission Ch 8
August / Service Ch 9

The Corporate Disciplines
September / Confession Ch 10
October / Worship Ch 11
November / Guidance Ch 12
December / Celebration Ch 13

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It's the little things........

Why is it so much easier to handle the big crises things in life? When Garrett was rushed to the hospital and I thought he might possibly die, I gave total control over to God's will. I knew he knew what I could handle and I just couldn't believe he would bring me all the way out to Lithuania to make me a widow, but that if he did he would use it somehow for his glory. That seems like such strength, but really I am not so sure......

It really is the little things that count. I once heard Chris Brown give a talk about how Satan knows he is not going to get you to do a full about face and follow him instead, but if he can just get you off course a little now, in the long run he has done his job to make you that much less effective for Christ. I believe the illustration he used was that of a ship getting off course by just a hair, but by the time they travel for days, they are miles off track. And how important the light house becomes because no matter how far off they are, the lighthouse light is steady and they will find safe haven if their keep their eyes on it. Isn't it just like the Lord. He is our light and he is steady for sure. When I have my eyes on him I am on the right path.

For some reason this illustration has stuck with me. It just makes so much since. My struggle is to keep my eyes focused on the Lord during the little things that start to get me down. I was able to trust God to rent my house and he came through, albiet the last 10 minutes we were in the country. But what matters is that I can trust him to get our visa's here, to get winter tires for our car, to keep us here by sending finaces. I have to force my attention on what I know about the Lord and not what I can see with my human eyes. I see the impossible because I know that I can not do it.

I am realizing as we have lived here now 2 months that the cost of living has increased since we were here last and we underestimated our budget, so now we are completely dependent on God to meet our expanded financial needs. One would think that is a great place to be! I on the other hand like to have a lot more control than that. I am truly a product of my American Society:)

What in the world and I doing on the mission field, isn't this the place where really strong spiritual people should be? All these little things make me want to pack up and come running home and quit! A complete failure. No wonder more people are not doing this, it is scary! This relying on God stuff is really tuff. It is funny too though how he has never failed me in anyway, but I still find it hard to trust him. He can send his son to earth to live as a man, but he may not be able to meet our financial needs........hhmmmmmm. There's some screwed up thinking here.......I guess I am not so worried about whether or not he CAN meet our needs. I know he can, but whether or not what I think our needs are and what he thinks our needs are, are one in the same. Now we're getting somewhere....... That is the real fear. I think we need more money! That will fix everything! What if God knows less money will make us stronger and more dependent on Him? Now that freaks me out.!! I am not sure I want to be that kind of "stronger" and "dependent". I will just have to keep meditating on the verse in Phillipians 4:5-7 "Let everyone see that you are gentle and kind. The Lord is coming soon. Do not worry about anything , but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks. And God's peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." It doesn't say here that he will give me what I want, just that I will have peace. I could go for some peace right now:)

It is so funny how I live duel lives like this. The fight is agonizing. My flesh is crazy insane while my spirit is wholly devoted to the Lord. I feel schizophrenic. I know Paul touches on this in one of his many letters to his converts. I have been reading in the new testament lately and it has really touched me deeply. I have really been able to meditate on some smaller verses like the one I shared, that have helped me to keep a better focus. I am blown away at how much God loves us. US. I will never understand why. I know for me how many times I am ready to bail out and save myself. Only I know I wont' be saving myself at all. Sometimes this life sucks:) And yet isn't it soooo wonderful.
I feel really ready for God to come back now...............

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Discipline of Prayer

Prayer catapults us onto the frontier of the spiritual life. Of all the Spiritual Disciplines prayer is the most central because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father. Meditation introduces us to the inner life,
fasting is an accompanying means,
study transforms our minds,
but it is the Discipline of prayer that brings us into the deepest and highest work of the human spirit. Real Prayer is life creating and life changing. "Prayer-secret, fervent, believing prayer---lies at the root of all personal godliness," writes William Carey.

To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ. William Blake tells us that our task in life is to learn to bear God's "beams of love." How often we fashion cloaks of evasion---beam-proof shelters---in order to elude our Eternal Lover. But when we pray, God slowly and graciously reveals to us our evasive actions and sets us free from them.

Intoduction to Chapter 3 of the "Celebration of Discipline" by Richard Foster
This book is again rocking my world! I hope you will take the time to get it and read it as well! Believe it or not it is so encouraging and says that all these disciplines are a life long process! What a breath of fresh air!

Friday, October 12, 2007

What's your story?

As I was praying this morning for a couple I know who is desperate to have a baby and has not had one yet, I was wondering what God's decision was going to be about it. Was he eventually going to grant them the child they so longed for or would he allow them to continue to experience the deep deep pain and longing unfulfilled? What was their story going to be? And would they be able to stay strong in their faith through it all?

It got me thinking of course about all our stories. We spend so much time running from the turmoil of life, when it is through the turmoil that God really ministers to us. It is also these hard experiences in our life that God uses to give other people hope. What good are we to so many hurting people in this world without hope, if we have made it through life unscathed?

I ran from my story for many years. I was angry and bitter that God didn't let me stay with my birth mother and father. I imagined that life would have been so much easier if I had formed and kept the proper attachments as a young child. What I forgot was that I would not be who I am today if it were not for the experiences he allowed me to have back then and that he can use these hurts and broken things in my life to minister to others if I will let him. If I can find victory in my past then he can use me even more.

So.....what's your story?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

early morning prayer? Bite your tongue!

It was a long time ago when I was introduced to the idea of morning prayer. I was sure the only people that do prayer in the morning are those who are morning people and find it easy to rise out of bed and pray. I find prayer difficult. I am not very focused. I am not a morning person. It was nice when a speaker at some conference I had attended gave me permission not to get up in the morning and pray. He said I could pray anytime of the day. I immediately checked that one off my spiritual "To Do" list. I was quick to justify my need for 8-10 hours of sleep and that I could pray at night. It released me for a time in the morning hours, but I didn't really pray at night.
God got a hold of me a few years ago and I knew he was calling me to sacrifice some of that sleep I thought I so desperately needed and was a complete maniac if I didn't get. My drive for more sleep was a hard one to bring to the alter. I needed my sleep! But was sleep a crutch (or god) that was keeping me from fellowshipping with my maker? If he calls us to be a people of prayer is he not also capable of sustaining us through the day if we walk in obedience to his will? I was willing to test out that little theory......
Almost two years ago, I began getting up at least an hour and a half before the rest of my family. I knew this was going to be my new way of life and not just something I was testing out for a few weeks and then could quit.
I could not sit and pray yet, so I began to walk or go to the gym. I quickly learned that my thought life was running ramped and I was way out of shape. I couldn't stay focused to save my life and I was out of breath anyway. I needed some structure, so I chose to follow the A.C.T.S. prayer format to give me direction. I also walked a little slower at first and never referred to what I was doing as exercise or I'd quit for sure.
So A.C.T.S. goes like this, first, praise God for who he is, then confess sin, thank him for all he has done and begin praying for all the other things on my mind. If I took 5 minutes for each then I would have a 20 minute prayer walk. Not bad for a non-prayer / non-exerciser.
For a long time I walked around a fairly large block by my house and changed subjects at each corner. It helped me so much with the focus issue. I also walked with friends and was willing to travel to meet them! However, it was really discouraging when they would cancel in favor of sleeping in. I had to grapple with the reality that this was my personal conviction and not put it on anyone else to help me in this. I was sadly aware of just how little I knew my savior personally because I needed a partner to meet with him and I would get bored, loose my focus or just run out of things to say. This new way of life was going to pose some challenges.
I realized I was running out of praises for who God was because I didn't know him that well. I found I was saying the same thing over and over. God you are good, you are Lord, you reign on high, you are the alpha and omega, the bright and morning star........ hmmmmmmm............ Somewhere in there I would accidentally say a few lines from a familiar song and then I, of course, was lost in that song before coming to my senses and forcing myself to focus again. This was such a time of learning. Oh, did I sorely lack focus in my thought life. Eventually, I found a list of many of God's attributes and was able to use them for my praise time. It sure helped. ( I am aware there is an endless supply in the Bible:) One thing at a time!
Confessing my sin posed a big problem because I was confessing the same thing every day. Shallow and empty. I was getting bored and irritated with what I was confessing. It was getting old and monotonous. I imagined that God was probably getting tired of having to forgive me for the same things everyday as well. Especially when I seemed to be doing nothing to change my pattern of behavior. I began thinking," If I spent some time working on these areas then I wouldn't have to confess them anymore." What a novel idea eh? Besides my pride was being effected by it. So, being the perfectionist that I am, I determined to do away with some of these old sins patterns in my life. However, there really is never a shortage of sin to confess. It is hard though, to be honest about the details of sin I let myself indulge in. Now a year and a half into it, I have noticed that the more consistently I've prayed, the easier it is to hear the Holy Spirit's convicting voice and the deeper I can confess, be cleansed and move into a right relationship with God.
Thanksgiving is always easy. You can thank God for trees, grass, the sun......I think that is why, most of the time in prayer, I just skip right to this one. It is easy to focus on what God has done for ME. It keeps me feeling important. Praising God humbles me and confessing helps me see myself for who I really am when I don't let God lead. Thankfulness is refreshing. I don't have a tendency to run out of things to say here. It is a good reminder of all that I have even when I am feeling low and poor. It can be so lifting to list all the blessings God has bestowed upon me. Even just the fact that I can choose to get up in the morning to pray, and that I can walk while doing it. What a blessing.....
Once I get to the prayer request time, I often feel like some of the things I thought were so very urgent are now unimportant. I am now much more prepared to lift up concerns to Him. I have put myself in right relationship with God by acknowledging who he is. I have reminded myself of who I am not and remembered what God has done in my life. After this process, I see His strength and am more aware of His will in all things. This time begins to vanish quickly as the needs of so many, near and far, are impressed upon my heart. There is just so much that needs to be lifted up in prayer that 5 minutes a day is just scratching the surface. Yet, at first it seemed like it was monumental and insurmountable.
The effects this prayer time has had on my life has been revolutionary. I have been involved in spiritual growth activities for more than 30 years and nothing has changed me like my early morning prayer time! There has been a RADICAL transformation in my life! Amazingly I have felt calmer and more centered (go figure eh?). I have had the capacity to live outside myself and have truly begun caring for people and not just acting like I do. I have had more energy to use throughout the day then ever before and yet I am getting substantially less sleep. I went from 8-10+ hours a day to 5-7 max. I can see the difference, because on the weekends I choose to sleep in and I actually have had less energy and have felt more sluggish and empty on those days. Could God really be filling me with His supernatural power throughout the week?
This question was answered with a resounding "YES" when I chose to put my prayer time on the back burner while we transitioned to life in Lithuania. I got up less consistently and maybe only half an hour before the kids woke up to get a quickie prayer in. My reasoning seemed justified. It is hard to adjust to a new culture, a new school routine and I needed more sleep now that we were all getting up at 6:30 am. Again the god of sleep reigned in my life.
Problem was though, I was not adjusting. I was more and more impatient and discontent with everyone and everything, especially my family. It was contagious too. I could hear my irritating impatient tone mimicked in every one's voice in the house all the way down to the youngest. We were all biting at each other constantly. It was like wildfire the way it spread. No one was getting along and I was getting angrier and angrier about it. What was going on? My family was falling apart and I was out of control to stop it. I was actually perpetuating it! I felt like I was spinning out of control at an alarming rate. It was a downward spiral that was sucking me in and I felt helpless to fight against it.
Confessing that I had no control was hard. I finally realized that I had to start getting up an hour and a half before everyone else again. So 5am it was. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing........"too early! Way too early." This would be interesting..........especially now that I was out of the habit of getting up. Would I be able to get back into it again?
The first morning wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. The alarm went off and I felt very tired but ready to be obedient and meet with my Savior. It was a special morning, just He and I as we fellowshipped by the fire while I drank tea. Aaahhh, this was what my soul needed. I felt centered again, for the first time in weeks!
When the kids began to rise, I felt happy to see them. That felt so good! Throughout the day the kids bickered and fought, but I seemed to have the capacity to deal with it gently in spurts. Wow, what a turning point. My rage and anger seemed to have lost just a bit of their stronghold in my life, but I could see that this two-some wasn't going to give up easily. I had 5 family members reminding me of my past choices in their current behavior. It was going to take some consistency in my life and time to see a change in everyone.
As the week progressed and I kept faithfully getting up despite my strong desire to roll over and sleep some more, I could see the change it was making within me. I had energy like I hadn't experienced in years and yet I was loosing up to 3 hours of sleep a night. How could that be? But it was real and I had to come to grips that my fellowship with God first thing in the morning was the only thing getting me through each day with more than just a shred of sanity:) The household seemed to be settling as well and kindness began spreading from person to person. This was worth my time! It made no rational sense, but it was not hard to see the effect it was having on my whole family. There has been more peace, love and harmony in the past week, since I have again adopted this new routine, then there was when I was getting "enough" sleep and fellowshipping less often.
I won't miss my time with God in the morning anymore. Sleeping longer is simply not worth it to live on my own human strength throughout the day. Often I have to remind myself that my new motto is," Sleep is overrated!" (I'll just keep saying till I believe it:) thanks CR. Until then, I will choose to be obedient to God's personal call in my life and not listen to my flesh. It is good practice. I have never regretted getting up early and praying, but have often regretted sleeping in just a little bit longer:)