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Tag: spiritual discipline

An Introduction to Fasting

I want to begin today with a clarification:

Christianity is all about our relationship with God. It’s not about following the all rules in the Bible or becoming a better person or going through certain rituals or ceremonies. We may do all those things, but don’t confuse the cause for the effect. All those things we do (like going to church, obeying the Bible, even taking communion or being baptized – those are all the effect – not the cause.

We do those things in response to God’s incredible love for us. We can never cause God to love us. There is nothing we can do to earn his favor or His acceptance. There’s nothing we can do to deserve forgiveness or the promise of eternal life. But yet we have all those things because of God’s incredible love for us.

  • So when I read the Bible, it’s not because I’m trying to earn God’s approval by doing that. It’s because I want to know more about this God who created me and who loves me – I want to know who He is and what He’s like.
  • When I take time out of my day to pray, it’s not because my prayers somehow give me better standing with God. I pray because God is my heavenly Father who cares about me. I want to tell him about my victories and my failures and my struggles. I want to cry out to him for help. I want to thank Him for his goodness. I pray because I know my heaven Father loves me.
  • Even in things like communion or baptism. Those things don’t change our standing with God. I’ve been baptized because I want to make a public declaration that Jesus loves me. He died and rose again for me. And because of that, I’m committing to follow Him for the rest of my life. That’s why I’ve been baptized.

In all of the things that we do as Christians, God’s love is the cause – all of our actions are the effect.

And that’s so important to remember as we talk about these spiritual disciplines.

We’ve spent the last several weeks talking about the Healthy Habits of Christians. These are the things Christians have done over the centuries – not because they earn us salvation or God’s love or God’s approval or anything. We do these things in response to God’s incredible love for us. This is how we get to know Him and trust Him more.

And so far, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about just two of most common spiritual disciplines. We started by looking at reading and studying God’s Word and then after that, we spent some time talking about prayer. I think almost every Christian today would say that they’ve practiced those two disciplines at least a little bit. It’s probably pretty tough say that you’re following Jesus if you’ve never talked to Him and you’ve never read His Word.

But today, we’re going to talk about a spiritual discipline – or a healthy habit – that probably most Christians have never practiced. Which is a real shame, because this healthy habit is an incredibly effective tool in helping us draw near to God.

Which is, of course, the point of all these spiritual disciplines. They help us draw close to God. That’s what the Scriptures do. That’s what praying does. That’s what all these healthy habits do – they help us draw near to God – to know Him and to grow deeper in our relationship with Him. And that’s what our next healthy habit helps us do as well. So hopefully, by the end of the message today, in addition to your Bible and prayer, you’ll have another tool at your disposal to help you grow deeper in your relationship with God.

The healthy habit that I want to talk about today is the habit of fasting. And like I said before, probably most Christians today have never practiced this spiritual discipline. Fasting is just not something we North American Christians have had much experience with. But when you look over the scope of history – we are the odd ones out. Fasting has been practiced since the time of Moses.

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A Lifestyle of Prayer

Over the past several weeks we’ve been looking at the spiritual disciplines – or the Healthy Habits – that Christians have been practicing for centuries in order to help them develop and maintain a close relationship with God. Things like Bible reading, prayer, worship, fasting, times of silence and solitude, giving, serving – all those that we do (not because they earn us salvation or forgiveness or favour with God) but because these are the things that help us know God and to hear his voice and to become more like His Son Jesus. In other words, these are the things that help us remain in Him and He, in us – like it says in John 15:5…

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. ” John 15:5

All of these spiritual disciplines or as we’ve called them – these “Healthy Habits” – are tools that help us remain in Him. They help us stay close to and connected with Jesus – who is the source of our life, our joy, our peace, our love – everything. Apart from Him, we’d have none of that. We’d be like a branch that has been broken off from the tree, that just withers up and becomes dry and brittle. We don’t want to be like that. We want to have His life flowing through us so that we can produce fruit and lots of it!

And so these healthy habits are exactly how we do that.

Last week we talked about the purpose of prayer. And we discovered that praying really isn’t about getting answers to our prayers. Prayer isn’t like popping coins into a cosmic vending machine – where we put the prayers in and expect the answers out.

Prayer doesn’t work that way – and if you expect it to – you’ll undoubtedly be disappointed in prayer. Prayer isn’t so much about changing your situation – it’s more about changing you.

Now God certainly may change your situation – but at the same time, He may not. But when we go to God in prayer, and we tell him our concerns and our issues and we make our requests – and then when we leave that all with Him and just trust Him to do whatever it is that He knows is best, that changes us. It grows our faith and our trust in Him. As we see how He answers (either yes or no), we learn to see things from His perspective. We see his goodness and his faithfulness and his wisdom and his sovereignty. And as we see all that, God works within us to change us from the inside out. Richard Foster writes…

“To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue that God uses to transform us…. In prayer we learn to think God’s thoughts after Him: to desire the things He desires, to love the things He loves, to do the things He wills.”

Richard Foster ~ Celebration of Disciplines.

That’s the purpose of prayer. It’s not just a way of giving God our grocery list of things we want Him to do for us, but it’s how God changes us to become more like His Son, Jesus Christ.

A great example of this I think, is King David. Probably most of you know how the Bible describes King David as a man after God’s own heart. Well, these past couple of weeks as I’ve been studying up on prayer, I’ve come to the conclusion that David’s prayer life probably had everything to do with that!

As I read through the Psalms and as I read through the story of David’s life – I can’t help but notice how David was always praying!  And if this statement by Richard Foster is true, then it’s no wonder that David was known as a man after God’s own heart – because if prayer had taught him to think God’s thoughts after Him: to desire the things God desires, to love the things God loves, to do the things God wills – well, that sure sounds like the definition of a “man after God’s own heart”, doesn’t it?

So today, I want to share with you just a quick example from the life of David of how he made prayer his healthy habit – how his relationship with God was shaped by prayer – how through that, He himself was shaped by prayer. And hopefully, along the way, I can point out a few practical tidbits of how we can develop this lifestyle of prayer as well.

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The Purpose of Prayer

Well, here we are two weeks into the new year. That means that 27% of all the New Years Resolutions have now been broken! I don’t know if any of you have made any new year resolutions this year (If I remember right – I don’t know that any of us did last year when I asked.) But if you did, I sure hope you’re able to stick with it longer than two weeks.

This week I was reading an article about the business model of gyms and fitness centres. And the article said that these businesses bank on people to sign up for gym memberships in January and then never show up. That’s a key part of their business model. The article said that…

If gyms operate at more than 5% of their membership at any given time, no one can use the gym. They want them to sign up, but they know that after the 15th of January, they won’t see 95% of them again.

That’s pretty incredible! But not too surprising, because I think a lot of us can relate.

I think all of us recognize the value of staying healthy and fit. Now certainly there can be those factors out of our control that prevent that, but generally speaking, all of would like to see ourselves healthy and fit and physically able to do all the things that we’d like to do.

And so most people would agree that it would be good for them to exercise more. Going to the gym would be beneficial. It would be a good habit to get into to. But yet, despite the knowledge in our head of how valuable physical activity and fitness is, very few people actually make it a priority to exercise or go to the gym or do all those things that are required if we want to stay healthy and fit.

Many of us have really good intentions – and we may go through short bursts of time of making the effort – but in the long run, very few people actually stick with it and make it a part of their lifestyle.

And I think we have a similar experience when it comes to the spiritual disciplines.

Over the past several weeks we have been looking at the spiritual disciplines (or the healthy habits) that Christians have been practicing over the centuries in order to cultivate a deep, meaningful relationship with God. We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the Bible (because that really is the foundation for everything we believe – we have to know and understand and apply this book to our lives), but today I want to look at another healthy habit – and that is prayer.

And prayer, I think, is very much like exercise. Everyone knows that it’s important, and everyone agrees that they really should do it more often, but yet, very few people make it a priority so that it becomes a central part of their life.

And so I spent some time this week trying to figure out why that is. Because every Christian I know agrees that prayer is important. They have the head knowledge that prayer should be central to every Christian’s life! But yet, almost every Christian will tell you, “I really don’t pray like I should. Maybe I pray some, but I really should pray more.”

Now of course, there are some exceptions. There are some people out there that just have amazing prayer lives – and usually, you know exactly who those folks are. They just seem to be so in-tune with God. Even in the midst of great struggles and trials, these folks aren’t shaken at all. It’s like they have this unwavering trust in God. And these folks tend to be so wise and patient and loving and kind. It’s like they’ve been mentored by God Himself! That’s the result of a lifetime and a lifestyle of prayer.

So why aren’t there more of those folks? Why isn’t every Christian like that? What is it about prayer that makes it so difficult to adopt as a lifetime habit? We know how important prayer is, and yet we struggle to make it a central part of our lives! Why is that?

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