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Freedom’s Door

“Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his country.’” –Exodus 6:9-11

The Israelites had been in bondage for years. You would think they’d throw a party to celebrate and run to pack their bags on hearing Moses’ report that God was preparing to set them free. They didn’t, though. They were so discouraged and beaten down by bondage that they completely ignored the messenger and refused to believe the good news.

At this point, God could have said, “Well, fine. If you aren’t interested in being rescued, I’ll just leave you there.” But He didn’t. He loved his people too much for that; He wanted the best for them. So He went to work doing just what He’d said He would, showing His power and putting Pharaoh in his place. It was the beginning of the second greatest rescue of all time!

Second greatest? Yes! The Israelites were in bondage to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. But all of humankind is in bondage to Satan and this world. Some people are so discouraged and beaten down by this bondage that, like the Israelites, they can’t hear or understand the good news. God has opened the Door to their freedom anyway! Captives discouraged by sin don’t stop Him from putting His plans into action.

The plan? God sent His only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins and rise again that all people can be free. We’ve just celebrated that coming, and now, as a church, we’re contemplating Jesus’ growing up years and His ministry in anticipation of Easter’s celebration: God’s rescue plan fulfilled in Christ. As I consider Exodus 6:9-11, I’m so thankful God sets His plans in motion, even for people who can’t see the path out through their pain.

But it still comes down to personal choice. It always has. The Israelites didn’t have to leave Egypt. They could have said, “Thanks, but no thanks. You’ve opened the door, but we’re not walking through it. We’ll stay here and suffer rather than follow You to that so-called Promised Land.” They didn’t say that, though—well, they did, but that was later when they were on their way and discovered that the path to the Promised Land wasn’t a cakewalk. But that’s another story about another spiritual issue. What matters today is that the Israelites chose to follow God out of bondage, to begin their journey to the Promised Land. That choice is now available to all humankind: to follow Jesus out of bondage to sin and to begin the Christian’s journey to our eternal Promised Land.

Remembering the story of the Israelite response to Moses’ good news, let’s pray for today’s discouraged, burden-laden captives. Whenever we encounter people who can’t hear the good news over the screams of the captor bent on their abuse and destruction, let’s pray that God will speak a little louder and that He’ll make the door frame a little brighter and that He’ll show His power in miraculous ways so that the captives will see and believe and let Him set them free! Our all-powerful God is more than capable—people just have to follow Him out of sin’s prison door.

For more thoughts based on God’s Word this weekend, visit The Weekend Brew and Spiritual Sundays.

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Fasting as We Pray Fervently

Fasting. It’s kind of a mysterious practice, yet maybe it’s not as mysterious as it seems. DaisiesMaybe, in trying to explain it as a spiritual discipline, with rules and regulations and how-to’s and such, some have over-complicated the concept a bit. As a result of being exposed to these, I used to be quite skeptical of the whole idea—which I knew wasn’t good because the Bible talks about fasting. Jesus talks about fasting! But the idea of giving up food in order to get God to answer a prayer always sounded a tad manipulative to me. And I have too much respect for God to believe that He allows, and even encourages, Himself to be maneuvered that way. I also have too much faith in His fatherly love to believe that He would refuse to answer my deepest, most sincere prayers unless I sacrificed a meal or two or three or 40-days’ worth of them like Moses did in the passage I wrote about yesterday.

But then I discovered a definition of fasting that makes complete sense to me. As I began to look at fasting from this new perspective, I realized it wasn’t fasting I was skeptical about, just some explanations of how to practice it.

In his book, Fasting, Scot McKnight says, “Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life” (p. xviii). What this means is that fasting is not a manipulative tool or a demanded sacrifice, as I’d heard before. Rather, fasting is simply a natural response to grief.

Let’s take a look at an example from the parent/child relationship to see, in very simple terms, how this works. Imagine sitting down to dinner with your family. You serve the food, but one of your children refuses to eat. You ask why and he tells you that because you refused to buy him the latest video game that all of his friends already have, he’s decided not to eat any more until you change your mind. If you are a wise parent, you call your child’s bluff—even if it means he chooses to skip a meal or two—because you know your child will eventually realize that he wants food more than he wants that video game. Your child’s “fast” isn’t going to get him anything because a) you, the parent, have decided it’s not something he needs and b) his attitude is just plain selfish. He’s refusing to consider the bigger picture or to trust that you are doing what you believe is best for him.

On the other hand, imagine that your child tells you he doesn’t feel like eating because he just learned that his best friend’s father was in a car accident and may not survive. His friend is devastated, so he is, too. Your response to this kind of information will be much different. You’ll pray with your child, comfort your child, take meals to the friend’s family, and do whatever else you can think of to help in this time of need. Your child is fasting because he cares deeply. In sharing his heart with you, he’s trusting you to join him in his concern and to help however you can. He’s desperate for relief.

That’s the power of fasting. God, our heavenly Father, is moved when something touches His children’s hearts so deeply that they just can’t eat.

I believe this is what happened to Moses in the passage we looked at yesterday. For the first forty days, he was sitting on a mountaintop in the very Presence of God. Can you even imagine that?! He was probably so enthralled by God’s majesty that eating was the furthest thing from his mind. And, evidently, being in God’s Presence made eating unnecessary.

For the second forty days, Moses was devastated by the actions of his people and afraid for their lives. God was ready and able to wipe them off the face of the earth. There was no time for a lunch break.

Fasting is a natural, physical response to anything that touches our hearts in a big way. When our deepest emotions become involved, we lose the desire and ability to eat.

Does this mean that we should never schedule a fast? I don’t think so. Sometimes we have to deal with on-going life situations that cause us continuous pain. Knowing that we (or a loved one) will need strength for endurance, we may choose to forego a specific meal or two each week in order to reflect deeply on what’s going on, to talk with God about the way the circumstance is progressing, to draw comfort and strength from His Presence, so we (or they) can keep on keeping on. In this case, we’re fasting because our need to absorb God is more important than our need to ingest food. Our time will be well spent.

There is so much more I’d like to say about this, but I’ve offered enough for today. I encourage you, however, as you consider the practice of fasting and come across passages in the Bible that mention it, to think of them in the light of this simple definition. When something touches us so deeply we lose all desire for food, it touches our Father’s heart, too.

Lord, thank You for caring about the people and events that matter most to us. Knowing we can bring our deepest feelings to You is comforting. As we talk these over with You, we thank You for what we know You will do. Beyond all we can imagine, Your actions are always perfect. We love You, Father. Amen.

In my next post, I’ll wrap up my thoughts on praying fervently.

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Called to Pray Fervently

Red Lantana“Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight and so arousing his anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me . . . I lay prostrate before the LORD those forty days and forty nights because the LORD had said he would destroy you.” –Deuteronomy 9:18-19, 25

God’s Word touched my heart this morning when I read these words written by Moses himself. In this passage, Moses is speaking to the people he’d been leading for more than forty years. These people, without Moses, are finally getting ready to enter the Promised Land. Though they are the same people, God’s chosen people—the Israelites, they are a different people, a new generation, most of whom have no memory of actually living in and being rescued from Egypt.

They also have no memory of the above event, yet Moses speaks to them as if they were the ones who committed this grave sin: worshiping a golden calf instead of their one, true God.

Why? I kind of think Moses wanted these people at this time to know just how much he cared about them and just how much he wanted them to succeed, even though he wouldn’t be going with them into the Promised Land.

Just think about it: Moses had just spent 40 days and 40 nights on a mountaintop with God, receiving the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. During this time, Moses didn’t eat or drink an-y-thing. He comes down from the mountain only to find that his people have already turned away from God to worship an idol they made from gold. God is ready to destroy the people once and for all, but Moses prays for them.

Does he say, “Lord, please don’t destroy these people. Thank You. Amen.”

No.

He throws himself face down on the ground, I mean nose-in-the-dirt, and begs for their lives for 40 days and 40 nights—again, or maybe still, without eating or drinking.

Now that’s commitment.

I don’t know that I could ever pray that intensely, and I believe Moses needed God’s help to do so. But I do know there are times when God calls us to pray for our people with all the fervency and determination that we can muster—and He will help us, too.

I have a few ideas to share about this, but this post is long enough. I’ll continue over the next few days with thoughts on when and how to pray for others with urgency. I invite you to stayed tuned!

Father, thank You for Moses’ example—and thank You for hearing him. We know You hear us, too. Please teach us how to pray. Amen.