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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.

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Revelation 22:17 on My Mind

NewOMM“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” –Revelation 22:17

I think this must be one of the happiest verses in the Bible. Can’t you feel the excitement? The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” It’s a party invitation. And this party includes free water of life for all who are thirsty. Life. Joy. Everything we need.

A key part of this verse, though, can be found in the first few words. Look who’s doing the inviting: the Spirit and the bride. The Spirit, of course, is God’s Holy Spirit, the One Who draws people to Christ, the Source of the free gift of water in this verse. (See John 4:10-13.) The bride, though, is us! If we’ve received this living water and are on our way to the party (eternal life in Heaven with our Lord), we’re not to be silent about it. We’re to yell, “Come!” As we travel, we tell everyone we meet where we’re going and that they’re invited, too. Just picture yourself walking, or maybe even running, toward the great feast in God’s Kingdom that you’ve been invited to. As you go, you reach out toward everyone you see along the way, eagerly taking their hands, looking in their eyes, and urging them to come with you.

“Come!” you say.

“Come!” the Spirit says.

Those who recognize what they are thirsty for will be happy to go with you.

I’ve written this verse on an index card and placed it where I’ll see it often this week. I invite you to do the same. As we meditate on these words, perhaps even coming to memorize them, let’s remember where we’re going and ask God to help us invite thirsty people to come along. In our prayer time, our thoughts on this verse will help us remember to pray that God will cause all people to recognize their thirst and to realize the truth: Jesus is the living water Who can satisfy their needs for all eternity.

Father, thank You for these joyous words. Help us to think of them often this week. Remind us, as we face whatever comes our way, that we’re on our way to eternity with You. Show us how and when to invite other people to come along. We’re looking forward to that future, happy day. We love You, Lord. Amen.

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Recognizing a Call to Worship

Parachute Prayer“Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, LORD. They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation. They exult in your righteousness.” –Psalm 89:15-16, NLT

I don’t know what the weather’s like around your house right now, but it’s been kind of a gloomy day around here. I’ve opened all the windows to let the sunshine in, but there isn’t any to be found. Even the dog is sulking. He likes to lay in the sunny spot on the floor. I giggle whenever he has to move to stay in the sunshine as that spot moves over the course of a day.

There’s no sunny spot today.

But there is a gentle breeze. I can see it rustling the leaves of trees and bushes around our house. Sometimes it gets a little more aggressive, causing colorful leaves to dance, then fall. Pleasant to watch—even on a non-sunshiny day.

Reading Psalm 89:15-16 sent my thoughts down this path. I thought of walking in the light of God’s Presence. He’s with us all the time every day. But sometimes we forget.

The Psalmist says those who hear the joyful call to worship are happy, rejoicing all day long in God’s wonderful reputation, exulting in His righteousness. That call to worship is available to everyone! Yet, not everyone hears it. Why? It’s something have to want to hear. It’s something we have to train ourselves to recognize.

Thankfully, the God of All Creation has given something to help us with this. When you see the sunshine crawling across your floor or feel its warmth on your skin, let it remind you that God is there. He’s not in the sunshine, but He created it. Let it be your call to worship Him.

Likewise, when you see the leaves dancing and beginning to fall or feel the crisp, cool Autumn air, let these do the same. Recognize the sunshine and the breeze as gifts from their Creator to You, gifts that can call you to express your thanksgiving and praise.

Father, I want to walk in the light of Your Presence every day—and be aware of it as I do! Thank You for simple reminders that You are everywhere, that You created everything, that I can stop and talk to You anytime, about anything. I love You, Lord! Amen.

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Climbing Higher

Climbing Rock“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me.” –Psalm 94:18

I tried rock climbing once. My senior class in college took a trip to Yosemite National Park where the rock-climbing club from our campus volunteered to give a lesson to those who were interested. It looked easy enough.

It wasn’t.

Swaddled in harness and ropes, I began my ascent, quickly realizing that the strength I needed would have to come from my fingers and arms–every little muscle in each would be required for the task. My legs existed for balance and support as my hands sought a sure grip for lifting myself to the next level. Halfway up the rock face, I thought I could go no further. I felt exhausted, but had to go on. I began to rely on a voice from above.

That’s where my instructor was.

Below, I could hear friends, my fellow first-time climbers, shouting much needed encouragement as I struggled through my shaky situation. But my instructor was giving the advice I most wanted to hear:

“Move your hand a few inches to the left, Janet. There’s a great handhold there. Do you see it? There! Now place your foot in that crevice and push yourself up. Keep going! Now move your other hand to that small ledge just above the other one. You’ve got it!”

I depended on these words and followed them as precisely as I could. Of everything he said, though, the words that comforted me most were:

“Don’t be afraid. If you start to slip, I’ve got hold of the rope. You will not fall.”

Life is like that climb. We lift ourselves up, one handhold at a time, while listening to that precious Voice from Above. Our fellow climbers shout encouraging words as we make our way to the top. God’s voice is the One to listen for, though. He is there to help us find our way. Better yet, He’s got hold of the rope. We can depend on Him; if our feet start to slip, He’ll never let us fall.

Precious Guide, thank You for holding me tightly with the harness and rope of Your love. Amen.

For more devotional thoughts today, visit Spiritual Sundays.

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Praying for Decision-Makers Whose Choices Concern Us

“May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed. May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great.” –Psalm 138:4-5

It’s easy to become alarmed when we read or hear in the news that a national or world leader or group of leaders is making decisions contrary to God’s known will, in other words, in opposition to what’s clear in His Word.

We don’t have to be alarmed, though. Our sovereign God is in control. He knows what’s going on, who’s behind it, and how it will end. And nobody does anything without His consent. He may not approve, but He does allow, and when He does, He knows just what He’s going to do about it.

So. No worries. God’s got this.

In the meantime, though. There is something more positive that we can do whenever we hear alarming news such as this. Like the psalmist, we can pray. In fact, he even gave us the words. Psalm 138:4-5 is a prayer for the leaders of this earth. When God brings them to mind through any news source, let’s remember to pray that they will all learn to praise Him. Let’s pray they’ll learn what God has decreed. Let’s pray that they’ll come to sing of His glory as they realize His glory is great.

In Romans 13:1, Paul tells us that “there is no authority except that which God has established.” That being the case, those authorities need direction from God. I have no doubt that He can and will use them for His purposes right where they are right as they are, but just think how much more effective they’d be and how much more fulfilled personally if they were working in cooperation with God, living as His faithful servants, longing to touch His heart.

Father, thank You for the prayers of the Bible. Thank You for leading us to this one today. Help us to remember these words and pray them often, for the good of our world, our nation, and our community, for the good of those who serve in positions of authority. Amen.

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Strength for More Than a Game

Salmon Flowers“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ . . . From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” –Ephesians 4:11-13, 16

Raise your hand if you remember Red Rover, Red Rover, the infamous, school playground game.

I truly hope there aren’t too many of you who do. I remember the day when the playground monitor came out to stop us from playing it and to tell us that the school had decided it was just too dangerous. Someone was going to get their arm pulled out of its socket—or worse!

Part of my then ten-year-old self was outraged that the school would stop us from having so much fun. A bigger part, a part I kept quiet at the time, was oh-so-relieved!

That game was absolutely terrifying!!!

For those who’ve been blessed to have never heard of it:

Two teams line up facing each other on opposite sides of the playing field. Children on each team link arms to make a chain. One team yells, Red Rover, Red Rover send [unfortunate child from the other team] right over. That unfortunate child, often me (I’ll explain why in a minute.), then has to run as fast as she can across the field to try to break through the other team’s chain. If she succeeds, she triumphantly gets to choose one member of the opposite team to join her team. If she fails, she gets caught up in the chain like a convict snagged at the top of a barbed wire fence. Then, when everyone finishes laughing over this child’s humiliation, she reluctantly becomes part of the team she failed to break through. The other team then takes their turn, hopefully not calling the same, unfortunate child back.

Why was I often that unfortunate child? Because I was little. Think about it. A smart team is not going to call the big, football-player-type kid to come hurling at them as fast as he can from clear across the field. No. They’re going to call the child least likely to break through, aka the little girl.

On the flip side, the child who is running across the field is not going to try to break through between two giant, playground jocks whose arms are solidly linked. No. That child is going to try to break through two little girls. That’s right. Me and my best friend, Anne. If we weren’t the runners, we were targets, bracing ourselves for the on-coming blow and praying it wouldn’t hurt too much.

Oh, yeah. We were sorry to see that game go.

Spiritual warfare is kind of like that game of Red Rover. Satan is always looking for the weak link in the Body of Christ. He targets it and throws everything he has as it, hoping to break through to claim someone for his side. But as the Body of Christ, we are one. We are joined and held together by supporting ligaments. We are growing and building ourselves up in love as each of us does our work.

I see two ways this works:

1. Just as someone who wants to excel at a physical sport will eat right, exercise often, and get plenty of rest before a game, Christians train for spiritual warfare.

I don’t think either Anne or I could have built ourselves up enough to stand against the playground jocks in a game of Red Rover. No protein-rich, muscle-building diet or amount of strength-training would have made much of a difference for us. We were just too small. (And we didn’t take the game that seriously!)

But Christians can build themselves up. Bible study is our healthy diet. Prayer, worship, and fellowship with other Christians are essential strength-training. Honoring the Sabbath assures we rest.

2. Just as a team must work together, with every member contributing his or her strengths, Christians help each other succeed.

Think about that game of Red Rover. What if, just once, instead of leaving Anne and I to stand alone against the oncoming runner, one of stronger players on our team had linked arms between us. That person’s strength added to ours might have made the difference to keep the other team from breaking through. Evidently, we weren’t smart enough to figure that out in grade school. (Or maybe, at ten, we were still afraid of cooties.)

But we Christians can apply the principle now. By serving one another in love, we help the weaker links among us to be built up and grow. The whole body benefits when we strengthen each other this way.

We build ourselves up through Bible study, worship, fellowship, and prayer. We build the body through faithful service to our brothers and sisters in Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Father, thank You for drawing us together in Christ as one body of believers. Help us do our part each day for individual and community growth. In You, we stand firm against the enemy. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

To read more devotional thoughts today, visit Spiritual Sundays and Hear It on Sunday; Use It on Monday.

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Thank You, Lord, for Significance

Red Flower“Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah.”–1 Chronicles 1:1-3

While researching my husband’s family tree, I learned of a genealogical society that had done extensive research about families in the area his family came from. I was able to order pamphlets recording their research about specific family names. I expected one that I ordered to provide information about my mother-in-law’s birth family. In that pamphlet, I found the name of her birth mother, with information about her parents and grandparents, etc.–just as I had hoped. I also found information about this ancestor’s second marriage and the children from both marriages. But this woman’s first husband was missing from the record; my mother-in-law’s birth father had been overlooked.

This man married, fathered four children, and then died in Italy during World War II–before his fourth child, my mother-in-law, was born. He was only 26 when he died. Perhaps that explains why the historians missed him. To my family, however, he’s significant. His children, their children and grandchildren would not exist if this man had not lived, even if only for 26 years. Further, my life and many others could not possibly be the same without the impact of this man’s descendants on us. His life had meaning; he mattered—big time!

You matter, too. The book of 1 Chronicles begins with several lists of names, names, and more names–hard to pronounce, in most cases, significance lost to the past. But God remembers each one. His children matter, that includes you. Perhaps at this time, you’re feeling overlooked and insignificant. God has a place for you. He hasn’t forgotten. He’ll never forget. He gave you life, and He wants you to live! Live for Him today.

Lord, to think that among all the world’s people–past, present, and future–somehow I matter to You! I’ll show my thanks by serving You. You matter most! Amen.

To learn what some others are thankful for today, visit the Counting Our Blessings Link Up.

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Turning Off the Voices in Our Heads

Words Aptly Spoken“Most of us, these days, spend much of our lives in our heads in a state of preoccupation and self-absorption, wrapped up in our anxieties and harangued by familiar voices that seem to run in an endless tape loop in our minds. We are obsessed with the things we have to do, or with how we can best play the starring role in what one of my students called, ‘the movie of my life.’ We rarely notice what is outside of us, right now, in the present moment.” –Barbara Baig, How to Be a Writer, p. 76

These words challenged me today. I’m all too aware that often they are true. Turning off the voices in our heads which demand we compare, contrast, worry, obsess, meet expectations, have our thoughts and opinions heard, or complete so many tasks in a day—too many tasks if they keep us from hearing others—can be difficult.

So let’s rise to the challenge today. Let’s make every effort to ignore those familiar, but pesky, voices, and use our senses to truly take in the action all around us. Let’s see the smile that’s not really a smile, so we can ask what’s really going on to show we care. Then let’s hear the story as it’s really being told, striving to get inside the talker’s head. Let’s smell Autumn in the air and taste whatever we eat—especially if we’re taking communion at church today! “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8a)! And don’t forget to touch. Greet each other with hugs and firm handshakes, being sure to take the time to connect with each other’s eyes. Let your friends know they are loved by offering your senses to them instead of to the voices in your head.

Then don’t forget to do the same for God. As I mentioned a few days ago, He’s all around us, waiting to be noticed, longing to be heard and loved. Make every effort today to listen for His voice, to see His face hidden all throughout this world. He promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Let’s devote our hearts to finding Him this day.

Father, thank You for this day. Help us, please, to live in the moment, noticing all that surrounds us, all You’ve given us to enjoy. Help us devote our senses to finding You and to loving the people You bring into our lives. With grateful hearts and Your Spirit’s help, we’ll train ourselves to live this way, intentionally, all the time. In Jesus’ name, amen.

What are you more likely to notice when you try to live this way? (The Leave a reply button is at the top of this post.)

For more devotional thoughts today, visit Spiritual Sundays.

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A Place to Nurture Faith and Watch It Grow

Wildflower Collage2It all started in Texas.

I only lived in that state for one year, but that gave me just enough time to discover wildflowers and to learn how to hunt them.

That’s right. I hunt them down and shoot them—with my camera, of course.

The first flowers I noticed were the bright purple tuber vervain, the showy primroses, the bluebonnets, and the Indian blankets. They were everywhere—and so pretty.

One morning, after Mike had left for work and the boys had left for school, I grabbed my little camera and drove to a nearby park where I’d seen some of these flowers blooming. I took all kinds of pictures.

They didn’t come out very good.

But I kept taking pictures. And my husband bought me a better camera. And my son taught me how to use the settings on that camera. And my pictures improved.

My new hobby was born.

It became more than a hobby, though. I started to notice that whenever I would stop to take a picture of one flower, I’d notice others nearby. When I moved to take their pictures, I’d see more—then more. I would think I was stopping to photograph one simple flower, then end up taking pictures of a lot!

I realized that our thoughts about God work like that, too. God is all around us all the time, trying to get our attention, trying to get us to think about Him and to talk with Him, too. Sometimes we’re busy and ignore Him. We carry on right past the thought and miss the message from God.

IMG_3268When something simple from everyday life, though, like a wildflower, catches our attention and draws us to think about God in some new way, His Spirit will bring other thoughts to mind. As we consider these, we’ll remember Bible verses, sermons, and other words we’ve heard or read which reinforce the thought. When we know God’s Word supports the new thought, we’ll realize we’ve learned a new truth. About God. About the way He wants us to live life.

That’s how Wildflower Thinking, my first blog was born.

But this is Wildflower Faith! This is the next step.

You see, thoughts are just thoughts. Thoughts about God and His truths are good. Very good! When we learn to apply them to our daily lives in a practical way, though, that’s faith. That’s growing faith!

Shortly after our family moved to Georgia for the first time, the move that followed our year in Texas, my husband planted a few showy primroses in our front yard for me. He thought I might enjoy raising some wildflowers of my own, and he was right!Primroses

Winter came, though, and the flowers died. They do that in winter, you know.

But then came spring and with it came not just a few little showy primroses, but enough to stretch across the whole front of our house. Those primroses where everywhere!

Wildflower Faith is like that. When hard times come, it may struggle or seem to disappear. If we don’t give up on it, though, it’ll come back. Stronger. And it will bring friends!

I invite you to join me here in this place where, together with God’s Spirit and His Word, we can nurture Wildflower Thoughts into Wildflower Faith

And watch it grow!