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The Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

To allow Pastor Rick time to enjoy the Christmas season, we are re-publishing some of his most popular blog posts of 2013. (Originally published on July 29, 2013) 

This past Sunday I announced in our church that we are calling our church body to a two-week period devoted to prayer and fasting. Since I don't have a lot of opportunity over the next two weeks to teach on fasting, I wanted to take this week to write about this ancient, biblical spiritual discipline to help us understand more about why and how to fast. Whether or not you are a part of our church body, I hope this teaching helps you in your own spiritual growth in becoming more aligned with the heart of our heavenly Father.

What is fasting? Fasting is a spiritual discipline where you voluntarily reduce or eliminate your intake of food for a specific time and purpose. It can also include a broader concept of voluntarily abstaining from various activities in order to spend that allotted time in devotion and prayer. One way to describe it is that we fast from the things of earth in order to feast on the things of the Spirit.

Why fast? Fasting is not just about abstaining from eating or watching television or giving up Facebook for a period of time. Fasting is about abstaining from something IN ORDER to do something else, namely spend time with God through His Word and Spirit. If you fast one meal a day, take the time that you normally would spend eating and use that time to be in God's Word and prayer. Fasting demonstrates our dependency upon God. Every time you feel hungry, it's a reminder of our need to be hungry for God. When a church unites together for a period of fasting, it can become a tool we can use when there is opposition to God’s will. Satan would like nothing better than to cause division, discouragement, defeat, depression, and doubt among us. United prayer and fasting has always been used by God to deal a decisive blow to the enemy!

What does the Bible say about fasting? In your own devotional time this week, I encourage you to look up and study the following passages: Matthew 6:16-18; Acts 13:2-3; Joel 1:14; Joel 2:12; Ezra 8:23; Isaiah 58:6; 2 Chronicles 20:2-3; Daniel 9:3; Nehemiah 1:4; Luke 4:2.

A word of caution: Remember that fasting is not “earning” an answer to prayer. God cannot be blackmailed by human effort. God wants to answer our prayers, and He answers out of grace. Fasting simply prepares us for God’s answer.

For those of us at Eat 91st Street Christian Church, we are fasting these two weeks for the following three purposes:

1. Seeking God's direction and guidance for our elders, staff and church body;

2. Seeking God's power to move through our church body to engage our culture and community with the love and truth of Jesus Christ;

3. Praying that God will unite us through His power to be His vessels in a world that often does not understand Him.

May the Lord grant us His presence as we "humble ourselves and pray and seek His face, turn from our wicked ways" (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Are you Climbing the Right Mountain?

To allow Pastor Rick time to enjoy the Christmas season, we are re-publishing some of his most popular blog posts of 2013. (Originally published on April 4, 2013) 

I meet every Wednesday morning with a group of men for Bible study, prayer and accountability. We're currently using Patrick Morley's Devotions for the Man in the Mirror as a guide, and a few weeks ago we discussed a very relevant topic for us--ambition. Our small group consists of men who have reached some of the highest peaks of their particular fields. From the world's perspective, these men would be considered ambitious and quite "successful." But one of my observations as I meet with people from all walks of life is that regardless of successes, accomplishments, or a lack thereof, people are people. We all have our joys and struggles. We all long for a meaningful existence, and we all have certain ambitions.

For some of us, we have ambitions to achieve, succeed, and excel. Morley tells the story about Edmund Hillary and his guide, Tenzing Norgay, who led the first successful climb to the top of Mount Everest, towering five and one-half miles high. They overcame what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles of avalanches, high winds, thin air, fatigue, and dwindling supplies. Hillary wrote about the exhilaration of becoming the first man to reach the pinnacle at 11:45 am on May 20, 1953. Hillary and Norgay stood on top of the world for all of … fifteen minutes. That's right. Fifteen minutes after they arrived, the high winds and sub-freezing temperatures forced them to begin their descent. If they delayed their retreat, nightfall would overtake them, and they would die on their downward trek.

Think about it. All of that sacrifice, training, and hard work to scale to the top of the world for fifteen minutes.

Most of us have some type of Mt. Everest we want to climb. Athletes want to compete at the highest level. This weekend is the Final Four in the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament, and only one team will be left standing at the pinnacle of college basketball success. Business people want to reach their Everest of success. Pastors often look to their Everest as more crowds, bigger buildings, and expanding budgets. We all are tempted to cave in to the pressures of allowing worldly ambition determine our drive, value and identity.

Most of us climb the wrong mountain. As the old cliché says, "I climbed my ladder to the top only to find out it was leaning against the wrong wall." Is the mountain you're climbing worth it? Is your fifteen minutes at the top worth the sacrifice you must make to get there? When we make our Everest a temporal mountain, we only find temporary elation in making it to the top. If our mountain top is simply to fuel the engine of selfish ambition, we may make it, but we will often make it alone and discover that the momentary thrill is just that, momentary. We are still left with an emptiness and longing, because, as Solomon put it, all we're doing is "chasing after the wind" (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

Ambition can be a good thing, if it leads us to climbing the right mountain. And the only mountain worth climbing is one that leads us to our heavenly Father. Psalm 43:3 says, "Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling." The goal of the Christian life is to climb the holy hill, the one that leads to the dwelling place of God. Morley writes, "The independent spirit wants Everest. The surrendered spirit wants the holy hill."

So what mountain are you climbing? Are you seeking your fifteen minutes at the top or an ascent that will last into eternity filled with a joy that's inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8)? The choice is yours: fifteen minutes or forever.

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