The cross is not just a means for salvation in the next life. This week we look at how we can use Christ’s sacrifice to lay sin at the foot of the cross and be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus teaches us to pray, he says, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What would this type of prayer look like in our lives today? Using the parable of the sower in Mark 4, and Paul’s prayer for the church in Colossians 1, we can see how too often we pray for the vine, when we should be praying for the soil.
This week I’m trying something a little different. Instead of writing out a full sermon or blog, I’m handing some tools over to you to craft a message (I was pretty sick and didn’t want to talk for 25 minutes). Below is a outline I would usually have early in the process of sermon preparation, with questions I ask myself to help teach the Scriptures and materials. I encourage you this week to spend some time either by yourself or with a friend, and go through this together.
- Pray before you do anything together
- Do a quick read over the sheet so you know where things are going
- Read over the Scriptures
- Share ideas with each other over what you could say for the different points. How do you transition from one to the next? What do you want to make sure people understand?
- Try and keep discussion connected to the Big Idea, it helps prevent rabbit trails.
- If you get stuck at any point, feel free to google stuff or ask Pastor Matthew
Pastor Matthew’s Super Secret Sermon Formula
Big Idea: Developing a habit of continuous praise is vital to a life of spiritual renewal.
Central Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:15-22
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”
Opening Illustration: Some kind of anecdote to set up “why” people should pay attention and listen for the next 20 minutes. Think of situations where praise has made a significant difference.
Scriptural Context: Before diving into the Scripture, it is important to get as much information about it as possible. Verses pulled from the Scriptures and mined like quotes can mean anything. But context and history can teach us a lot.
- Who wrote 1 Thessalonians and who was it written to?
- Are there reoccurring themes in 1 Thessalonians?
- Where does our passage take place? What is the message in the verse and sections before and after it? Are they disconnected strings of commands, or are they leading up to something or stemming forth from something?
Point 1) Rejoice always, give thanks in all circumstances
- What would it look like in a person’s life to always be rejoicing?
- What circumstances make it easy to rejoice?
- What circumstances make it hard to rejoice?
- Can you think of any Bible stories where people rejoiced in suffering? If so, what were the circumstances and how did praise change the situation?
- How does mental illness such as clinical depression change what it means to rejoice always?
Point 2) Pray continually
- What are the functions of prayer?
- Which of those functions would facilitate the development of a mind that continually gives thanks and rejoices in all circumstances?
- What forms of prayer are there?
- What form would continuous prayer look like?
Point 3) Do not quench the Spirit
- What is the relationship between this line and the previous ones we’ve looked at?
- What role do you see praise as having in spiritual revival?
Conclusion: Cap the teaching off with a summary and tangible application. If possible, refer back to your opening illustrations to solidify their message and purpose – or give a new one.
- Colossians 3:1-3
- Luke 17:11-19
- Psalm 77
- Psalm 42
- Philippians 4:4-7
- Acts 5:40-41
Do we realize what we are asking when we pray for God to purify our hearts? Refine us? Make us like gold and silver?
Full sermon audio here. Blog form will be posted Wednesday.
A passionate love affair with God. This is what Rob Reimer writes our Christian faith should look like. He says, “That’s what Christianity is all about – it is about a passionate love affair with the God who died for us because he couldn’t stand to be away from us.”
This phrase gave me significant pause. I didn’t really like it. I understood the degree of passion and intimacy that he was trying to convey, but the inclusion of affair really bothered me. The connotations of an affair are overwhelmingly negative in our vernacular. But as I began to reflect on it and read through the picture he was trying to paint throughout the chapter, I realized that affair was really quite an apt term for the degree to which we were to abandon other things in pursuit of God.
We all have relationships with this world an in this world that drive us and are core to our identity. We have ambitions. We have people we care about and are responsible for. We have interests and pursuits of various kinds. Careers, families, hobbies, friends, churches, clubs, ideologies, politics – these are the relationships we have that drive us, that carry us, that define us.
But what this passionate love affair with God is suggesting we do, is abandon these commitments in pursuit of God. That is very strong language. And it paints a picture that many of us would be unwilling to follow. We would be unwilling, not because we don’t love God or because we don’t want to be close to him – but unwilling because we don’t want to abandon those other things – usually with good reason.
I have a family I love so deeply. I have responsibilities to that family.
I have a church that I love deeply. I have responsibilities to it.
I have a prison ministry I care about.
I have ambitions for developing myself and my gifts.
I have friends I care about. Different organizations I am a part of.
I am divided by many things in life. Good things worthy of my time and energy. So I add to that list my faith and longing for God, and I divide myself accordingly as I’m able.
But I find I’m not enough.
I’m not enough to pastor my church, pastor the inmates at the prison, be involved in the community, counsel people in crisis, be an encouragement to my friends and a positive influence on leaders in Grande Cache – all while showing my wife the undying love she deserves and my kids the present and loving father they deserve, then find the energy still to reach out to God in prayer and develop my relationship with him.
But the pursuit of God offers a different path forward. When God truly becomes the center, we will find ourselves more capable of wading through the responsibilities of life. When God becomes the focus of our energy, he becomes the source of new energy, and we have all that we need to do the things in life that he has called us to do.
As I learn about my heavenly Father and grow closer to him, I become a better father to my children. As I learn about his sacrificial love for me, I learn sacrificial love for my wife. As He leads me, I am better equipped to lead. As I see him move throughout communities to reach and save the lost, I develop a spiritual vision for reaching and saving the lost. “Seek ye first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you as well.”
In John 15:4-8, Jesus gives a metaphor for the source of fruit in our lives.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
If we find ourselves in passionate pursuit of intimacy with God, we will be grafted on, and the fruit of our lives will grow.
Maybe you once had a passion for God, but its faded over time. As Reimer says, “What began with passion ends with duty.” Perhaps there was a time you loved to read through the Scriptures and just soak up everything you could – now you read them out of obligation because that’s what Christians do. Perhaps you once rejoiced in eager anticipation with each Sunday gathering to worship God with others and be part of his kingdom, and now you come to church because that’s what Christians do.
A great way to tell if the fire is there or not is your perspective on ministries when you engage. Are you looking for God or looking for problems? Are you concerned with what you like, or what God is doing? Do you long to worship God through your favourite songs alone, or are you joyous just to worship regardless of style?
Think of relationships you have in life. When things are going really well, the diversity with which you engage that person grows. How many guys have sat through a romantic comedy that was just the worst simply because it meant time with a woman they love? And then your relationship continues on, and you kind get used to having the other person around, and you hit that phase of – ok, you do your thing, I’ll do mine. The passion and desire dies down. It isn’t that things are bad, or that you’ve stopped caring for each other. But both want to have that fire again. In those situations, it isn’t the big romantic gestures that rekindle those fires. It’s the willingness to be with each other even when things are not ideal for you.
Big romantic gestures are easy, short, and fleeting. Lifestyle changes are hard, long term, and foundational.
So if you want to rekindle your love affair with God, you aren’t going to do so with a weekend retreat. Though a weekend retreat may help. You aren’t going to do so with a massive sacrificial offering donation. Though a massive sacrificial offering donation may help *cough cough*. It’s about lifestyle changes and habits.
So how do we do this? How do we pursue God?
We love one another.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
The first thing we need to do is learn about the love of God that we can better reflect it to the world around us. The Bible doesn’t call us just to be recipients of God’s love in this world, but vessels of it that carry that love to the world around us.
- Pray for God. Pray to know Him more. Pray to have His love revealed to you. God does not ask his people to sacrifice and change their lives for an unknown deity. He wants to reveal himself to us. And when we see him for who he is, that fire will burn within us to grow even deeper in love with him. As John wrote in 1 John, we love because he first loved us.
- Indwell your mind with God as you love others.
- Remind yourself of Him during the highs and lows of your day, as well as the times of monotony. When you are peeling potatoes, are you aware of God?
- Prune your life as your love for others refocuses your priorities.
- Social media is not a sin, but if it is keeping you from quiet time with God, it is a sin.
- Rob Reimer tells a story of visiting a vineyard and talking with a man who had been pruning vines for 50 years. He said that 90% of new growth had to be cut off, so that what remained could produce fruit. What in your life is tapping your resources and holding you back?
- Sacrifice as you love others.
- Invest in your relationship with God. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Make sacrifices until they no longer seem like sacrifices. Then give more as God pours into your life.
The pursuit of God requires a lot of little choices. Day to day.
“If you pursue God, you will ultimately be rewarded with more of Him.” – Rob Reimer
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.
Full Sermon Audio:
There is a thirst for revival. We long to see the movement of the Spirit in our personal lives and in our churches – we long to see Him come and bring a freshness and abundancy of life that draws people to God and shows them the real impact the gospel can have in this world.
Too often we swing the pendulum too far, one way or another, in seeking revival. Sometimes we work really hard, study, learn everything we can, max out all our resources, and wonder why revival isn’t coming. Other times, we sit back, pray, and wait for God, and wonder why He isn’t coming. We swing the pendulum back and forth between these two extremes of, “Everything I can do” and “Everything God should do.” But throughout history, God has wanted to partner with His people to affect the wonderful change in this world that the Gospel longs to do.
The first pathway is personalizing our identity in Christ. Understanding who we are in Christ helps us know the potential of the Spirit in our lives. It helps us draw closer to God. It helps us garner expectations for the experiences of our lives. Our identity in Christ opens up the other pathways to God as we truly learn what it means to be a child of God.
This is a passage that can be hard to understand. The Apostle Paul is writing here about the transition from the Jewish theology about law and salvation to the new theology in Christ and the Spirit that come as a result of the cross. Romans 8 is also a passage that comes from a long build up – the first seven chapters of Romans are all leading up to this, “Therefore…” that the chapter opens up with. The complex context can make Romans 8 hard to understand, but within its verses is a powerful message about who we are in Christ, and what is available to us in His Spirit.
1. We are saved. The opening line of this passage proclaims the wonderful truth that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. We often limit our concept of condemnation to the next life – we proclaim that we are saved from the fires of hell. But we are also saved from condemnation from God in this life. We don’t have to let our sin stand between us and God. Whatever we have done, the cross has taken care of it, and we can be in the presence of God confident and secure.
2. We are adopted. We are welcomed into God’s family. We have the ability to cry out, “Abba! Father!” just as Christ did. God longs to be the perfect representation of a Father in our lives.
3. Sealed in the Spirit. While more explicit in Ephesians 1, this passage in Romans 8 reveals a sense of ownership and promise that God will complete His work in us.
4. The same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in us. Our identity is more than just a status – it is an opportunity to move beyond our own limits into something more. When we seek revival and spiritual strength, it is this Spirit that lives in us that brings it about. As we understand more and more what it means to be in Christ, we will understand more and more exactly what this power of the Spirit makes available to us in our lives.
5. We are called to something greater. This salvation, adoption, seal and power that we are blessed with in Christ, put a wonderful potential in us for something greater in life. Ephesians 1 tells us how we have been gifted to accomplish specific tasks. God as a role for you in this world to share the love of Christ and the strength of the Spirit in the midst of the darkness.
6. We are a new creation. While the cross of Christ was enough to atone for our sins, God loves us too much to keep us in our sinful state. Our identity in Christ is people who are being brought into righteousness by God’s strength. He wants to cleanse us. He wants to restore us. He wants to transform us to be the people He created us to be.
7. We are people who rejoice in suffering. This is a point we don’t often talk about, because it is difficult to talk about. If you look at the first six points, it is easy to think that the Christian life will be filled with harmony and wonderful good times. But the reality is, nobody in this world goes without hardship. Nobody goes without pain. The gospel does not promise us a life free from hurt, but it does promise us a different mindset with which to go through the hurt. “We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” James 1 talks about the potential for trials to develop maturity. 1 Peter talks about how we all will suffer, but if we suffer for the right reasons, we have hope for something greater. Those who come through severe suffering often have the most impact on the world around them as the strength and perspective they needed to endure gave them wisdom and vision to make the world a better place. I encourage you to skim through the writings of Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch woman who helped many Jews escape during the holocaust and was herself put into a concentration camp. Her writings are deeply simple and profound having come through such evil and terror.
So how do we make these points of our identity in Christ a part of our reality and the way we live? Romans 8:6 gives us a clue. “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life.” A lot of what we believe about ourselves and how we live begins with our mind and what we allow to fill it and have sway over it.
Do we spend time in prayer and the word trying to instill our spirits with God’s truth?
In his book, Pathways the King, Rob Reimer has a declaration of identity that he encourages us to read daily. It is a declaration derived from the Scriptures that lays out what it means to be a child of God. He encourages us to speak it and pray it in our daily lives until we see it starting to become the reality we know, not just in our minds, but in the experiences of our lives.
This identity is the first pathway to the King. Knowing who we are opens the door to seeing what we can be
Declaration of Identity in Christ
I am a child of God. I have been justified through faith in Christ. I have been pardoned and acquitted. I have been forgiven. I am clothed with the righteousness of Jesus. My history has been rewritten. I belong to my Father. I am deeply loved by God. God’s love is unconditional.
God’s love for me is unchanging. My performance cannot change it. The demonic hosts cannot stop it. The future will not alter is. No one can separate me from it. I am deeply loved by my Father in Heaven. I am secure in Christ. I belong to God. I am a possessor of grace.
I am chosen by God. I am wanted. I am adopted into his family. I am an heir with God and coheir with Christ. I am a prince/princess in his kingdom. I am included in Christ. I have been marked with a seal. The Holy Spirit lives in me. I am in Christ. And Christ is in me. I am deeply loved by my father. I belong.
I’m on the road to glory. I am God’s friend. I am at peace with God. God is for me. And if God is for me, who can be against me? I have been bought with a price. I am not my own. I have been set free. I have been redeemed. I have no condemnation. I have eternal life. I am a new creation.
I am more than a conqueror. I am victorious. I have been called to the family of God. I have been called to carry His presence. I am an ambassador for Christ. I am a witness. I am the salt and light of the world. I am God’s co-worker. I carry the keys to the kingdom. I am a kingdom carrier.
I am empowered by the Holy Spirit within me. I partner with God to bring his kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. I am deeply loved by my Father in Heaven. I have eternal significance.
We live in a world that loves to point out the negative.
This isn’t an inherently bad thing. Negative things exist. They should be criticized and fixed wherever possible.
But when we only focus on the negative, the rest of the world gets blurry and we lose context, making way for anger and fear to cloud our decision making and dominate our emotions.
The last couple of Canada Days have not been without controversy in many circles. Criticisms of historical atrocities, negative reaction to modern cultural trends, and protests of political shifts on all sides have made it hard for some people to celebrate living in Canada.
In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul reminds us, “…whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” He tells us this in the midst of a passage which is trying to help its readers find peace and contentedness in everyday life. There is a strong emphasis in the Scriptures to keep the positive things of life – the things worth being thankful for and rejoicing in – always in our thoughts. This has profound spiritual strength, as well as physical and psychological.
Canada is far from perfect. There are issues at all levels. But if we don’t celebrate what is good, we will have a significantly harder time dealing with what is bad. We will lose focus, be given over to anger, and do more harm than good.
One of my personal frustrations as a Canadian is the hostile and divisive political climate. It seems like one liner ideologies rule news and discussion. Complex issues are reduced to Facebook meme’s and internet algorithms feed us news that we like, allowing our confirmation bias to take control and narrow our actual exposure to differing points of view. I get annoyed when I see the way people treat those who disagree with them on government issues. I get even more annoyed when I see our leaders and politicians treat each other even worse. Sometimes I really struggle to view our democratic system in a positive light.
But then I learned that 121 Mexican politicians have been killed since September 2017. That’s ten months. One hundred and twenty one people in ten months were killed for political reasons in Mexico. We make angry Facebook posts. They murder each other. Suddenly, contrasting the political climate of Canada and Mexico helps put some perspective on my complaints.
This doesn’t make my complaints go away. A problem is a problem. Just because something is worse somewhere else, doesn’t mean it is suddenly ok. But it does give me a sense of appreciation and thankfulness. It helps me gain some patience with our own system.
On a more religious note, we often worry about the spiritual climate of our country. As our society becomes increasingly secular, Christianity carries significantly less cultural weight than it used to. Decisions like a recent court ruling against Trinity Western University show us that as religious rights are more and more frequently going up against civil rights, religious rights are going to lose. This worries us. We fear persecution. But once again, when all we focus on is the negative, we are open to fear and anger, emotions that hold us back from seeing God’s vision and path for us.
Matthew 10 contains my favourite passage for helping show people that even with these changes in our culture, Canada is still a very safe place to be a Christian.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
That was Jesus who said that! Jesus! The “prince of peace.” And He said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Why I love this passage so much is how hard it is to explain to people in Canada, and how easy it is to explain to somebody who lives in a nation with significant persecution.
Explaining this to somebody here usually requires a lengthy one on one conversation about the context in which Jesus was talking, and what he meant by this sword and families turning against each other.
But to the Christians I met in Egypt? No explanation needed, because this passage is the story of their lives. Many of them were driven from their communities when they came to believe in Christ as the Messiah. Many of them had to make a choice at some point between their family and their faith. When an ideology is so rigorously opposed to the Gospel, there is inevitable, heartbreaking conflict.
The ‘persecution’ we experience in Canada is nothing compared to Christians throughout the ages.
But when all we focus on is the negative around us, we are turned over to fear and anger, and we miss what God is doing.
In the midst of persecution, Christianity thrives. The edge of civilization is where Christianity has been the strongest. Not the centre. As we get pushed to the outside, we are put into positions where we have to start making more difficult choices, and making real sacrifices to follow Christ.
When we begin to look for what God has done we are able to see more clearly what He is doing now. When we hear the stories of triumph in circumstances so much more dire and challenging than our own, we begin to see the hand of the divine shift and move toward that beautiful ending we see promised to us in Revelation 21.
But we fear the persecution. We fear a faith that costs us.
Remember this: A faith that costs you is a faith that has value. A faith that costs nothing – means nothing.
Let’s come back to Canada Day.
There is a lot of cause for us to be thankful we live in Canada.
We put those first and foremost in our minds, we can more clearly see where God is moving, and we can navigate the problems and criticisms around us with a stronger, more Spirit centred mind.
As the world shifts and moves around us, are you focused on what God is doing, or are you focused on what humanity is doing?
I love my country. I love the people in my country. I know that God loves them too, and he wants to partner with His church to show them the overwhelming hope and love that come through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Happy Canada Day from Pastor Matthew!
In a world with constant distractions and clutter, the practice of Christian meditation can have enormous impact on our spiritual lives. In a more and more connected world, we need to learn to disconnect and re-engage with God and His Scriptures.
For many of us, the centre of our prayer life is requests. We go to God to tell Him what we need and tell Him what He should do. Meditation is the practice of listening. Of filling our mind with the things of God, connecting to Him, and just opening us to let Him speak into our life and hear Him.
Unfortunately, meditation has become synonymous with Eastern Religions and New Age spirituality and as a result, many Christian circles no longer practice it. But we see the practice throughout the Scriptures and Christian history.
Christian meditation is the act of filling our minds with something of God. We all meditate in one way or another now – though we often don’t call it meditation, and often it isn’t positive. In such cases, we would call it, “brooding.” We fill our minds with negative thoughts and dwell on them for significant periods of time. “Can you believe what that person at work said? Can you believe what so and so did to me yesterday?” These thoughts fill our minds, and they can significantly affect our day to day lives.
Christian meditation is designed to push out the negative and the clutter, and replace them with Christ and the hope and peace of the Gospel. There is no specific form meditation must take – one person may choose to retreat into the mountains, another reflect while driving, and another watching a busy street. What is more important than how we meditate is what we meditate on.
Meditate on the Scriptures and their teachings:
Psalm 1:2, “but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night, that person is like a tree planted by streams of water.
Meditate on God’s Deeds:
Psalm 77:12 “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
Too often we spend much of our time dwelling on what we need God to do, or what we hope He will do, and it can be discouraging. But taking time to reflect on the past and what He has done can change our discouragement into celebration. If you read the entirely of Psalm 77, you see this transition take place.
Meditate on God’s Promises:
Psalm 119:148 “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.”
Meditate on God’s Love:
Psalm 48:9 “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.”
God’s teachings, God’s deeds, God’s promises, and God’s love. Need a starting place that encompasses all of these? Meditate on the cross of Christ. Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The cross of Christ is the fulfillment of promise that creates a new promise of salvation and redemption. It is an act of love that comes with it powerful teachings for hope and reconciliation.
What does the cross mean to you in this moment? How would your day be different if you spent time meditating on the cross and carrying the thought of the cross with you? How would your interactions with people be different if between you and each person you saw the cross? How would your perspective in your relationships and the situations of your life change if you had the cross on your mind when thinking about them?
The wonderful truth of the gospel message is that Jesus lives and He is active in this world. Meditating on the things of God is a way for us to open our spirits to His, and look for where He is at work and join Him there.
I encourage you spend some time each day pushing the clutter out of your mind and filling it with the things of God.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Fasting is the discipline of intentionally depriving ourselves of something to cause weakness and discomfort in order to make more room in your spirit to rely on God. It is a ‘controlled’ discomfort we inflict on ourselves so that we can gain the strength to rely on God when real discomfort and struggles come.
Why fast? “If we don’t feel a strong desire for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.” – John Piper
To paraphrase the above quote – we don’t always hunger for God because we feed ourselves too well from the world. Fasting is the opportunity to remove something of this world from ourselves for a period of time so we can learn to drink from the well of the Spirit once again in our lives.
- Prepare us for a difficult task ahead.
- Help us to engage in Spiritual Warfare.
- Mourn a loss.
- Simply grow closer to God.
- Help ground us in the discomfort of life many around us feel all the time.
Readings: Matthew 4:1-4, Matthew 6:16-18
There is no specific form fasting must take. It varies throughout the Scriptures and throughout Christian history. Some times you see a fast from food for a period of time, sometimes from certain types of food (i.e. Daniel), other times the fast isn’t related to food at all. For example, in 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul encourages a fast from sex.
Food Fasts: The most common form of a food fast would be to abstain from food, but still have liquids for a certain period of time. This can be any length of time. If you want to try this out, start out small, only a day at a time, from lunch to lunch or something like that.
Other types of food fasts may include abstaining from a certain type of food. Perhaps going on a temporary vegan diet, or avoiding snacks between meals for a lengthy period.
Always let your unit staff know if you are planning on fasting from food for a period of time. If you have any health concerns, consult medical staff before committing to a food fast.
Habit Fasts: Another type of fast commonly practiced in Christianity is to abstain from a habit or activity in your life that may be affecting you spiritually. This is often done during lent, starting on Ash Wednesday (February 14th this year) for 40 days, ending on Good Friday.
Could you go 40 days without drinking coffee? If your answer to that is no, maybe that’s a sign you should go 40 days without drinking coffee.
Could you go 40 days without watching TV? If your answer to that is no, maybe that’s a sign you should go 40 days without watching TV.
A fast is meant to be hard: If you go through a fast, you will find yourself frustrated quite quickly and rationalize a dozen reasons why its ok to break it. Pushing through these times is how you find those moments where you learn to rely on God.
It must also be remembered that fasting is not simply the absence of something like food or television. You are meant to fill that void with prayer, Scripture readings, confession, worship and other spiritual disciplines. In doing so, you begin to make room in your heart for God.
Fasting gives the most benefit when it is done regularly. Don’t expect a deep revelation from God because you didn’t eat for a day. Like any exercise, it takes time, practice and routine.
Be aware of the weakness fasting will cause you. Being hungry makes you irritable. Not watching will make you bored. You’ll get frustrated and antsy. Temptation will be harder to resist. Be aware of these times, anticipate them, and use them for prayer and worship.
Let somebody know you are fasting to help hold you accountable, but don’t brag about it to everyone. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6, if you fast for glory, that will be your only reward.
Our mind, body and spirit all have one thing in common: they are only as strong as our life pushes them to be. The body displays this in the most tangible ways. For somebody like me who spends much of their week sitting behind a desk, it’s hard to notice a slow slide into out-of-shape-ed-ness, largely in part because my life style doesn’t demand I’m in better shape. I recently started exercising again and, while I knew I was out of shape, I was surprised at just how significantly out of shape I was.
I had no idea. Because my lifestyle made it easy to have no idea.
So I go for a job, and I hate it so much. I go for a swim and I tire out so quickly. I get bored. I want to go back to junk food and YouTube. And things I normally used to enjoy now become a burden. Where I once loved going out for a hike in the mountains around Grande Cache, I now have to really push and force myself to get out and do it. Sometimes we may invest money in exercise equipment, convinced that if we do, we’re guaranteed to get back into shape. But dust collects and we rarely, if ever, use it.
The spirit works in the same way. Its strength will always, over time, begin to match the lifestyle we lead. For many of us, we have a life that doesn’t demand a strong spirit – we are good at building a life that doesn’t really require us to exert ourselves spiritually, able to build safety around us. We sit at a spiritual desk, consuming spiritual junk food, and don’t really realize how weak we may have become. And so we try and exercise our spiritual muscles and we get bored, frustrated tired. We try and pray for more than 30 seconds and we just want to go back to YouTube and junk food. And the things we normally used to enjoy now become a burden. Where once we may have loved reaching out to people in hard times, or spending long periods in worship, or having deep spiritual conversations about ourselves with close friends, we now have to really push and force yourself to get out and do those things.
Have you ever bought Christian exercise equipment? A really nice new Bible, full of notes. A Bible study or a big book – stuff we buy to help us become more spiritual but never really use so, like the well meaning treadmill, they collect dust in the basement.
Spiritual fitness is really a life changing attribute. We have to learn to keep it strong in the good times so we have the endurance and joy following us into the bad times.
Over the next few months, we are going to look at a variety of spiritual disciplines together. These are aspects of the Christian faith – spiritual exercises if you will – that can help us grow closer in our connection to Christ and develop the strength that can give us the abundant life he calls us to live, no matter our circumstances.
One of the important things about growing in the Christian faith is really understanding the spiritual biology of it, to help gives us understanding of what it is we are doing, and why it can have power and meaning in our lives.
In Colossians 2-3, the apostle Paul does a great job of explaining to his readers the need of shifting their mental focus onto the right things.
Colossians was written during a time when people were trying to reconcile the Jewish law and the covenant of the Old Testament with the new spiritual realities that had found fulfillment in Christ. Paul tries to help them transition from a system of being driven by do’s and don’ts, to a system that is driven by the heart.
Read Colossians 2:6-23 paying special attention to the first few verses and the last few verses:
“6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh[b] was put off when you were circumcised by[c] Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,14 having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
This is a long passage with a lot of different imagery being used, but Paul’s basic point is this: Our life’s foundation cannot be rooted in rules and traditions – it must be rooted in Christ.
This is not to say that rules and traditions are bad. They have value. They can help guide us and give us direction in times of uncertainty. But they ultimately lack the power to truly help us restrain from the things that are wrong – sensual indulgence as the NIV puts it.
The NLT says, “But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”
The ESV says, “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
Or the CEV, “But they don’t really have any power over our desires.”
Why is that? Anyone reading this can probably think of a time in the past year when they broke a rule. We have cultural rules, societal rules, rules in education, work, clubs, etc… and people break them all the time. When we disagree with a rule or don’t understand the purpose of a rule, we play a game in our mind of potential payoff vs potential problems with breaking the rule. If breaking that rule gets us something we want more than our desire to keep the rule, we’ll almost always break it.
Spending our lives pursing righteousness through “rules” and external appearances is basically building our righteousness on a foundation of sand. It may look good. It may look strong. We can even spend years building it into something remarkable and beautiful to look at. But one wave and it all gets swept away.
Because of this, Paul is saying that a system of rules will never give us the power to achieve righteousness. At best it will be a shadow of what is good. He starts this section off with, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (italics added)
It is important to know that Paul is not arguing for some sort of lawless world where everyone does whatever they feel like. There is right. There is wrong. There are things we do that are good. There are things we do that are bad. What Paul is trying to do is bring us into righteousness and faith that goes beyond what we may call a, “checklist morality” and into hearts that are truly righteous in and of themselves.
In chapter three we read, “5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander,and filthy language from your lips.”
Imagine having a heart free from lust, greed and idolatry? Imagine having a heart that doesn’t need to spend so much energy resisting temptation, because temptation has almost no hold on it? “Put to death…” he says! This is incredibly strong language. It’s not, “subdue” or “push off to the side.” Paul is saying we can actually kill off the parts of our hearts that lead us away when our lives are truly rooted in Christ.
A system based only around rules is a system based on will power. And a system based on will power will always fail.
The new life in Christ creates the death of our sin.
Rules help us know what not do to, but they don’t help us not do them. Paul himself gives a lot of rules and suggestions for holy living throughout his letters. But with each one comes a way to connect with Christ so we can not only understand why that is something we should do, but also have the power through the Spirit to carry it out.
Over the next three months we are going to look at thirteen separate spiritual disciplines that we have in the Christian faith to help us walk the path. These are things that can help us connect with Christ, give Him the opportunity to sear the sin from our hearts and give us the strength to pursue the love and devotion He longs for us to see: fasting, meditation, prayer, study, simplicity, solitude, service, submission, confession, worship, guidance, celebration, and obedience.
But even in these disciplines there are dangers. These, in and of themselves, can become idols and steer us down the wrong path. In John chapter 5, Jesus says this to the Pharisee, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.”
As we walk this path together, let’s remember that the practices of the Christian faith are not righteousness in and of themselves. They are tools. And not tools for us to use. Tools for God to use in our hearts, to build a foundation.
Like most things in life, we do best when we have accountability. While trying to get in shape, I have a friend coming out with me, and a wife that knows when to kick me out of my chair and tell me to get going. I encourage you this week, if you make a choice to get back in spiritual shape, find somebody to either do it with, or at least hold you to account.
I invite you to come with us on this journey, to cast off attitudes of spiritual apathy, and connect with the God who is Living and True.