Fasting

Developing discipline, developing character

God sure stretched me last season, but what sweet fruit it produced and is continuing to produce! God disciplines us in many ways because He loves us; read Hebrews 12:5-11 if you don’t believe me! God’s discipline develops our character, producing godliness and righteousness.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

Producing sweet fruit

I’ve never been a fan of the spiritual discipline of fasting, but it was one of the avenues God used to shape and direct me this past year. I’m finding the more I faithful heed His call to fast (and do the fast HE chooses), the more I enjoy them and, indeed, look forward to them.

At the moment my fasting isn’t the one we all think of – abstaining from all food – I think because I’m still breastfeeding a little one. God calls us to fast from all sorts of things. Some of the things He has asked me to fast from include: my phone for a month (which I use for business, too!), milk in tea/coffee, caffeine, sugar, eat only soups, eat only vegetable and grains, fast lunch etc. Glenn often gets called to fast from YouTube, or Facebook. Others I know often get asked to fast from T.V. or social media.

The purpose of fasting can very greatly. You might fast to from a hunger to draw close to God. You might fast as an act of repentance and to find healing for your soul. God might ask you to fast so that you can devote more time to interceding for others, or He might ask you to read through certain Scripture and dwell on His Word. We can’t put God in a box! This is why we must walk in step with His Word and His Spirit.

Time in the Word

I’ve also found that there is no one way that God directs or works in my fast. Sometimes the breakthrough happens only at the end. Sometimes breakthrough comes when the fast is still only an intention for the coming week. This last time God gave me prophetic dreams, daily images, and words. Sometimes He calls me to intercede for others, and sometimes for my circumstances.

If you are hungry for God and truly want to live your life solely for Him, then I suggest asking Him what He might want you to fast from and when to do so. Maybe He wants you to intercede for your spouse or children. Perhaps He wants you to put Him first in your life again. Maybe He will speak to you about your next step, or maybe you will be asked to give up something in your life for Him.

Caffeine free zone . . . for a time!

And when the start of the fast is hard, remember the fruit that it is producing in you!

Below I’ve listed some fasting Scriptures, but Isaiah 58 is the one I come back to over and over again when I think of fasting. It shows that our heart motive is what God looks to more than anything else, and it also calls our attention, once again, to caring for the poor and lowly.

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? (Isaiah 58:3-5)

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,  if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:8-11)

Here are some Scriptures (not a complete list) that involve fasting:

  • 2 Samuel 12:23 – David fasted as he interceded for his son, but acknowledged God’s sovereignty in the situation.
  • 2 Chronicles 20:3-4 – Fasting as a nation to seek God’s help and intervention.
  • Ezra 8:21 – Humbling the people before God and seeking His protection for their journey.
  • Esther 4:16 – Seeking God’s favour on behalf of Esther as she went before an unbelieving king on behalf of her nation.
  • Joel 2:12-14 – Calling the people to repent and seek God’s mercy.
  • Matt 6:16-19 – Fasting is done for the Lord, not for man, accolades, or praise. We are to fast with all humility, seeking only God’s attention.
  • Matt 9:14-15 – There were times when Christ called His disciples not to fast, but celebrate His presence with them.
  • Luke 18:12 – Fasting is worthless before God if our heart is not right.
  • Acts 13:3 – The church in Antioch were fasting and worshipping God as a congregation. From the fast, they felt they were to set apart Barnabas and Paul for a specific work, and sent them off.

 

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Respect dare series – day 1 – Judge not

Luke 6:37-42

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

The closer we are to someone, the easier it is for us to see their faults. When those faults differ from the ones we see in our selves (or sometimes because they reflect our own faults!) we can become hard, critical and judgemental. This is not the way that God wants His church to live and thus not the way for man and wife to live, either.

God would not have us concern ourselves with the faults of our spouse, but would rather have us focus on our own need for sanctification. This is not to say we condone sin in others – the Bible has Scriptures that tell us how to confront sin – but we are not the Judge. God, alone, is the Judge of man. Let us leave the judging up to Him!

Let us not judge our spouse, but rather offer prayer and support. Let our lives be godly. Let us concern ourselves with what God wants to speak into our lives.

My action for today: Focus on my character development, not on Glenn’s. Focus on Glenn’s strengths and be strength for his weaknesses.

My prayer for today: Lord, help me to love Glenn in his weaknesses. Help me be strength where he needs it, just as he strengthens me in my areas of weakness. Enable me to be a helpmate to him – sturdy and true. Let me be a rock he can lean against, even as we stand on the Rock of our Salvation. Keep me focused on growing in Christ-likeness for myself. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Help carry your spouse’s load

Ruth 1; Destitute in Moab

Last time we looked a bit at the time period that Ruth was set in. In summary: the story of Ruth occurred in a very dark time in Israel’s history. Israel had rejected God to worship the false gods of their Canaanite neighbours. With that background knowledge, let’s start getting into the book.

Chapter 1

The book of Ruth starts with an Israelite family, headed by Elimelech, a farmer of the tribe of Judah, and his wife Naomi, moving to the nation of Moab because of famine. This makes sense during the time of the Judges, as famine was one of the curses God promised to send on His people if they broke their covenant. There were blessings for obedience, but curses for disobedience – you can see Deuteronomy 28 for the covenant conditions. Many scholars speculate that the story of Ruth occurred during the time of Gideon, when the Midianites ravished the land.

A desolated land

Now, Moab was an interesting destination choice by Elimelech. Sure they were close to the tribe of Judah, but the Moabites were enemies of Israel. So much so that God had decreed that no Moabite was to be allowed into His people! Let’s pause for a moment to consider Moab’s history with Israel:

Moab

Genesis 19 tells us that Moab was the Son of Lot by incest:

Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. (Genesis 19:36-37)

Moab were the people who hired the prophet Balaam against Israel before Israel had taken the Promised Land. The Moabites responded in fear to Israel’s success against the Amorites (Numbers 22). But Balaam could not curse Israel, for God would not let him. The Moabites hired him to curse Israel, but Balaam had to bless them (Numbers 22-24).

Furthermore, Numbers 25 tells us that Moab later seduced Israel into idolatry against the Lord:

While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women,  who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. [Peor was a mountain in Moab. Ba’al became the primary god worshipped by the Canaanites.] And the LORD’s anger burned against them. (Numbers 25:1-3)

In Deuteronomy 23:3-6 we learn that God banned Moabites from His congregation – forever! – and commanded Israel not to seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as they lived. Yet God also honoured Lot’s memory by protecting their land from Israel; Israel was not to contend with Moab in battle, or take their land for a possession (Deuteronomy 2:9).

Not only were Moabites not allowed into the congregation, no Israelite was allowed to marry a Moabite (Deuteronomy 7 and 23, Nehemiah 13, and Ezra 9). Bear this restriction in mind when we get further into our story!

But when your family is starving, you go where there is food!

Going where the crops are to be found

Back to the story . . . 

The family move to Moab, but then Naomi loses her husband, Elimelech. The two sons of Naomi and Elimelech marry Moabite women and the family live in Moab for 10 years. Then tragedy strikes again . . . Naomi loses her two sons, too. In the midst of her grief, Naomi heard that God has let up the famine in Israel. She naturally wanted to return to her people.

In the culture of the day, a married woman became part of her husband’s family. Naomi’s daughters-in-law were now her daughters, and should have returned with her. But Naomi does a selfless thing – she tries to send her two daughters-in-law back to their parents.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.” (Ruth 1:8-10)

We see from this that they had a close relationship with one another. Naomi was loyal to her daughters-in-law, and they to her. Naomi eventually convinces one of them, Orpah, to return to her family, but the other – Ruth – clings to her.

This is when we come to verses often heard at weddings, but they impart far more than that:

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

Ruth is willing to give up everything to stay with her mother-in-law. Don’t miss what Ruth was leaving behind:

  • Family
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Security – she was going to a new land, destitute: no husband to protect her, no husband to provide for her, no home, no land, nothing!

All she would have was an elderly mother in law to care for. What do we see of Ruth’s character through this?

  • Steadfast,
  • loyal,
  • courageous, and
  • has come to know God!

Wow! Ruth, a Moabitess, came to know the True God. We see this in the oath she takes – to the True God Almighty, not one of her Canaanite gods – to cling to Naomi until death. This shows us something very important about Naomi – she had introduced Ruth to the Lord. In a foreign country, Naomi had remained faithful to the True God. So much so that Ruth had left her nation’s false gods to serve the LORD. Furthermore, to exact this change, Naomi’s character had to be so upstanding that both her daughter-in-laws were willing to enter into poverty and uncertainty in order to remain with her. Naomi shone the true light whilst living in dark times.

Shine Christ’s light

Application time!

We can’t study the Word without asking what it means for our lives. The more time I spend in Ruth, the more I am challenged by two questions:

1) Am I shining God’s light brightly in this dark world?

We must come back to Christ’s words in Matt 5:16:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Are you living as light? Do people meet God through your life?

And what is this light that others see? What else, but a godly character? What else, but Christ in us? Which leads to the second question:

2) Is my character growing in godliness?

What is your character like? In particular, ask yourself what your character is like in the midst of hard times!

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:1-6)

What is character? The root Greek word in Romans 5 is “dokimē” (dok-ee-may). It means to test, or prove trustworthy through trial. Dokimē comes from the same word as “dokimos” (dok’-ee-mos), which means to be approved or made acceptable after being assaulted! So character is the part of our nature that remain true and steadfast in trials, suffering,  and temptation.

The character talked of in Romans 5 can only be proven true through testing. So character is not what we say we are, or pretend to be before other people. It is also not what other people label us as. Character is the part of our being that remains steadfast when tested. It is what remains when the Silversmith allows us to be placed in the fiery furnace:

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. (Malachi 3:3)

Be light in this dark world

Ask yourself: How is my character developing?

  • What trials are you currently going through?
  • What situations test you?
  • What are you enduring?
  • What struggle or hardship do you face?

Now ask God how He is developing your character through it. Can you, like Paul, rejoice in such trials?

 

Up next: Ruth 2

Junk Mail Character

Oh Character – that dreaded word! Why does God so like to work on our character? I fall into the habit of striving for God, forgetting that He doesn’t actually need any assistance from me. And then He brings it back to what He cares most about – that I give Him praise and that I am becoming more Christ-like.

Last week I took up delivery junk mail around our local area to help a little with support raising for my next trip over to Africa as I have been unable to find a job as an Occupational Therapist since coming home. Talk about humbling!

I was none too impressed when the folding of the leaflets and brochures took twice as long as the lady had suggested it would. I was even less impressed when the distribution aspect took three times as long. Who wants to lug around heavy backpacks for four hours at a time? I certainly don’t!

And then God’s gentle voice broke in on my grumbling: “It’s building character, Shannon”. Hmpf!

But amazingly, those words acted to pull me back into a right focus. The following day I still struggled and had to constantly remind myself, “It’s character building…  It’s character building…   It’s character building…”. The day after that one, however, saw short bursts of praise and worship begin to flow out from my spirit. And then, on the fourth day, I had a blessed four hour quiet time with God, and revelled in the exercise.

I had started the junk mail rounds with a bitter heart and yet God had turned them into wonderful times of fellowship with Him, intercession and worship. How great is our God!

Character building is never pleasant, but the fruit is worth it! God doesn’t do it to dishearten us but to transform us into the likeness of His Son. And I am so grateful that He did not leave me in my place of initial bitterness, but rather, brought me into the joy and peace of His Presence.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 6-9)

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)