Fasting Brings Feelings into Focus (Nehemiah 1:4)

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:4 ESV)

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What do you do when you have deep feelings about injustice in the world? How do you move? What is the next step? Is it just emotion or can that emotion be channeled into something productive? Take a look at Nehemiah. We are only four verses into this book and already we see his strength of character to ask the question about how others were doing, to hear and respond with weeping, but then he does…MORE.

First he does more feeling. He adds fasting to the mix. He wants his body to ache because his heart aches. This is a long forgotten discipline in our culture. Fasting is the intentional with drawl from food so you can focus on what you feel. In your body it serves as a detox or a cleanse, kind of like a reboot for your digestive system.  Spiritually speaking it does something similar.  In Nehemiah’s time a fast would mean taking time away from meal preparation which included everything from the purchase at the market to the actual cooking of the meal. This was a big time saver, but more than that it was a way not to focus on the day to day things that can consume our thinking and allow a pure focus on what God might have for Nehemiah. Too often we drown out God’s voice because of all the other voices we fill our lives with. In a modern context fasting might also include setting aside entertainment, social media, and other voices that have a way of consuming out thoughts so that we might be able to hear clearly from God. Fasting brings feelings into focus.

Our feelings alone can lack focus. We have a crush on a person who just looks cute, but when we get to know them we find out they are a jerk… but until your feelings are brought into focus by reality you move and act as if they are a perfect person. Feelings are a helpful response to where we are and how things have been, but they are unreliable guides to our future. This is why we should never just act on our feelings alone.  Just ask anyone who has said or done something stupid in a moment of anger.

Nehemiah feels a deep sadness for his countrymen and especially for Jerusalem being a city without walls, instead of jumping into action though he brings his feelings into focus by fasting and he brings his thoughts to God in prayer.

Now lots of folks think that prayer is where we move God to action, but they have it backwards. We don’t pray to tell God what he should do; we pray to ask God what we should do. The point of prayer isn’t to conform God’s will to ours, but to conform our will to God’s (Matthew 6:9-10).  Nehemiah goes to God to get God’s perspective, as we will see in the coming days and weeks, God sees the need clearer than Nehemiah ever could.

You may be at a crossroads in your life where you feel like God is calling you to do something but you are unclear about what he wants you to do. Fasting may be a very helpful option to bring things into focus. Consider setting aside some of the distractions in your life so that you can hear his voice more clearly. It is wise to get clarity on what God is doing before you act.

Sex, Tatoos and Resurection (A Theology of the Body)

I was challenged and inspired by my pastor’s sermon last year. While dealing with the issues of the heart he also took time to address body posture in worship.  We often as Western thinkers have a tendency to set up a false dichotomy between body and soul. (As if our soul were just a mere part of us or though our body were just an extension of who we really are.)

We tend to gloss over the way scripture speaks of the body opting instead to think of our bodies as “earth suits” instead of an indivisible aspect of who we are. However, from Genesis to Revelation we are reminded that we are very much physical beings with bodies that interact in a physical world. We are made from the dust as physical beings and that will forever impact how we interact. And “forever” is not an exageration. The gospel demands a physical body. Jesus was born of a virgin, crucified for our sins, buried, raised from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and now sits at the right hand of the father making intercession for us.  We believe in a bodily resurrection.  Disembodied souls aren’t a Christian notion.

Our bodies were given us to enjoy and celebrate God’s creation. That’s why we get to enjoy eating apples and the gift of sex inside of marriage. Our bodies were given to us to worship God… Posturing our bodies in worship is a natural expression of who we are and who we were made to be.   Indeed without posturing ourselves to God we can miss the full benefits of corporate or private worship. Before you get upset, please understand that kneeling has been understood as a right response to God for ages and so has raising your hands. It’s not a new thing, it’s actually a very old thing.

I think we miss intimacy with God when we fail to worship him fully with our bodies. But that is so much more than just raising your hands to your favorite Christian anthem. Worship with your body also involves discipline like making sure you’re well rested on Saturday night before Sunday’s service. It means withholding food for short periods of time as a fast to submit my will to God. It involves the taste and sensory experience of the bread and wine for the Lord’s supper.

Listed below are a few resources that have helped develop my  theology of the body.

Our Favorite Sins by Todd Hunter (A Review)

Have you ever wrestled with a sin issue? You knew that you had to change, but change seemed impossible. Or maybe you’ve been attending a bible study or even church service and while you feel educated at the end of the event you know somehow that transformation doesn’t just come with education. Something more needs to happen.  Then this book is for you.

In his book, Our Favorite Sins, Todd Hunter undertakes the topic of fighting sin and does it in an ancient, yet relevant way. I think he is on to something. Many of us in the mainline protestant churches have been quick to dismiss many of the traditional church seasons and disciplines simply because we’ve considered them to be the “Catholic” thing, without giving much thought to the actual benefits of say fasting or praying the hours.  It’s a great book and well worth a read and I think it will help anyone who is seriously interested in dealing with the sin in their lives.

I really enjoyed reading Our Favorite Sins. I had the pleasure of reading it on my Kindle Touch and found myself unable to put it down.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in growing in a relationship with Christ.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson as part of the BookSneeze program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Great Introduction to Fasting

Last night I was greatly blessed to read the book Fasting: The Ancient Practices (Ancient Practices Series) by Scot McKnight.  McKnight does a fantastic job of leading the reader to understand the Biblical discipline of fasting (a discipline that has largely been ignored or forgotten in many modern evangelical circles).  The book is well organized, well thought out and includes a few chapters of practical nature to help those who are interested in picking up the discipline of fasting for the first time.

Admittedly McKnight is an academic. However his writing style is clear, concise and reader friendly.  I really enjoyed the book because the author covers the topic well.  He draws a clear and simple definition around Biblical fasting and then proceeds to share his research on how various traditions have esteemed fasting.

McKnight makes a strong case that fasting is a response to a sacred moment.  Tragically today many picture fasting as a currency get what you want.  While God’s blessings may come after fasting, His blessings are always gifts of His grace.  In essence we are to fast in response to sacred moment (like realizing injustice, personal sin,  national sin, sickness of a loved one, death of a loved one, etc).  Fasting is primarily responsive, not causal.

I wish this book had been around when I first began to experiment with fasting in my late teens and early twenties.  Another great resource on fasting is John Piper’s book A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer.

I  highly recommend Fasting: The Ancient Practices (Ancient Practices Series) to anyone interested in learning about fasting.  The retail price is $12.99 (paperback), and is available around the web in places like Amazon.com for $11.04.  I gave it four stars.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson as part of the BookSneeze program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”