Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fasting, Prayer And The Solution For Just About Everything

12 You will call to Me and come and pray to Me,
and I will listen to you. 
 13 You will seek Me and find Me
when you search for Me with all your heart. 
Jeremiah 29:12-13

God says that sin is our problem.1 Sin is why we are dead spiritually and why we die physically.2 Sin is the reason there are wars and rumors of wars. Sin is the reason the earth is decaying.3  But, sin isn't what most of us think it is.
These things are sin. Adultery, abusing others, bestiality, cheating, covetousness, cowardice, disobedience to parents, drunkenness, envy, fornication, fortune telling, gluttony, gossip, greed, hate, homosexuality, idolatry, lust, lying, murder, polygamy, polyandry, pornography, prostitution, sexual immorality, sorcery, stealing, swindling, and unbelief are all sins.4  But, the particular mix of sins in each of our lives is not the problem. Sin is, and sin is nothing less than self in the place of God.5 Here's the deadly formula that describes each and every one of us.6
Self > God = Sin
God made it clear though the prophet Isaiah, "We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the LORD has punished Him for the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6)  The Him is God's Son, Jesus.
I wonder if that may not be why God added fasting to prayer as a spiritual discipline that He expected His children to develop. Fasting is denying oneself of food, and we think about nothing more than food. Even those whose thoughts are twisted about their own self-image with eating disorders still obsess about food. The most common question asked in human experience may  be, "what are we going to eat.?"
Listen, though, just like individual sins are not our problem, self-denial alone is not our answer. When self-denial, as in the practice of fasting, is practiced for the betterment of the self, then fasting becomes the kind of religious grandstanding7 that Jesus denounced.
Fasting is a spiritual practice that denies self, but it is always paired with two other things. It is always paired with prayer and action. Fasting without prayer is self-promotion. Fasting with prayer can become God promoting. Seeking God in prayer with fasting is walking in the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit, not self-denial, is the way we overcome the lust of the self.8
Yet, even prayer itself can become self-seeking, self-promoting. And, Jesus denounced grandstanding and selfish praying as well.9
Fasting and prayer are part of the solution, but the real solution is found in the mortification of the self. Not the death of self physically or self-abusively like flagellators (religious people who beat themselves with whips in an effort to put down sin and impress their god).  The death of self as evidenced in self-less behavior.
Fasting must be coupled with prayer and both coupled to spiritual action. The solution for just about everything is found in fasting and prayer that produce the heart of Christ within us so that we "break the chains of wickedness, and untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and to not ignore your own flesh and blood." (Isa. 58:6-7) 
Seeking God with all our heart is not just a religious, Sunday morning altar call experience. It is not even a month of fasting and prayer. It is denying self, seeking God with all our heart, and living out that heart (doing His will) in the world.
Then and only then will everything change. Isaiah described it to God's people, "then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday. The LORD will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose waters never run dry." (Isa. 58:10-11)
1 Eph. 2:1-3; 2 1 Cor. 11:27-32; 3 Gen. 3:7-19, Rom. 8:19-21; 4 Deut. 5:6-21, 17:14-17, 1 Cor. 6:7-11, Gal. 5:19-21, Eph. 5:22-6:4, Rev. 21:5-8; 5 Gal. 6:3; 6 Rom. 3:23; 7 Matt. 6:16-18; 8 Gal. 5:16; 9 Matt. 6:5-8

Credits:  The picture came from The Gospel Coalition site, and there is also an excellent article there by Tullian Tchividjian where he sites a sermon about self by Gerhard Forde.