Fasting “Better”

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 6.4-5
Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger.

Reflection: Fasting “Better”
By John Tillman

Fasting is at times viewed as an extreme Christian practice. It’s what spiritual weirdos do—tied to mysticism and getting starvation-fueled visions from God. It’s a way to bargain with God or force God to give us what we want.

At times there is such stress upon the blessings and benefits of fasting that we would be tempted to believe that with a little fast we could have the world, including God, eating out of our hands. — Richard Foster

Much of today’s literature on fasting has little to do with the spiritual aspects. We tend be be fascinated by and focus on the physical aspects of fasting. In fact, many modern articles about fasting are, ironically, about how to fast while minimizing hunger or, indeed, any other physical effects of fasting.

“Hungerless” fasting may be the strangest feature of modernized Christianity.

As fasting has grown fashionable again, we want to do it. But we want to do it “better.” It’s easy for it to become just another spiritual competition of one-upmanship and comparison.

Perhaps this is why Christ’s teaching on fasting almost exclusively discusses private, personal fasting. Perhaps in order for the most to be revealed in fasting, its practice must be concealed.

As we engage in the corporate and partial fast of Lent, may we be more concerned with our personal connection to the Holy Spirit than shows of public observance. May our corporate fast be more intimate than it is public—drawing us together as a community rather than displaying our righteousness before men.

May we experience the discomfort of what we lack, not as something to be avoided or minimized, but as a part of our identification with Christ and as a part of our being joined to him and to the body of Christ in unity.

Prayer: The Small Verse
Today if you shall hear His voice, harden not your heart.

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Job 36 (Listen – 3:04)
2 Corinthians 6 (Listen – 2:31)

Binging on Fasting

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5.15
And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

Reflection: Binging on Fasting
By John Tillman

Though our culture is turning against public religious displays and actions motivated by religious faith, there is one spiritual practice we love to binge on—fasting. In a world of one-upmanship, you can’t find a better way to prove you are trying harder than a fast.

Fasting is perhaps one of the least understood and most abused spiritual disciplines. As Richard Foster said, “Because of the secularization of modern society, ‘fasting’ is usually motivated either by vanity or by the desire for power.”

Despite the misunderstandings of the spiritual purpose of fasting or the particularities of its function, people universally recognize that it is a marker of spirituality. Even non-believers automatically connect fasting with spirituality.

It’s easy to understand why. In a culture obsessed with consumption, lack of it, even for a short period, stands out. But just because our culture recognizes that fasting is a spiritual practice doesn’t mean we understand it.

We misunderstand fasting to such a level that we have co-opted the concept to create new opportunities for consumption, even within the church. Fasting regimens—rebranded using the quasi-spiritual term, cleanses—are billed and sold as fixes for anything from headaches to cancer.

Asceticism is becoming cool and the best way to be an ascetic in Western culture is to pay a lot of money for expensive new products instead of whatever the “unenlightened” people are eating and drinking. This consumerist approach helps fasting fit into the American spiritual narrative of moralistic self-sufficiency.

Our society gorges on the faux-spirituality of Instagramming our use of the latest cleanse product or success pics of ripped abs or of tranquil meditative states induced by the latest faddish purge/cleanse/fast that has a cool hashtag.

As we continue through Lent—which for many is a partial fast of some kind or another—moving toward the celebration of Easter, may fasting be more to us than a religious stunt.

May we be more thrilled by gaining a better connection to Christ than by losses on a scale. May our lack aid us in leaning into Christ’s sufficiency. May our hunger lead us to read from His holy Word. May our pangs of emptiness lead us to make more room in our hearts and lives for the Holy Spirit and for the community of his Holy Church.

Prayer: The Prayer Appointed for the Week
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant that I, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear my cross, and be changed into his likeness…

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Job 35 (Listen – 1:33)
2 Corinthians 5 (Listen – 3:02)

Godly Silence

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4.18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Matt is a longtime friend and mentor in ministry and writing. I’m thrilled to be able to include a few of his writings for the benefit of our community. — John

Reflection: Godly Silence
By Matt Tullos

The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is he does not know how to stay quietly in his room. — Blaise Pascal

My wife and kids were away the night a violent thunderstorm hit our town and the electricity went out. At that moment I was watching a football game, scanning twitter, and listening to music.

When darkness arrived in a split second I realized that the battery on my iPhone was almost gone. A brief moment of panic ensued. I realized that in a matter of minutes I would be thrust into the lifestyle millions of people enjoyed in the 1800s!

The silence and lack of media connection was unnerving at first. It was then that I sensed the presence of God speaking to me about my addiction to noise. After 15 minutes I had rediscovered the beauty of silence.

These days, silence is something we must fight to achieve, but it is definitely worth the fight. The National Center of Biotechnology stated in a study that two minutes of silence is more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music, based on changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.

However, this is not new knowledge for people of the Book. The Bible urges us to experience silence as a spiritual discipline.

Every day we are faced with the choice of constant communication, noise and blather or intentional, Jesus-focused silence.

Don’t wait for a power outage in order to spend time in silence. God might be trying to tell you something but all the ambient noise and entertainment leaves you deaf to His voice.

I believe we would be astounded by all God wants to say to us and yet He never gets a chance because of our preoccupation with news, messages, conversations and entertainment. Silence isn’t just golden, it is godly.

Ask yourself, “How am I seeking silence in my day?” and “Why is constant communication and auditory stimulation so addictive?”

Take time to spend 15 minutes in silence today. Allow to God speak into your soul.

Editor’s Note: Fasts of many different kinds are common during the Lenten season. In our modern world a fast from certain aspects of technology might be as important as any other type of fasting.

As we cross the mid-point of the 40 days of Lent we will look at fasting and how it has been co-opted by our culture as just another opportunity for consumption and self-fulfillment rather than a process of self-denial, seeking of God, and blessing of others. — John

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. Do not cast me off in my old age; forsake me not when my strength fails. — Psalm 71.8-9

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Job 34 (Listen – 3:26)
2 Corinthians 4 (Listen – 3:02)

Prayer of Invocation from Nigeria :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1.10-11
He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

Reflection: Prayer of Invocation from Nigeria :: Worldwide Prayer

O God, our Father we thank you for your Son, Jesus Christ through whom you have incorporated us into your divine life by virtue of which we can call you Abba, Father. How can we thank you enough for the unmerited promise that where two or three are gathered in your name, you will honor them with your presence?

In humility, we have come to you claiming this gracious promise of your presence. Grant us the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to worship you in Spirit and in truth, for our desire is to be acceptable to you.

Our Holy Father, we have come confessing our sins of commission and omission before you because if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. Your promise is that if we confess our sins we will be cleansed by the blood of your Son, Jesus Christ. Father, in your grace, touch us now and purge us of all of our sins.

Quicken our spiritual sensitivity so we can be consciously tuned to your spiritual wave length. May our eyes, O God, be opened now by the Holy Spirit to enable us to see the Risen Lord seated on the Throne in all his glory, pleading for us.

Grant that we will be dedicated to the task of being your divine instruments of redemption in our homes, in our workplaces, in our communities, to the extent that people around us will be impacted by the empirical demonstration of your transforming power working in us.

O Eternal Father, this is our earnest desire, this is why we have come before you. Grant this our humble desire, O God, not because we merit it but only because we ask for it in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ , your Son and our Savior.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life. — Psalm 90.14

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Job 31 (Listen – 4:16)
2 Corinthians 1 (Listen – 3:52)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 32 (Listen – 2:12) 2 Corinthians 2 (Listen – 2:13)
Job 33 (Listen – 3:00) 2 Corinthians 3 (Listen – 2:25)

Meaning In Suffering

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12.10
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in a bunch of conversations in which the unspoken assumption was that the main goal of life is to maximize happiness. — David Brooks

Reflection: Meaning In Suffering
The Park Forum

The scripture’s affirmation of suffering as part of life, and even as a spiritual practice, can be alarming at first. “Consider it pure joy when you face trials,” James challenges. Paul, as usual, takes it farther; “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” This profound acknowledgment of the reality of suffering, and ultimate purpose in it, stands in contrast to what we hear most often.

In an interview on suffering, Timothy Keller explains,

In secular culture the meaning of life is to be free to choose what makes you happy in this life. Suffering destroys that meaning. And so, in the secular view, suffering can have no meaning at all. It can’t be a chapter in your life story — it is just the interruption or even the end of your life story.

While it is possible to suffer without purpose, something David Brooks acknowledges in his exploration of What Suffering Does, the gospel draws us to the way Christ renews even our deepest pains. Keller continues:

On the one hand, God is absolutely sovereign over suffering. It’s never out of his control. It’s always part of his plan. On the other hand, God has come into the world himself and actually suffered with us.

No other religion says that God is both a sovereign and a suffering God. This is the theological foundation for why Christians can be so realistic and yet so hopeful about suffering at the same time.

Because there is meaning in suffering we can refocus our attention toward the outcome. Brooks concludes,

Notice this phenomenon. When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

This is, of course, the joy Paul found in his many sufferings. His heart for the first Christians was that they would experience it, too, “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 18 (Listen – 6:16)
2 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 4:46)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 19 (Listen – 5:00) 2 Corinthians 12 (Listen – 3:54)
2 Samuel 20 (Listen – 4:51) 2 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:19)

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