“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23. 

One of the things I have realized from trying to live my faith out on a day to day, hour by hour, minute by minute basis is that I am really bad at it.  To use a common analogy, people don’t get fat or out of shape overnight.  It is usually a slow decline that creeps up on us bit by bit.  Similarly, I did not create bad habits where my faith is concerned overnight.  I have been developing them my whole life. 

On top of that, society in general does not give a hoot (I’d rather say rat’s — but remember I gave up cussing a few days ago) about providing a good Christian atmosphere for me to thrive in.  Just as I have spent a lifetime creating bad habits, society has spent my lifetime bombarding me with messages that for the most part don’t support following Christ.  

No, most things are working against me.  So, to my credit, I have many years of bad habits working against me, plus the general anti-Christian propaganda of society. 

However, I am bound and determined to keep pressing on and to keep challenging myself in order to fully experience what God has set out for me.  I really believe that I, along with most people, have no clue how powerful our faith can be because we just don’t even give it a chance.  We skip so many things.  We skip church, we don’t pray, we don’t read our bible, we don’t forgive, we don’t invest in our church, and we would never dream of fasting

Yet, we consider ourselves followers of Christ.  I convince myself that even though I do virtually nothing the bible calls me to do, that not only am I a Christian but a pretty good one.   My standards for being a Christian are pretty low.  The minimums of being nice to people and not doing anything illegal seem to qualify me as a good Christian in my mind.  I’ve said this before, but I’ll reiterate it now.  That just doesn’t even make sense.  All too commonly, I want the benefits of being a Christian, but I don’t want to do any of the things that the Bible calls me to do. 

Today in the car, one of my favorite songs came on, “You Love Me Anyway” by The Sidewalk Prophets.  Here are some pretty convicting lyrics.

I am the thorn in your crown
But You love me anyway
I am the sweat from Your brow
But You love me anyway
I am the nail in Your wrist
But You love me anyway
I am Judas’ kiss
But You love me anyway
See now I am the man who yelled out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground
Yes then I turned away with a smile on my face
With this sin in my heart, tried to bury Your grace

And then alone in the night I still call out for You
So ashamed of my life, my life, my life

But You love me anyway
Oh God, how You love me

When we need God, when we really, really need him, we call on Him in the depths of our despair.  And we hope, pray and bargain for our prayer to be answered.  How often have I said, “God, I know I am not very faithful, but can you…..?”  And, I know He hears me and He has often answered.  But, that’s just taking advantage of his grace.  That is just all take and no give, whether I want to recognize it or not.  Since He’s not here in the physical form, it’s just easier to keep taking and not giving. 

On Day 2, I stated that the order of my priorities from now one would be, God first, husband second, kids third, others 4th.  I would be a complete and total hypocrite to tell you I don’t ever screw that order up.  Most days I do.  But, it’s a goal right?  And, I am working towards it. 

Well, here’s the question.  Do I ever sacrifice for my loved ones, whether that is my husband, my parents, my children or even my dogs?  Yes, I know I do, all the time.  These are relationships that I really want to cultivate and so there is always a give and take that we all have to do or they just won’t work.   You skip a party because your kids or sick or you give up something else you wanted to buy because a pet needs surgery or your spouse wanted to buy something. 

Whatever, it likely happens frequently.  Sometimes it’s a hard thing to do, especially if I disagree about something, and sometimes it’s fairly easy.  I love these people so sacrifices don’t seem like sacrifices.  They are just things I do out of love.

So, here it comes, and you know it is coming.  If I am so willing to sacrifice for number 2, 3, 4 and so on, what have I ever sacrificed for Number One? 

Uh……I’d have to say not much.  So if there is merit in sacrificing for other relationships, wouldn’t that probably hold true for our relationship with our Heavenly Father?  I know that sacrificing isn’t a great advertisement for Christianity, but if you think about it, you know this is the way good things work.  It’s better to give than receive, right?  And our relationships on this earth would not work without sacrifice, would they?

And, so a relationship with our Heavenly Father should not be an all take and no give situation, even though we often treat it that way.  I would suggest that you can try it that way, and I did this for a long time, but I was missing out.  Rather than having a deep relationship with God, we were more like acquaintances.

So, I’ve already taken on the challenge of many of the other things that I have spent a lifetime skipping, going to church, praying and reading my bible.  Today I am taking on fasting. 

If you have been reading, you will note that I gave up beer for 32 days.  When I did that, I did not think of it as a form of fasting.  I did it more on the conviction that it was hindering my ability to be fully present in my life and fully present with God.  I realize now that it is a form of fasting.  

Let’s talk about my little beer fast.  I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people, and it might even seem trivial.  But a lot of good came out of it.  I learned a lot about myself and a lot about God.  I really missed drinking beer.  Again, I know I sound like a hillbilly girl when I say that, but I like it.  Simple.  It is delicious.  So, each night when I chose not to have it, I reaffirmed why I wasn’t having it.  I reminded myself that this life is not for me to selfishly go about doing what I “feel” like all the time or what makes me “happy” at the moment.  I was put here to be a servant for Christ and that means that sometimes my feelings won’t matter and my temporary “happiness” won’t either. 

I just got off 9 months (due to pregnancy) of no beer.  It’s not like I haven’t done this before.  But this time I did it for a different reason, and that reason changed everything.  I have also tried to do this before when I wasn’t pregnant, when the only reason I had was weight loss or just a frustration with myself for liking it so much.  And, you know what?  I have failed every time, miserably I might add.  I’m the one that wakes up on Monday and says, no beer this week, and by Monday night I am drinking it.  No joke.  But, this time, I didn’t even have a sip. Not a sip. 

The reason changes everything, including the blessings I received.  One of my dear friends writes a blog as well and he recently gave up drinking all together.  One of the lines in his blog really reiterates how I feel about my first experience with fasting.  “Never would I have guessed the extent of what could be gained by giving up just one thing.”  So true….

The point of a fast is to deny yourself and then during those times that you are denying yourself, to spend that time focused on God.  Now, I have two young children.  So, at 6pm when I would normally have a beer, I can’t like sit down and read my bible or spend 20 minutes in prayer.  We are busy getting home, making and eating dinner, taking baths, and generally trying to avoid the chaos that can ensue with a 3 and a half year old and a 4 month old.  Just like everyone else, who is out doing activities with their kids or friends or whatever, we are busy at that hour. 

But, even though I couldn’t sit down and just have my time, it was a reminder each night of what I was doing and why I was doing it.  I could say a little prayer or remember what I read that morning,   Mainly, however, it was just one more point in my day that I inserted God.  I inserted my own invisible sticky note that said remember Who you serve and why you are here.

So, the first blessing that I received was that I grew closer to God just through that one moment each day that I remembered what I was doing. 

The second blessing is that I was a better witness.  I know you aren’t supposed to boast.  I get that.  I wasn’t boasting about needing to cut down on my beer drinking.  Is that something to boast about anyways?  It was and still is, however, a great conversation piece.  Talking about Jesus can be hard, even awkward if you aren’t used to it.  So, this was a really easy way for me to discuss my faith with people.  It opened an otherwise sticky door. 

When my 32 days were FINALLY done, the ending was really bittersweet.  I did feel better mentally and physically, but what really made the end bittersweet is that I got a lot of joy out of focusing more on God and knowing that I was doing something, even though it was a small thing, for his sake.   The beer that I had waited so long for tasted good, but the deepening of my faith, the denying of myself felt better.  It reminded me that too many good things, can get in the way of experiencing the Best. 

I will admit that if you had talked to me about fasting a year ago, the only way I would have entertained it would have been through the eyes of weight loss.  I had really no idea why someone would fast for spiritual reasons.  I knew monks and pastors and whoever else might do it, but I really thought that it was something to be saved for those that are really holy, not for the average person. 

Good news!  Fasting is for us all.  Yep, regular you and regular me!   We can all receive blessings from fasting and I’m getting ready to find out what those are.  You can skip it, but I’m not going to.  Let me be clear, I am not saying you have to fast to be a Christian or to be a good Christian, but I think there are some real benefits to your faith if you do.   

The sole purpose of this is to enhance my ability to follow Christ, to be aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and to focus more on God on a minute by minute, hour by hour basis.  One website described the benefits of fasting this way:  “It clears the mind and body of earthly attentions and draws us close to God.”  I have noticed this with my beer fast and want to take it one step further. 

So, today, I will be starting a 14 day fast. I’ve done a bit of research, and in the Bible several types of fasts are done.  I don’t think it really matters what type of fast you choose, but that you are doing it for the right reasons.  You can choose to fast from virtually anything, including beer, obviously.

I am going to do a Daniel fast.  In the book of Daniel (and if you have no idea where the book of Daniel is, you and I are in good company.  I just spent about 5 minutes thumbing through my bible looking for it), apparently Daniel did a fast where he avoided a variety of foods including meat, sweets, wine and probably bread.  So, for the next 14 days, that is what I am going to do. 

I know a lot of people don’t understand fasting at all.  Not only does it seem weird, but it is hard to actually comprehend what the point is.  The best way I can describe it is the sticky note analogy.  In a world that over and over again, hour by hour, minute by minute shoots me non-Christian messages, this is a way to constantly remind myself of Who I need to be turning to for guidance.  It’s not just for monks or pastors or the really, really religious.  I would even ascertain that those people are surrounded by more good messages than the normal person….so maybe it is me, the average person who needs fasting the most.  We will see…..

“I do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (MT 4:4).

 

follow my blog!