Prayer and Fasting

a quote from Andrew Murray

Prayer needs fasting for its full growth. Prayer is the one hand with which we grasp the invisible. Fasting is the other hand, the one with which we let go of the visible. In nothing is man more closely connected with the world of sense than in this need for, and enjoyment of, food. It was the fruit with which man was tempted and fell in Paradise. It was with bread that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. But He triumphed in fasting. . . .Fasting helps to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain the Kingdom of God. And Jesus, Who Himself fasted and sacrificed, knows to value, accept, and reward with spiritual power the soul that is thus ready to give up everything for Him and His Kingdom.

With Christ in the School of Prayer (Springdale, PA: Whitaker House, 1981), p 100-101.

Discernment

Several months ago a friend asked me when the last time I’d read 1 Corinthians 14 was. We were having a conversation about spiritual gifts, especially tongues. When I was 19 a friend of mine and I did an in depth study of 1 Corinthians and concluded that there was no way tongues had “ceased.” However, neither of us had ever experienced it for ourselves. So my attitude from that time had been, “God, if you want to commune with me in this way, I am willing.” However, at my friend’s urging I re-opened 1 Corinthians 14 and was immediately convicted by the first verse.

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 1 Corinthians 14:1

“Earnestly desire” certainly did not describe my attitude towards the spiritual gifts. This began a change in our congregation’s expectations for corporate and personal worship.

On Pentecost of this year (I found the timing significant), a close friend of mine and I spoke in tongues for the first (and so far only) time. I cannot tell you what transpired exactly, although I have a guess, but I can tell you that it was without a doubt a move of the Holy Spirit upon me. My overwhelming impression was that what I experienced is described by Paul in his letter to the disciples in Rome:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26

It had never previously occurred to me that the Spirit might speak those groanings through my vocal cords, but there is no better way to describe what poured out of me. I would say “uncontrollably” because in a sense that is how it felt, but I was very aware that while a torrent of groanings or words in a different language were rushing out of my inner man, I could definitely have quenched that flow. It was if I was a fire hydrant on a hot summer day, and words were the water gushing out of me.

Paul said, “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself,” and “if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.” My conclusion has been that in my weakness, the Spirit prayed through my spirit for the building up of my inner man in ways that with my mind I am incapable of. I pray regularly with my mind; I have spent my life building up my mind, but my spirit had never before received intentional ministry.

In my experience this overwhelming, unmistakable action of the Holy Spirit has been rare. More often He seems to interact with me or with us in a way that is aptly described as a still, small voice. So still and so small that it is difficult to know whether it is the voice of your mind or the voice of His Spirit speaking. It is at these times that I desperately wish for a more powerful discernment.

The discerning person can tell, for example, when prayer is not genuine contact with God but a conversation with oneself, when apparent humility is actually a twisted form of pride; when a vision is really an hallucination and an ecstasy a psychosomatic disturbance; when inspirations are projections of suspect desires and when a vocation to celibacy is more a flight from intimacy than a call from God.[1]

I have begun to notice, however, that when this still, small voice speaks there is not a doubt but a knowing that God’s Spirit just communicated and about what He said.


[1] Sandra Schneiders, “Spiritual Discernment in the Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena”

Impossible Expectations

Christianity (in general) is suffering from theological nonsense. I have been attempting for several years to provide corrective insight to these theological problems when and where I had opportunity. However, I have found that the average Christian either doesn’t know what his theological assumptions are, or generally knows what his theology is but doesn’t grasp how that intersects with the day-to-day existence of his life. This has proven to be a mostly insurmountable problem.

However, I have realized recently that the problem is actually much more endemic than our theology. The reason our theology has become disconnected with the life of the Gospel is that we have completely erroneous psychological assumptions. To be specific, Christians in general assume that an abundant life is theirs by virtue of grace, and make no connection between their actions and the state of their life.

In other words, we believe the equivalent of the idea that by virtue of believing that because Derek Jeter did all the work necessary to become an all-star baseball player we can also become all-star baseball players by believing in Derek Jeter. We forget that Derek Jeter’s all-star status was the result of daily following the regimen required to form baseball skills.

What am I saying? Yes, we are saved by grace, but what that means is we are given access to the baseball diamond. It still remains up to us to pick up the bat and hit 100 pitches a day. It is still our responsibility to rise early each morning and run sprints.

This leads to the “elephant in the room” of Christianity; the big issue that no one wants to admit let alone talk about. We have the same existential problems as our non-believing neighbors, only our problems are further complicated by guilt and the nagging feeling that it shouldn’t be like this.

The present status is that Christians espouse the idea that the Gospel provides the life abundant, but live as if the promises Scripture makes aren’t really attainable today. This has progressed to the degree that there are theologies which specifically state that Scripture’s description of a believing life pertain to the world to come. Talk about capitulating!

Leo Tolstoy described our situation well,

all men of the modern world exist in a continual and flagrant antagonism between their consciences and their way of life.[1]

Messiah’s death on the cross provides us the opportunity to be formed in His likeness as a result of the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in us, which is itself a response to our physical efforts at the renewing of our mind.

Each of us grows up in surroundings that train us to speak, think, feel, and act like others around us. “Monkey see, monkey do,” goes the proverb. This is the mechanism by which human personality is formed, and it is largely for the good. But it also embeds in us habits of evil that permeate all human life. Humanly standard patterns of responding…seize upon little children through their participation in the lives of those around them. Sinful practices become their habits, then their choice, and finally their character.

The very language they learn to speak incorporates desecration of God and neighbor. They come to identify themselves and be identified by others through these practices. What is wrong and destructive is done without thinking about it. The wrong thing to do seems quite “natural,” while the right thing to do becomes forced and unnatural at best—especially if done because it is right.[2]

The Holy Spirit does a work of renewal, brings about rebirth, but a new character must be formed just as the old character was formed. Spiritual practices will become habits, and then our choice, and finally our character.

Prayer, solitude, fasting, meditation on Scripture–these are tools that we are meant to use. Tools are designed to produce results. As Eugene Peterson says, what distinguishes us from the animals and from the angels is that we use tools.

We are not animals, living by sheer instinct, in immediate touch with our environment. We are not angels, living by sheer intelligence, with unmediated access to God. We are creatures, heavily involved with tools. Unlike animals, we use knife and fork to get food to our mouths, and hammer and saw to build a home for ourselves. Unlike angels, we use the scriptures to hear what God says to us, and the sacraments to receive his life among us.[3]

The spiritual disciplines are not tools for doing or getting, however, but for being and becoming. Our society is riddled with technology, but it is exclusively dedicated to doing or obtaining, while we neglect the spiritual technology that Jesus modeled for us. We neglect it because we have assumed that a new character is bequeathed to us by grace. And indeed we are given grace for each moment, but it is grace in response.

Let’s adjust our expectations in line with reality. Character is not born but formed. Likewise character is not born again, but reformed (renewed, transformed) after being born again. The transforming work of the Holy Spirit (progressive sanctification) is done in response to our effort. Can we earn salvation by effort? NO! However, we must work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). We must train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7-8), we must discipline our bodies if we hope to attain the reality of the gospel promise (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

G.K. Chesterton said:

Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.[4]


[1] Tolstoy, Leo. The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Trans. Aylmer Maude (London: Oxford University Press 1936). 136[2] Gangel, Kenneth O. and Jim Wilhoit. The Christian Educator’s Handbook on Spiritual Formation. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1994. (chapter 18 by Dallas Willard, “The Spirit is Willing: The Body As a Tool for Spiritual Formation”)

[3] Peterson, Eugene. Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991. 1

[4] As quoted in Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. San Francsico: Harper Collins, 1991. 1

Avinu Shebashamayim

For those who regularly pray from the siddur, I believe you will find this of interest. I have often pondered the specifics of how The Lord’s Prayer fit in to the liturgy of Messiah’s day. Over on the FFOZ blog, Aaron Eby has made a compelling case that the Lord’s Prayer was prayed at the end of the Amidah in place of the standard conclusion known as Elohai Netzor.

The essence of his point is that Elohai Netzor was composed by Mar, son of Rabina, and taught to Mar’s disciples, as was the case with many Sages who used their own custom concluding prayer, and taught it to their disciples. As disciples of Yeshua, it would seem fitting then that we would conclude ha Tefillah with His prayer.

Grace After Meals

Well, my apologies to those who have been patiently (and not so patiently, yes, you know who you are) waiting for The Offerings of Our Lips. But, after going back to the drawing board in regard to the content, I’m finally getting very close to the place where I will feel ready to start approaching a publisher or two about getting this out.

As a reward for so patiently waiting [small grin] and because I’ve been requested to do so, I’ve decided to post the text of my “Grace After Meals” prayer.

It is actually one of my favorite prayers from the collection, as it has significance on several layers. But I leave it to you to discover those on your own. While this is one piece, those who are familiar with the traditional Jewish liturgy will probably recognize the influence of the four traditional blessings of Birkat haMazon. More readily apparent however, is the prayer’s reliance on Deuteronomy 8:1-18, where we find the command on which the prayer is based.

I hope you enjoy using this, and that it holds many blessings for you and your family. One final comment, the prayer is designed to be reader-response. The reader indicated by regular font and the responses of all by italicized font. Feel free to use it in whatever manner you find works best for your family, however. Given the age of my kids, I often read a phrase and my kids repeat it, and we go through the whole prayer like that. We’ve begun to put motions to it that help them remember and even my three year old (almost four) is all ready beginning to repeat the lines before I finish. They really enjoy it; which has been my great delight. Well, without further ado, here is “Grace After Meals” from the forthcoming prayer book, The Offerings of Our Lips.

Grace After Meals

Let us bless the Lord together.

Lest we forget the Lord our God. Who brought us out of slavery and brings us to a good land

May we be careful to do the whole commandment that He has commanded us

That we may live, go in, multiply, and possess the land the Lord swore to our Father Abraham.

Bless the Lord together.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and remember the road on which He has led us.

He has tested us that we may know,

That man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Know in your heart, that our Father, God, will discipline us.

So we will keep the commandments of the Lord our God, walk in his ways, and fear Him.

May the words of our mouth be the will of our heart.

As it is written, “and you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless YHWH your God for the good land He has given you.”

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God,

by not keeping His commandments, His ordinances, and His statutes.

Lest when we have eaten and are full, lest when we have built good houses, and all we have is multiplied,

We lift up our hearts and forget the Lord our God.

Beware, lest you say in your heart,

My power and the might of my hand have earned me this wealth.

Remember the Lord your God

For it is He who gives us strength to confirm His covenant that He swore to our fathers.

Bless the Lord.

Blessed is the Merciful One, Ruler of the world, Who created this food. We bless You, we honor You, we thank You. We are Your people and You are our God.

Deuteronomy 8:1-18

 

(c) copyright 2006 Nathan A. Long

My God, My God…My Hope

Do you ever wonder what about life is real? It’s a crazy thing to ask, but I can’t shake the feeling tonight. Perhaps now that what I have prayed for and dreamed of is actually beginning to take shape, my fears and an awareness of my own inadequacies are rising up. Frankly, I have never yet achieved, or more accurately “realized”, the fullness of what I had hoped for.

Is it possible this side of the world to come? How much does it really matter in what manner we live our life? Is there really that much difference between the “biblical” lifestyle I am striving after and the mediocre existence that I see the majority of “Christians” trying to make the best of?

What if I write books, forge relationships, influence generations, feed the poor, and “repair the world” but lose my daughter? Oh, God, grant me wisdom, overlook my failings, tip the balance, give me my daughter’s soul for You! May she walk faithfully, speak truthfully, love incessantly, and be real all for the sake of Your glorious Name.

Father, grant me the strength, the hope, the faithfulness and the fortitude to overcome, to walk a more closely imitating life in order that there might be hope for my wife and my children in the example they witness in me. Revolutionize my life, Father, so that my family and all those I come in contact with will have hope of life abundant by virtue of seeing Your reflection in me.

Allow me to taste of Your goodness, walk with me in the valleys of the shadow of death, and carry me to the mountain meadows. Be the river that waters the soil of my life, pull my roots deep, never turn Your loving eye from me; give me Your Life, Lord! I give You mine.

I want to know You, God. I want to shake my neighbor’s hand and him feel Your strong right hand. I want to wrap my arms around my children and have them feel Your loving embrace. I want to walk with You, to talk with You, to laugh with You and to cry with You. I want my wife to feel like she has all ready met You, because she has seen You so much in me.

My Maker, I need You. I need You.

I need You, Father. I.. need.. You.

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel.
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Psalms 69:6, 13 (ESV)

Law/Torah and America

In their book The Day America Told the Truth, James Patterson and Peter Kim prepared what they viewed as the actual “Ten Commandments” by which people live in postmodern America, those rules include the following:

– I don’t see the point in observing the Sabbath;

– I will steal from those who won’t really miss it;

– I will lie when it suits me, so long as it doesn’t cause any real damage

– I will cheat on my spouse—after all, given the chance, he or she will do the same;

– I will procrastinate at work and do absolutely nothing about one full day in every five.

James Patterson and Peter Kim, The Day America Told the Truth (New York: Plume, 1992), pg. 201

Sound like what you’ve observed in everyday life? Perhaps even like what you ultimately live by? There is a moral crisis wracking America, and worse still it is at epidemic proportions in American churches. The source of the problem is multifold but one primary cause is that post-modern churchianity has jettisoned God’s torah as having anything to do with their life.

Philip Graham Ryken said:

Good teaching on the law and the gospel has never been more badly needed than it is today. We are living in lawless times, when disrespect for authority has led to widespread disdain for God’s commandments. People are behaving badly, even in church. Part of the problem is that most people don’t know what God requires. Even among Christians there is an appalling lack of familiarity with the perfect standard of God’s law, and of course the situation is worse in the culture at large. This ignorance undoubtedly contributes to the general lowering of moral standards in these post-Christian times, but it does as much damage to our theology. People who are ignorant of God’s law never see their need for the gospel. As John Bunyan explained it, “The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin. And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Savior.

As a group we have failed to internalize the following truth (also quoted from Philip Graham Ryken:

The law is what shows us our need for the saving work of Jesus Christ. Then, once we come to Christ by believing in the gospel of his cross and empty tomb, it shows us how to live for his glory.

Philip Graham Ryken, Written in Stone : The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2003). pg 8.

Let us pray that God will restore His truth to our hearts and to the hearts of our brothers and sisters (but first to our own).

Today, Father, may your words be always in front of my eyes; may my hands be engaged in the practice of your commands.

I recall the power of your outstretched arm in redeeming us from the house of bondage, and today I will lean on that same arm for strength to live in a redemptive manner. May I be honored to partner with you in the repair of the world.

May it be your will and may it be my will, YHWH, our God, and God of our forefathers, that my mind, my hands, my feet, and all the senses You have given me be subject to your service.

Blessed are you, YHWH our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by his Son and sanctifies us with his commandments. How precious is your kindness, O God!

Long, Nathan A., The Offerings of Our Lips (Fort Wayne, IN.: Nurture, Inc., 2006).