As ever an update on how we go to where we are now. First has been the ignorant start that led to an awareness of why fasting is so important. Relationships play a vital role in growing in fasting and there are great benefits found here. This was typified in a most remarkable episode that should have had lasting implications for me. Yet the last entry should just how busyness can lead to a downfall even from the heights that had been reached personally.
In any case a scripture to get on with things.
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
In many ways the timing for this entry on the Fast and the Curious series is most apt. The other night I was part of a church gathering which looked at Psalm 34 which says in verse 19 that encouraging piece of news for all believers – many are the afflictions of the righteous! Yeah, yeah, the Lord delivers us from them all, but did you see that first word – many. That sounds like quite a lot. As in that’s not a cheap and easy quick burst of affliction and that’s your lot, oh no, many. It’s in the contract. It’s a part of the deal. Now sure later on it would also go onto mention that the wicked gets lots of afflictions as well almost as if life comes with lots of afflictions but I’m sure some of us would prefer to join a side where afflictions aren’t in the ‘many’ category. I mean that’s what a lot of life is geared to isn’t it – stress-free, trouble-free, minimising pain, etc. etc. Yet here in God’s beautiful and glorious Word we’re told that this is not the path of the Christ-follower.
It gets worse (or better depending on your perspective). Jesus spends a considerable amount of his time telling potential followers that the road is not a glamorous one and is fraught with persecution, rejection, misunderstanding and trials. Just in case you think the New Testament writers would ease up on us Jimmy, Pete and even John give the impression that this journey is not for the faint-hearted.
Then just when you think it’s safe to emerge from the barrage of just what a hard life it is we come across, Paul lays on the above verse, which was mentioned in the same service. We rejoice in our sufferings? We do? Really? Rejoice? Well apparently this is where the rest of the verses provide the assurance that there is a purpose to the suffering even if an understanding isn’t always clear. That purpose is character building that reminds us of the hope we have evidenced by the reality of the Holy Spirit given to us.
The hope, the character building and the very presence of the Holy Spirit in life, points unmistakeably to Jesus. For some reason that still astounds me to this day, despite the fact that the label says Christian and we have come because of Jesus it seems only too easy once you get in there to forget the place He plays in the whole business. No we don’t forget Him completely, we still sing the songs about Him, we still talk about Him from time to time and we definitely hear about Him every time we’re in a church context. Yet a real heart devotion to following Him and becoming like Him gets lost in the shuffle of other life priorities – family, work, money, self, etc. It’s as though we love Him one minute and the very next we’re back to loving ourselves. One of the most loving things then about suffering is that in building character it reminds me often on whom I rely, on whom I trust, on whom my very existence and all else is dependent. For I have two options when I suffer – withdraw from God into myself, or draw out from myself and get closer to God.
I never knew that until 2004-05 when circumstances conspired to thrust me to the place of God being everything to me and meaning everything to me. The whole point of loving God, desiring God came through in a powerful from outside my box. It’s connection to fasting should be obvious, but to draw it out, there is nothing to rings out a more desperate cry for God than abasing our very human nature to hear from God, to experience God, to declare our ultimate desire for God above all else – including the very food and drink that others would suggest is fundamental to life.
As God drew me out of the hard season of 2004-05 He reminded me of some key inspirations to getting to know God and love Him and hunger and thirst after Him. First of all there was the ministry of John Piper which you can follow through the Desiring God web-site. To this day I do not know how I got into Piper. I think it may have been around a time I was getting a Bible database which included documents by different Christian writers, Piper being one of them. I was then fascinated by what he had to say about church and this went further into the core of his ministry which he defines as Christian Hedonism. Well he couldn’t have put something more provocative to someone like me who was already aware of the negative connotations of hedonism. Reading it and finding out that our greatest pleasure and desire is found in God and so it makes sense to make much of Christ. From the end of my university days until around the time of my marriage I didn’t pay too much attention to Piper after discovering him at university.
Yet coming out of my dark times I realised just how important desiring God really is to existence. Since then Piper’s ministry has had a profound influence on my passion and desire for God and teaching and writing and speaking. It was nowhere near my cultural and Christian background. What I was getting from Piper was not like anything I had experienced before and not because he wasn’t from a setting that was jumping and shouting. I laugh at the thought of someone like Piper ever being able to come and speak oat our church, but I would love it. I admire the way he is passionate about Jesus and the gospel. That was simply infectious and to know that his ministry had been relatively successful for over two decades of hard service was also very instructive. To see such passion and enthusiasm matched with such a diligent approach to study caught my attention. To hear his call for deeper relationship with God brought me closer to committing myself further to prayer and fasting. The God that Piper mentioned was the same that I’d heard for some 20 years at home, but there was just something insistent about the presentation. Something that said Jesus is so much more worthy of my entire life than any other ministry I had come across before.
The heart of fasting has been to feast on God and I’m grateful for this first remarkable character who helped develop that desire. Yet that was not enough and there would be another significant other who would nudge me in a certain area. That will be outlined in the next blog episode.
What I do want to finish this entry with, though, is an encouragement to go beyond your own way of knowing in exploring God. Be prepared for God to speak to you outside the conventional circles, so that just in the same way that Abram was called from his cultural norms and to come out to engage with the living God. Fasting plays a crucial part in the call of Christ to come out of what we know to what He knows. That is an exciting journey and very daunting, but lo He is with us always …
For His Name's Sake