Friday, October 23, 2020

The Good News and Broken Spirits

Last winter, some friends gave me the Lenten guide,
Forward to Freedom: From Exodus to Easter, by David Adam, Vicar of Holy Island, Northumberland.  The book brought to my attention something I’ve never noticed before in the Exodus story.  In Exodus 6, Moses brings a message from God to the people of Israel enslaved in Egypt.  God says, “I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them.  I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement.  I will take you as my people, and I will be your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession.  I am the Lord.”

This is amazingly good news!  God has come to take them out of slavery and into a promised land to call their own.  He is going to draw them into a deep and intimate relationship with himself!  But verse 9 says that the people “would not listen to Moses because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.”

We Christians have this amazingly good news from God as well: that He is here to free people from their heavy burdens and deliver them from slavery to the “world”, sin, and self, and bring them into the Kindom of Heaven. He is here to draw them into a deep and intimate relationship with Himself! 

When people won’t hear the good news we proclaim, we often respond like a scorned lover and blame them: “They won’t listen because they have some sin they want to hold on to; they are arrogant in their unbelief; they are rebellious against the God who made them and loves them.”  It’s true that there are people who reject the good news for these reasons, and there are others who can’t accept the good news because of intellectual or moral difficulties with the message.  But It occurred to me that there are many people who cannot hear the good news because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.

People’s spirits get broken through the hardships of life and harm received from others.  Sadly, some people’s spirits have been broken by Christians and the Church.  While modern day slavery is a terrible problem, people are also enslaved to their own sin and others’ sin.  People feel trapped by economic systems, debt, illness and addiction.  There are people today, especially those who are marginalized, who can’t hear the good news because they can’t even imagine a way out.

God responds to the Israelites’ rejection of the good news by going into battle against Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods who were oppressing the people.  He brings the people into freedom even when they can’t even imagine it.

Jesus responds to the broken-hearted by opposing the religious and political leaders that are oppressing the people, and by healing, freeing and embracing the marginalized.  He describes his ministry by quoting the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:18-19 The Message):

God’s Spirit is on me;

    he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and

    recovery of sight to the blind,

to set the burdened and battered free,

    to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

Today, as people who want to proclaim the good news in a way that people can hear and accept, we need to take our cues from Moses and Jesus, not blaming those who are too broken-hearted to hear, but instead working and praying for their healing, freedom, and trust.  We need to hear their cry, believe their story, and present a vision of true freedom and healing in the arms of a loving God.


Friday, March 13, 2020

The Corporate Sabbatical of 2020

Due to some health issues, I’ve been on a “forced sabbatical” for a few months, and will likely be on it for a few more.  As schools and other institutions are shutting down because of COVID-19, (with no disrespect to those who’s lives are deeply impacted) we all might be placed on a forced Sabbatical!
With Saint Patrick’s Day right around the corner, I thought It might be good to return to something I wrote on solitude for a course on Celtic Spirituality years ago.

Solitude and Silence
Earthed Spirituality

If Celtic Spirituality was born out of Patrick’s experience, then it was born out of solitude.  Patrick spent 6 years from age 16 to 22 living the life of solitude as a slave-shepherd in the hills of Ireland.  He used his solitude to pray, praying the psalms day and night for those 6 years.

We’re actually not sure how, but the Celtic church was greatly influenced by the desert fathers and mothers.  These Christians were the beginning of the monastic movement.  They ventured out into the Egyptian and Syrian deserts to spend a life of solitude and prayer.  They didn’t go to escape the sins of the city, but to do battle with the devil – the desert was not a spiritually safe place in their minds.

One of the most famous of these desert fathers was Saint Anthony of  Egypt – His biography was written by Athanasius and is likely available from the library.  Amazingly, Antony appears carved into the top of many high crosses across Ireland!

The Celts held these hermits in high regard, as they did the martyrs of the church and they tried to emulate them.  But since there is no desert in Ireland, and by the end of Patrick’s life there was no persecution or opportunity for martyrdom, they created what was called “Green Martyrdom.”  In Green Martyrdom a person would go off into the Irish countryside and find a cave to sleep in, or they would sleep in the open, living a life of sacrifice and solitude

But the Irish countryside is not the desert, and many of the Celtic solitaries found an abundance rather than a lack of provision in their hermitage.  Here is a prayer that I have in a frame up in our little cabin in the woods:

I wish, O Son of the living God,
Eternal, ancient King,
For a secret hut in the wilderness
That it may be my dwelling

A very blue shallow well
To be beside it,
A clear pool for washing away sins
Through the grace of the Holy Ghost.

A beautiful wood close by
Around it on every side
For the nurture of many-voiced birds
To shelter and hide it.

Facing the south for warmth
A little stream across its ground,
A choice plot with abundant bounties
Which would be good for every plant…

This is the housekeeping I would get,
I would choose it without concealing,
Fragrant fresh leeks, hens,
Salmon, trout, bees.

My fill of clothing and food
From the King of good fame
And for me to be sitting for a time
Praying to God in every place.
Esther De Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer, p.100

Green Martyrdom was not the only way of Solitude – for many of the monks who put out into the sea in their little coracles, they were venturing into the “Desert Ocean.”

The Celts got their cues from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, but they did not just copy them.  If someone went out to be a hermit in the desert, It was likely he or she would remain there for the rest of their life.  The Celts on the other hand might retire into solitude at some times in their lives, or at certain times of the year, and then later on re-emerge to join the community once again.
Great missionaries like St. Columbanus and Columba are recorded as seeking out and solitary spots as part of the pattern of their public activities.

What is Solitude?
Just as fasting is the abstinence from food for spiritual purposes, solitude is the withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes. The period of solitude may last only a few minutes, or for days. Solitude may be sought in order to participate without interruption in other Spiritual Disciplines, or just to be alone with God.

Solitude and Silence
In both Foster’s and Whitney’s books on the Spiritual Disciplines, they partner the disciplines of Solitude and Silence. They do so rightly because the two do go together. Even when we do not fill our lives with people, we can fill our lives with noise – the T.V. or radio on to “keep us company.” In modern times we have every convenience to fill our ears and eyes with noise which serves to drown out the voice of God in our ears and the image of God from our eyes. True solitude removes ourselves from company, but it also removes ourselves from other distractions as well.

While I turn off all distraction in Solitude, I often keep a very vocal conversation going with God! I often walk through the forest, or paddle down streams talking out loud to God as I go. So my silence and my solitude don’t always go together.

The Joy of Solitude
Out of all the Spiritual Disciplines, this is the one that makes me sigh - like you might when you think of chocolate. For a guy that loves people, and loves a good party, I would like nothing better than to spend time in solitude with God. When life gets really busy, and even when it doesn’t, my heart cries out for a day or just a portion of a day when I can get away on my own and be with God.
Nothing replenishes my soul like solitude.
Bono sings about his yearning to get back to the loneliness of Africa in “Where the Streets Have No Name”
“I want to run,
I want to hide.
I want to tear down these walls
that hold me inside.
I want to reach out
and touch the flame,
Where the streets have no name
… and when I go there,
I go there with You
It’s all I can do.”

There are times when I am able to go out with just one of my kids – either to do something special, or to run errands. Inevitably doing these times, they will say to me, “Dad, I really like these times when we’re together, just you and I.” When I can get away for extended periods of solitude, inevitably, I say to God, “Father, I really like these times when we’re together, just you and I.”

The Fear of Solitude
Once, when I went on a solo retreat at a hermitage at Mount Alverno Retreat Centre, Sister Wendy, who runs the place, said to me just as I started up the hill to the hermitage, “If you find you can’t take it, you can always come back down the hill for a conversation.” I said, “No I’ll be alright.” She replied that some people hardly last a half an hour before the quiet and loneliness get to them and they come running back down the hill to find another human!

Some people fear being alone.
Foster writes, “Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds. We keep up a constant stream of words even if they are inane. We buy radios that strap to our wrist or fit over our ears so that if no one else is around at least we are not condemned to silence. T. S. Eliot analyzed our culture so well when he wrote, “Where shall the world be found, where will the word resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.”
But loneliness or clatter are not our only alternatives. We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear. Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment. Solitude is not first a place but a state of mind and heart.”
- P. 84

He says at the beginning of the chapter: “Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude.”

For some of us, we don’t like to be alone because we don’t much like our own company, or because our personality is so shaped by the people around us, we don’t even know who we are when we are alone.

It may have to do with whether you are an introvert or an extrovert – introverts gain their energy from within, and are drained by exterior stimulation. Extroverts, on the other hand gain their energy from exterior stimulation and are drained by interior work.
I once went on a canoe trip with an extreme extrovert friend. I’ve never seen him so depressed! He only had me to bounce off of. Once, I left him to get some alone time for myself, and it was the worst thing I could have done to the poor soul. He kept getting lower and lower until we met up with a gang of people on their own trip – It was like he found water in the desert!

Introvert, or extrovert, fearful, or expectant: we need to practice solitude because it will strengthen your soul.

Solitude in Scripture
We only have to look at Jesus life if we want to find the practice of Solitude in scripture. Jesus inaugurated His ministry by spending forty days alone in the desert (Mt. 4:1—Il). Before He chose the twelve He spent the entire night alone in the desert hills (Lk.
6:12). When He received the news of the death of John the Baptist, He “withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart” (Mt. 14:13). After the miraculous feeding of the five thousand Jesus made His disciples leave; then He dismissed the crowd and “went up into the hills by himself . . .“ (Mt. 14:23). Following a long night of work “in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place . . .“ (Mk. 1:35). When the twelve had returned from a preaching and healing mission, Jesus instructed them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place . . .“ (Mk. 6:31). Following the healing of a leper Jesus “withdrew to the wilderness and prayed” (Lk. 5:16). With three disciples He sought out the silence of a lonely mountain as the stage for the transfiguration (Mt. 17:1—9). As he prepared for His highest and most holy work, Jesus sought the solitude of the garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:36—46). One could go on, but perhaps this is sufficient to show that the seeking out of a solitary place was a regular practice with Jesus. So it should be for us.

We need to heed Jesus’ command, or invitation to “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place . . .“

The benefits of Solitude
Being Real
Some one once said, “True character is who you are when you are alone.” So if we are going to be real with God, we need to get alone with him more often. In the quiet of solitude, all pretensions can be striped away, all the things in life that are trying to mold us in their image are removed, all the requirements of the world disappear, and we can stand before God “just as I am” as the song says.
This might be scary for some, but for me it is a relief, because it is in solitude that I am reminded that above all else my identity is caught up in the fact that I am God’s adopted, chosen son. If you are not really sure of what God thinks about you, being alone with him might be pretty scary! Maybe the reason I cherish solitude so much is that, on my best days, I’m really sure of what God thinks about me – he loves me. If you’re not so sure that he loves you, get alone with him, listen to his voice – the first thing that the Holy Spirit teaches our spirit is how to say “Abba, Father” If you can get alone in silence with God, the first thing that you will hear is the Spirit whispering in your ear “you are God’s adopted child – he chose you, he loves you.

Dallas Willard writes,
“We must reemphasize, the “desert” or “closet” is the primary place of strength for the beginner, as it was for Christ and for Paul. They show us by their example what we must do. In stark aloneness it is possible to have silence, to be still, and to know that Jehovah indeed is God (Ps. 46:10), to set the Lord before our minds with sufficient intensity and duration that we stay centered on Him – our hearts fixed, established in trust (Ps. 112:7-8) – even when back in the office, shop, or home.”

 Do you know what Christian strength looks like?
Listen to Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:
“I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19
Christian strength is the ability to know the love of God for us!

Getting Centred
It is in my times of Solitude that I able to take the broad view of my life and remember my calling and purpose in life. I can make big decisions and plans without the distractions of other voices etc. You can see that Jesus sought out solitude before the big events in his life. Trudeau’s long walk in the snow before he resigned as prime minister has become part of Canadian history lore.

Whitney tells of how Billy Graham was being pressured by Charles Templeton to give up his belief in the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. Templeton had many convincing arguments that Graham had trouble refuting, and it was a tumultuous time for him. Graham took some time in solitude and meditated on the many times in scripture that it said “the Word of the Lord came.” He saw how Jesus treated scripture, and he realized that intellect alone would not solve his problem – that it was an issue of faith. So he placed his Bible on a stump and knelt down and said, Oh God; I cannot prove certain things. I cannot answer some of the questions Church is raising and some of the other people are raising, but I accept this Book by faith as the Word of God.” And through that time of solitude and the perspective he gained that night, Billy Graham was shaped into the man the world has known since.

In Solitude we learn to live in integrity.
In Max Lucado’s children’s book, “You are Special,” the Wemmicks spend all of their time judging each other. They give gold stars to those who impress them, and gray dots to those who fail to impress them. Punchinello, the main character discovers that – the dots and stars don’t stick when we spend time with the maker! (read the book, even if there’s no kid to read it to.)
When we are tempted to live in a way that will please those around us, rather than live in integrity with who the Father has called us to be, the more time we spend in solitude with the Father, the less other’s judgments stick to us!

How to practice Solitude
Daily Solitude
Traditionally, Christians have called this practice “having a quiet time.” It is taking 10 or so minutes out of your day, finding a place that you can be alone and quieting yourself before God. Start with 10 minutes, and then you may find that you want more time. Martin Luther felt that he needed 5 hours a day in solitude with God just so he could accomplish all that he had to do!
Some people may find it easy to quiet themselves before God, others of us need exercises to still our minds and our hearts. Take a look at the exercises in the Christian Meditation pamphlet for helpful ways to quiet your soul.
Many people read and meditate on scripture or use a devotional guide to help them. It is also the time that people bring their requests to God, but it is important that you listen to God during this time and not use scripture and prayer as a distraction from God’s presence. The important thing is to get alone and recognize God’s presence with you before you read or pray.
Dawn Comber has introduced me to this wonderful website called Sacred Space. It is maintained by the Irish Jesuits and it enables you to shut the world off and meditate of God’s presence even while you sit at your computer.

It would be great to set a space aside as Solitude space, so that even when there are people in the house, if they see you in that space, they know that you are wanting as much solitude as can be afforded. Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles had a very large family. When she needed solitude, she would bring her apron up over her head, so that she could pray and read scripture without being bothered by the myriad of children.

Spontaneous Solitude.
Once you have learned the discipline of solitude, you can steal solitude in the most everyday places when you get alone. Try not turning on the radio when you get in the car. Recognize God’s presence as you ride the elevator alone. Walk through a park on the way home and be conscious of walking with God. I try to make myself aware of God’s presence in the solitude of my long-distance runs, bike rides and swims.
They say that you can be alone even when standing in a crowd. So, if you have honed the discipline of solitude when you are alone, you could also practice it when you are waiting for the subway.


Taking a retreat is probably what comes first to your mind when you think of the discipline of solitude. There are places where you can go to be alone with God. I’ve listed a number of them in this pamphlet. You might have a piece of geography where you have really connected with God – you may go back there. For me, there is nothing like a canoe to help me connect with the Father. Go for a day, or even half a day, once you’ve done that, you can think of practicing solitude for longer periods. If you have no idea how to spend your time during your retreat, many retreat centres have spiritual directors who will listen to your needs and give some direction on how you could spend your time. I would be willing to help in this way if you want to meet before any retreat.

You might think that going on a solitary retreat is only for super Christians, people in full time ministry, or people who are really messed up, or all of the above. The truth is, I believe that all Christians should take a daylong solitary retreat at least once a year. I think that 4 times a year would be more beneficial. I try to take a day away at least once a month, and a multi-day retreat once a year.
If you have a issue to resolve in your life, think about all the time that you have taken worrying about it and trying to work it out, wouldn’t it be good to take a day to ask God what he thinks? My retreats help me to study, get connected with God as my friend, and I often am able to do some very important planning on those days. I do all of this in the presence of God.

Jesus says to us, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place . . .“ will you heed his call?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Fasting - Hungering for God

As we are heading into a week of prayer and fasting From January 7-14, I thought I'd post a pamphlet on fasting that I put together a few years ago.

After the story of the transfiguration in Mark 9, when Jesus and the three disciples come down from the mountain, there is a crowd waiting for them.  There is a little boy who has been terrorized by a demon.  The demon keeps him from talking and often throws him into fits that endanger his life.  Jesus casts the demon out and frees the boy to live the life of God.  The nine disciples that were waiting at the base of the mountain had already tried to cast the demon out.  Afterwards they ask Jesus, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  Jesus answers, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.” 

Since Jesus cast the demon out immediately, He must have been talking about the regular practice of prayer and fasting rather than a concerted effort of prayer and fasting for this particular boy.  Which brings us to the question, “What is fasting, and how do we do it?”

What is Fasting?
Simply put, fasting is the voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. It is important to note that fasts have a spiritual purpose – it is not just missing lunch because you are too busy .A fast can last anywhere from one meal to forty days without food. 

There are different types of fasts. The most typical fast is to go without any food; some people will fast from food and water – although you can only do this for a short time.  There are limited fasts, when people will allow themselves juice or other liquid sustenance during their fast. There are partial fasts, where you will give up certain types of food for a period of time.  Many people do this during Lent when they will give up sweets, or meat, or something else for the forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
While we are going to concentrate on fasting from food, people will also fast from TV, screens, and other media, from talking, from computers, computer games or social network sites;  from shopping; married couples can fast from sexual intimacy… You can fast from anything that is habitual in your life.  It is good to fast from the things that you obsess about – it reminds you that you can get by without them.  I have a friend who hates holidays – work is so important to him that a holiday is like a fast from work rather than a rest!  Another friend fasted from going to the gym  for lent—he realized that he was obsessing far to much about fitness.

Is Fasting Christian?

The simple answer is yes.  Everyone of importance in the Bible practiced fasting: Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Anna, Paul, Jesus, just to name a few.  When Jesus taught on fasting, He would say, “when you fast,” not “if you fast.”  He assumed that we would fast.  It is not just the great people of the Bible that practiced fasting, but also the great saints of the church down through the ages that practiced fasting as part of their regular spiritual discipline.

Why Fast?

Fasting can increase our hunger for God

John Piper writes in his book, A Hunger for God:
If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied.  It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world.  Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.  God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast, “This much, O God, I want you.”  (p.23)

Fasting reminds us that we can get by without most things in our lives for a time, but we cannot get by without God.  The first and main pupose of fasting is to draw closer to God.

Fasting can train our passions

We are so used to giving ourselves whatever we want. We say, “I feel like a doughnut,” so we go get a doughnut.  Richard Foster says that our stomach is like a spoiled child, and spoiled children do not need indulgence -- they need discipline.  Even Oh! Henry commercials speak to the control that our stomachs have over our lives.  We are not to be controlled by our stomachs, but controlled by the Spirit of God.  Fasting is spiritual training in self-control.

The way that gold was refined in ancient days was that the ore was placed in a great cauldron with fire underneath it. As it heated up, the ore would melt, and all the impurities would rise to the surface.  The smelter would then skim off the impurities – the dross.  But he wasn’t finished there; he would stoke the fire more, and more impurities would rise to the top.  He would skim those off, and heat it up even more.  He would continue this process until the gold was pure.  And it is said that he knew that the gold was pure when he could see his reflection in the gold.

God does the same thing.  He heats things up in our lives so that the dross rises to the top. When we go through hard times, things in our lives are brought to the surface: sins, things that we are holding on to that we need to let go of, pride, etc.  These things can become very obvious when we go through struggles, and it gives God the chance to skim them off and purify us.  He knows when He is done when He can see His reflection in us.

God wants us to be like pure gold. We can turn up the heat ourselves, or we can wait until He does. Fasting is voluntarily turning up the heat in our lives.

 Richard Foster says:
More than any other single discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.  This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.  We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.  If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately.  David said, “I humbled myself with fasting” (Ps. 69:10).  Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear – if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.  At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we know that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us.  We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ. (p.48)

The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 4:7-8:
Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.

Out of all the spiritual disciplines, fasting is most like physical exercise.  It is both physical and spiritual, and it builds our “faith muscles” so that we can withstand the bigger contests that come our way.

Fasting can be earnest prayer

Many people fast when they are desperate for God to answer their prayers.  We can fast for rescue from a bad situation, for healing of a loved one, for direction in life or for other requests that are close to our hearts.
Fasting is not some kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding.  The Israelites got this wrong in Isaiah 58:3 when they say,
Why have we fasted,
       and you have not seen it?
       Why have we humbled ourselves,
       and you have not noticed?

On the other side, fasting can bring a note of urgency to our praying.  We are coming to our Father and telling Him (and ourselves) how important this issue is to us.

Arthur Wallis writes:
Fasting is calculated to bring a note of urgency and importunity into our praying, and to give force to our pleading in the court of heaven.  The man who prays with fasting is giving heaven notice that he is truly in earnest… Not only so, but he is expressing his earnestness in a divinely-appointed way.  He is using a means that God has chosen to make his voice to be heard on high.

When my sister Faith was diagnosed with cancer, as I prayed for her, Jesus’ words that “these can come out only through prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29) kept coming to me, so I began a weekly fast for her as well as my constant prayer.  When we fast with a specific request in mind, our fast can be a wordless prayer to God.  Our hunger pangs also remind us to lift our voice up to God.

Fasting for change

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, would not ordain anyone for ministry unless they fasted every Friday.  While I was looking into the horrors of the modern slave trade, I discovered that the reason that Wesley fasted, and required his clergy to fast, was to see the end of the African slave trade.  Two hundred years ago, his prayers and fasting were answered when the British parliament abolished the slave trade in the British Empire.  Today, groups like Living Water International are inviting people to fast for fresh water provision in the developing world.  The modern slave trade is actually more extensive than the African slave trade was; Christians need to renew the practice of fasting for social change.

Fasting can help us humble ourselves

Fasting can humble us. Oftentimes all the things in our life that we take pride in are stripped away in fasting – the ability to move and think fast, the ability to be productive, and our physical strength are all reduced in fasting.  Fasting really should be called “slowing!”

Fasting can be an act of humility – just as kneeling or bowing before God is an act of humility, so is fasting.

One of the most wicked men in Jewish history, King Ahab, eventually humbled himself before God and demonstrated it by fasting: “When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.
Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: ‘Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day …’ ” (1 Kings 21:27-29)

David, one of the most righteous kings, also humbled himself through fasting (Ps. 35:13).

Fasting can be a sign of repentance

Repentance is a decision to turn away from sin in our lives. In Christianity today, repentance can be a light thing.  It is just some words we say, and it can be over in seconds.  But many people in the Bible fasted to show their seriousness in repentance.

You might be uncomfortable with this, but God isn’t.  While we would like our confession and repentance to be as short as possible, fasting takes time.  This might lengthen our discomfort with our guilt, but it might cause us to take more seriously our decision to turn from sin.

When we fast in our repentance, it is not an attempt to punish ourselves for our past sin, but a commitment and preparation for our future righteousness.  It is a sign that we are starting something new.

People have also fasted out of grief for others’ sins, not just their own.

There are many more reasons to fast and you can read about them in the resource material listed at the end of this pamphlet.

How to Fast

Start small. Fasting is a bit like physical exercise. You want to train yourself. You wouldn’t try to run a marathon without training, so don’t jump into a forty-day fast without training; Start by fasting for one meal, then two, then do a twenty-four hour fast.  You may want to use the season of Lent to fast once a week, adding a little to the fast each week.

Determine the purpose of the fast. Is it to seek God, to seek direction, to pray for others, or for change?

Determine the nature of the fast. Is it a partial fast?  Many people do partial fasts through Lent. Is it an absolute fast, or solid food only?  As a person who suffers from low blood sugar, I actually find it easier to fast with only water.  When I have allowed myself juice, it spikes my blood sugar, and for every high there is a low.

Plan for the fast. Set the time specifically. It is likely best not to be fasting if you have a presentation or a job interview that day. Determine the length of the fast. Is it one day? Two meals or three? Is it longer? (For fasts longer than three days, please read the supplemental material recommended at the end of the brochure, and consult a doctor if there are any medical questions.) Don’t plan to decide as you go – that doesn’t work so well.

Is it going to be a working fast, where you keep your schedule the same, but use the time that you would otherwise be eating to pray? Or are you going to clear your schedule and retreat during your fast? Is it also a media fast? 

Get people praying for you. There is so much potential power in seeking God in this way that Satan will do whatever necessary to derail your plan.

Don't call attention to your fasting. A simple "I'm skipping lunch today" will be an adequate explanation for most situations.

Stay continually focused on the Lord. If your fasting leaves you irritable with family or coworkers, it will not honor God.

Pitfalls of Fasting


The Pharisees were very self-righteousness about their fasting, and it is easy for us to become self-righteous as well.  Remember that your fast is about you and God, not about impressing others, or even yourself.
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18, TNIV)

There is also the temptation to judge others who don't fast, or who don't fast as long, or who don't deny themselves as many things.

Fasting can also trap its participants in legalism. As soon as rule-making begins about whether juice is okay or water only, or what media are excluded, the joy and power of the Spirit will be lost. 

Coercion of God

Remember that we are not twisting God’s arm; we are trying to draw closer to Him. 


There is a heretical tradition in Christianity of punishing ourselves for sins.  God’s forgiveness of our sins comes with no requirement of us except confession and repentance.  We shouldn’t deprive ourselves of food as a way to punish ourselves or gain favour with God.  We already have God’s favour through Jesus.

It is tempting to see fasting as a great weight-loss program. Although you can shed weight during fasting, this is not its first goal.  The goal is spiritual, not physical.  If you want to lose weight, find a way to eat more healthily and exercise; if you want to draw closer to God, try fasting.

Mental Health
Fasting can complicate mental health issues that you may be dealing with.  I’ve had friends go into a deep depression after a prolonged fast.   If you struggle with mental health, talk to your doctor or therapist before you fast, and have someone monitor your health during the fast.  If you have an eating disorder, fasting from food may not be healthy for you.  Again, make sure you talk with your doctor, therapist, or 12-step sponsor before you fast.

For further reading:
John Piper, A Hunger for God (Crossways Press, 1997).
Arthur Wallis, God’s Chosen Fast (Christian Literature Crusade, 1980).
Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (Harper, 3rd. ed., 1988), ch. 4.

Check out more on the web!
Go to, click on Magazines, then Discipleship Journal, then Archives, and search for these articles: A Day to Pray, Confronting Prayer Myths, Speaking God’s Language, The Listening Side of Prayer, Fasting on a Full Stomach and other articles on fasting.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2016 Christmas Letter - #FashionSanta

Social media told me that Yorkdale Mall hired model Paul Mason, and “his glorious white beard,” to play Santa Claus this year.  If you google #FashionSanta you’ll see that he might actually look a little more like the real Saint Nicholas than the Coca-Cola version of a very large elf in a very large suit.

The whole thing got me thinking about how we celebrate the birth of Jesus with all sorts of glitz and glamour when the Prophet Isaiah describes the coming savior like this,
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
   a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
  • Isaiah 53:2-3

I’m all for having fun with Christmas, but in the midst of the lights and tinsel we can’t forget that we are celebrating the birth of God who came as a poor, homeless, helpless infant.  I love how Brennan Manning writes it in a chapter called “Shipwrecked at the Stable”: “God entered into our world not with the crushing impact of unbearable glory, but in the way of weakness, vulnerability and need. On a wintry night in an obscure cave, the infant Jesus was a humble, naked, helpless God who allowed us to get close to him.”

While we might celebrate Christmas with “unbearable glory,” that is not where we will find the One we celebrate.  He is not in the lights and tinsel – he is in the stable.  To quote Bruce Cockburn, “It isn’t to the palace that the Christ Child come, but to shepherds, and street people, hookers and bums.” (The Cry of a Tiny Babe)

As “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” says, “He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. Maybe Christmas, he thought... doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps... means a little bit more!
It actually means a lot more – it means that God has come to be among us, to show us who he truly is: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” – John 1:18

This Christmas, celebrate well! Get out the lights and tinsel, the turkey and the trimmings, but make sure that you find the One whom we celebrate as well.  You won’t find Him in the lights – he won’t come in unbearable glory, he’ll come “in the way of weakness, vulnerability and need.”  Among the rejected ones, that’s where you’ll find the Christ Child.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wear a RED X tomorrow

God often asks His people to do things that make other people ask: "Why do you do that?"  One of my favorites is the time the people of Israel cross over the Jordan River into the Promised Land, and Joshua has a man from every tribe pick a rock from the river and heap the twelve stones up into a pile "to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?'’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:6-7)

Tomorrow (February 27), people all over the world are going to paint a red "X" on their hand.  "Why?" you might ask.  (This is the correct response!)  

And all those people (those of us with X's on our hands!) can reply: "We are wearing the red X to bring attention to the problem of slavery in the world today.  Today, it is estimated that 27 million people are enslaved. That is more than were enslaved at the height of the African slave trade!

I'm inviting you to go to to get informed and then tomorrow, before you go out to work, school or wherever, paint a red "X" on your hand.  When people ask "Why?" tell them that you want to see slavery end.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Saint Patrick and Evangelism

You might celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day this Saturday by wearing green and patronising your local Irish Pub, but to really celebrate the man, you might want to bring a friend along and tell them about Jesus!
Patrick is the apostle of Ireland – credited with most of the population of the island embracing Christ within his lifetime. There are some who would say that he is the first true missionary since the apostle Paul: if not, he is surely the first missionary to venture outside of the Roman Empire.

By the time Patrick died at the ripe old age of 115, after 60 years of ministry, the vast majority of Ireland would have adopted his very indigenous, very vibrant Christian faith.

In many ways it was best explained as a conversion not to Christianity, but to Christ. Patrick was not spreading a religion: to have more people under the control of the Church; but he was spreading the Good News that the Creator wanted to have a relationship with them through his Son. It was the good news of inviting people to live the life that they were created to live, in the family of the One that they were created in the image of.

Patrick’s message was good news that pulled people out of fear based, and often-oppressive religious systems and beliefs. Patrick himself recognized that the gospel was good news as he suffered as a slave on the hills of Northern Ireland. He returned to Ireland not to conquer it for Christ, but to woo people into Christ’s love.

Patrick was a missionary unlike many others. Patrick was not Irish (gasp!), he was born in Roman Briton. But he didn’t reach the Irish as his “target audience.” In his writings he speaks of “we Irish:” he sees himself as one of the Irish. Because of his enslavement, he already had an understanding of the culture and ways of the Irish, and he felt no need to “civilize” them into Roman ways.

Even the Celtic cross is a sign of the marrying of the Celtic culture and Christian faith – The circle was an important symbol to the Druids, and instead of destroying it as evil and devilish, Patrick placed the cross over it. This doesn’t mean that he adopted the traditional religion into his Christianity: there was much to be discarded it was a fear-based religion that included human sacrifice and fearsome and arbitrary gods. But the Celtic Christian faith was one that spoke to the same earthy “felt needs” of the people, and it adopted much of what was good and pure from the traditional culture.

George G. Hunter III writes about Patrick’s method of spreading the gospel in “The Celtic Way of Evangelism:” “Patrick’s entourage would have included a dozen or so people, including priests, seminarians, and two or three women. Upon arrival at a tribal settlement, Patrick would engage the king and other opinion leaders, hoping for conversion, or at least their clearance, to camp near the people and form into a community of faith adjacent to the tribal settlement. The “apostolic” team would meet the people, engage them in conversation and in ministry, and look for people who appeared receptive. They would pray for sick people, and for possessed people, and they would counsel people and mediate conflicts. On at least one occasion, Patrick blessed a river and prayed for the people to catch more fish. They would engage in some open-air speaking, probably employing parable, story, poetry, song, visual symbols, visual arts and, perhaps, drama to engage the Celtic people’s remarkable imaginations. Often, we think, Patrick would receive the people’s questions and then speak to those questions collectively. The Apostolic band would welcome responsive people into their group fellowship to worship with them, pray with them, minister to them, converse with them, and break bread together. One band member or another would probably join with each responsive person to reach out to relatives and friends. The mission team typically spent weeks, or even months, as a ministering community of faith within the tribe. The church that emerged within the tribe would have been astonishingly indigenous.” - p. 21

Patrick’s is a great model for evangelism today in our post-Christian world. Some of the people who walk in his spirit today are The Alpha Course, Ed Silvoso & his model of Prayer Evangelism & the people involved in the MoveIn movement.

Wish someone a happy Saint Patrick’s Day & tell them about the Jesus that Patrick loved!