Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
Hebrews 12:1 NLT
Just to give you some personal context —
Right now, we are in the midst of a lot of life change. We have a family working to get back on solid footing that joined us on the farm this summer, the teenage boy that moved in with us nearly lost his life in a freak go-cart accident shortly after joining us and is going through surgeries and rehab to regain full use of his arm and hand, my employer just got bought out by a competitor, and it looks like my grandparents are at a point in their lives that they need additional care, so they will be joining us on the farm soon as well. Our household went from a seemingly healthy, stable, quiet, boring population of 3, to what soon will probably be a population of 8 — with each of us having our own special challenges in this new arrangement.
And while the Lord is leading us through all of this crazy stuff and showing us such amazing things, not every step has been easy or comfortable — but He proves time after time that it is so good.
Even as I’ve had to give up some of Dave Ramsey’s advice and like a hypocrite after teaching his course to others, after having taught the dangers of credit cards, use them to finance what is food, shelter, and care for those at our doorstep in this time of need.
I’ve had to step away from engagements and responsibilities where I might be “up front” visibly leading evangelism/outreach programs and participating in scheduled church activities in order to meet the needs of my family and my household.
I’ve had to look at the faces and words of disappointment in church elders’ faces when I say that I can’t be at this or that function, or that I can’t run this or that program anymore because of my other responsibilities — and know that behind my back they judgementally talk about my absence as if I’m forsaking the Lord or have fallen into sin that is pulling me away from fellowship.
I’ve had to offer up resignations proactively for many posts that I love, knowing that the load that I have may not allow me to meet the expectations that were once on my shoulders to carry — and realize that some understand the weight and seek to help bear the burden — while others look at me as simply a pack mule for their own plans and purposes, as if I have wronged them in not being able to do the labor that they will not fulfill themselves.
And in all of this, I see how much I truly must trust in the Lord, and how much I truly must offer up mercy and prayer even for those who look down upon me as if I am not fit for their courts.
So in this time, where I feel Christ in me has put the true calling of Matthew 25’s sheep and goats ahead of the warnings of Matthew 23’s woe to the Pharisees — I am also seeking God even closer and more intimately and intentionally than even these storms and valleys have led me to “have to” trust in the Lord.
It’s no surprise that when the storm is seemingly about to overtake the boat that a man will seek out to summon the Lord awake with a question like, “Do you not care that we are about to die?” But after He has spoken, “Peace be still” will we sit at His feet in awe like Mary and like the Acts church, or will we just busy ourselves?
In this season, I am setting my focus on the Lord. I am not posting this so that you will think I am pious or holy or anything like that, because if I do this under my own strength and power alone, it is just religious filthy rags — in fact, I would be storing up wrath for myself.
But I am doing this because I want to draw close, even come up to Him from behind, to touch His garment, to pour my alabaster box out upon His head, to wash His feet with my tears and hair, and maybe He will turn to me and we will speak face to face like He did with Moses and so many others. And maybe if I fall down as if dead in His presence, He might touch me knowingly, lovingly, not in rebuke, but in kind recognition of that humble and contrite reaction to being in the presence of the Almighty, trusting in but not presuming upon His grace, and He might say, “Fear not, my good and faithful servant.” Oh what words to long to hear! Oh how amazing to know that He will make it so! Not because of who I am or what I’ve done, but because of who He is and what He has done!
So this season, knowing that even Jesus went into the wilderness, that even Jesus who said “these come out with prayer and fasting” did fast and pray and remove Himself from the noise and influence of the world, and He did deny His flesh even going so far as teaching us this key principal with tears of blood, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Knowing these things, and feeling the draw, the desire, the need to “know Him closer and more personally” I want to set out on a 40 day time of fasting and prayer.
The reason I share this is that many people may think that such a thing is worthless, religious, or even impossible for them to set out on without failing — but I tell you that our strength comes from the Lord, not from ourselves in these things. And I have a schedule for a 40 day that has been helpful to me in past times to balance the physical and spiritual challenge with what my body can handle and still work a full time job, etc.
NOTE: I’m going to get a bit practical and pragmatic in my wording here, but hear me out to the end.
40 days is just 2 days shy of 6 weeks. So I divide it up into 6 weeks. Each week I plan to progressively drop something else off of my physical diet (starving the flesh), so it gets increasingly “restrictive or freeing” (depending on your perspective – I hope our is the latter, or will be by the end). And each week has a focus or a theme of something spiritual that I’m hoping to see watered and growing by the power of Christ in me.
And even though I plan these things at the week level, I do let the Holy Spirit make adjustments to “my plans” in the moment, so don’t take this and use it as a “religious system”. It is just a framework and starting place for a spiritual vacation with God, not rigid rules to be a burdensome trek in this world. The point is to draw closer to God and trust Him to strengthen and lead us, not to feel more pious or Holy because we are doing these things.
Week 1 –
REMOVE: Addictives (processed sugar, caffeine, tobacco, social media, hobbies/obsessions/idols)
ADD: Additional private/personal prayer and Bible study
Week 2 –
ADD: Intentional Prayer Walks, Intercessory prayer
Week 3 –
REMOVE: Carbs (breads, pastas, noodles)
ADD: Intense Bible study, both topical and verse by verse
Week 4 –
ADD: Intense Praise and Worship
Week 5 –
REMOVE: All solid foods
ADD: Increased Fellowship with Believers and Preaching/Evangelizing
Week 6 –
REMOVE: Everything but water
ADD: Rest, Peace and Trust in the Lord
Now, if you see all of the above as burdensome, not as an opportunity to free yourself from the things of the world and the flesh, the above might just be a worthless religious exercise for you in this time and season — but if you believe that being freed from the desires of the flesh and influence of the world would be an amazing experience for the Lord to lead you through, then pray and ask the Lord to have the Holy Spirit lead you in the way that you should go.
I know that the experience when God calls you into it is an amazing time, but when we just try to do it on our own it can be miserable both physically and spiritually.
God bless you and lead you in all things!
And remember the fast that God desires:
“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’
“I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord ?
“No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
“Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.
“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord ’s holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly. Then the Lord will be your delight. I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob. I, the Lord , have spoken!”
Isaiah 58:1-14 NLT