Three Things I Learnt from Fasting for 72 Hours

awareness

If you are reading this, it means that I’m dead, or am in the process of dying.

I can’t take it anymore..

Need………food…..

But let’s not kid ourselves. I love food WAY too much to part with it.

So I decided, instead, to participate in a cellphone/social media fast for 72 hours facilitated by the New Life Fellowship on the campus of Andrews University.

Here are three things I learnt from this experience:

The beauty of awareness

I found myself being intentionally aware throughout the day. Moments which may have been lost while being distracted by my phone were instead noticed and cherished.

My mom has a favorite mantra for us: “Be in the situation!” I’m glad that it finally got to my head, even if it was only for 72 hours!

I realized how many moments I had previously dismissed or passed over because of my preoccupation with a text or a tweet.

The fast also sensitized me to a special sense of awareness of the Spirit of God. The lack of ‘noise’ allowed me to tune in to the voice of God concerning my ministries, my relationship with others, and my connection with Him.

The fast was a much needed “comma” in the run-on sentence of my life where I could pause for reflection and assessment.

The bliss of prayer

Prayer had become so routine and mechanical for me. I would talk to God in the morning and send him “prexts” (“prayer texts”) throughout the day in my mind when I needed him to come through.
Since the fast, however, I had more time to talk to God just for the sake of talking to Him. Tough times of temptation instinctively would lead me to talk to Him, often out loud.

The fast led me to realize that prayer doesn’t have to be a calling bell for a cosmic butler, but can indeed be a conversation with a caring father.

The bane of dependence

I chose the phone/social media fast precisely because it would hurt. And hurt it.
I felt it more during the final moments of the fast, when I would want to tweet something, update my Facebook status, or text my fiancé.

When I wasn’t able to do any of this, I did feel vulnerable and, or, lost at times. I soon discerned that this was simply one example of many things I was already dependent upon; the fast helped me assess the accouterments which I had acquired and the tenacity with which I was holding on to them.

I would encourage a fast for any serious Christian who wants to take a closer look at themselves, and go farther in their relationship with their Savior.

Here’s a 5-step process that worked for me:

Step 1: Identify things in your life that you simply cannot live without.

Step 2: Prayerfully choose one of them.

Step 3: Delineate a reasonable period of time for your fast from that thing.

Step 4: Do it.

Step 5: Journal what you have learned about yourself, about others, and about God.

Who’s going to do it? If you want to challenge yourself, leave a comment below with what you are choosing to fast from!

Why Christians Should Not Focus On Being Like Jesus.

photo-1421809313281-48f03fa45e9fI’ve always wondered what the phrase “be like Jesus” meant.

Does it mean to copy His appearance? If so, does that mean I had to grow a beard, sow my own clothes, and chuck my shoes for some sandals?

Does it mean to imitate His personality? Then does that mean I have to swap my hyena laugh for a sanctified snicker? Sing softer in the shower? Or replace my srilankanamerican accent for a more middle-eastern one?

Or does it mean to mimic his character?  Be more loving? Caring? Inclusive?

However way you look at it, there were people in history who made it their life’s aim to be like Jesus.
One such individual was the apostle Paul who appeals to his readers to “imitate him as he imitates Christ.” In another letter, he encourages some church folk to fix their eyes on Jesus as they run the race of faith.

As a matter of fact, both scripture and history are replete with individuals who proclaimed that the strongest argument for Christianity were Christians who acted like Jesus.

This even resonated with the famous Indian liberationist Mahatma Gandhi, who made the following statement:

“I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ.”

Ouch.

Here’s the bottom line:  Christ-like behavior is the acid-test of true Christianity.

But here’s the thing..

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus.

“Wait a minute, Kev. How can you be like Jesus without focusing on being like him??”

Buckle up.

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus. The word that needs to be sharpied and spotlighted in that sentence is focus.

I don’t know about you, but I thought that focusing on being like Jesus was the way to do this Christianity thing. I thought I was supposed to focus on walking, talking, and acting like Jesus to display his character.

And I tried. I tried my best to be more loving, be more caring, and be more inclusive.  I tried my utmost to be Jesus-y with others, especially towards my non-Christian friends to be “salt” and “light.” I tried my best to have the right thoughts, the right actions, and the right behaviors.
But instead of becoming more like Jesus, I found myself becoming more disappointed.

Because the more I focused on being like Jesus, the less I focused on Jesus and more on my works.

Check out how Dallas Willard puts it in his book Renovations of the Heart:

“The external manifestation of Christlikeness is not the focus of Christian spiritual formation. When outward forms or behaviors are made the main emphasis, the process will be defeated, falling into deadening legalisms…”

Mercy.

Now let’s just say that my trying to be like Jesus actually made me more like Jesus. If that was true ( and I wish it was sometimes! ) the object of glory will then be my works instead the grace of Christ!

Inevitably, my spirituality will become my savior while my Savior will be used for my spirituality.

Christians should not focus their efforts on being like Jesus. In theological jargon, that’s called “righteousness by works” and that’s not how the game’s played.

“So Kevin, if I am to be like Jesus, and focusing on being like him is not going to get me there, what else am I supposed to do??”

Glad you asked. Here’s my answer and the seminal point of this post:

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus. Christians should focus on being with Jesus.

In John 15, Jesus preaches a sermon where he likens himself to a grape vine and his followers to attached branches. Then he makes a remarkable statement:

“If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Notice. The branches were not asked to focus on producing fruit ( good works) to produce fruit. They were asked to remain with the vine so they can bear fruit.

Christians are not called to produce fruit. They are called to bear fruit.
Christians are not called to focus on producing Christ-like behavior. Christians are called to bear the characteristics of Christ by remaining with Jesus. This is confirmed by Paul when he says that it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure.

So when you are with Jesus, spending time alone with him, talking with him, meditating on his love for you, and receiving his grace, He will transform you from the inside out. The more we admit we are powerless to beat sin and inculcate Christ-like behavior by ourselves, the more we open our souls to the work of God to change us into the likeness of Christ.

But isn’t that works? Yes it is. A lot of works.
But the most important work of a Christian is to focus all the efforts in being with Jesus in word, thought, and deed.
This requires you to forgo your need to prove your worth to God so that Jesus guide and transform you.
That’s probably why Oswald Chambers says

“all I do ought to be founded on a perfect oneness with Him, not on a self-willed determination to be holy.”

Don’t focus on being like Jesus. Focus on being with Jesus. And He will make you more like Him.

What are your thoughts? What are some ways you can start being with Jesus instead of trying to be like him?
Leave a comment below!

 

Does Prayer Really Make a Difference?

The Wilson household took prayer seriously.

Daily personal prayer as well as family prayer was encouraged. But growing up, I’ve often times wondered if prayer really made any difference.

Because what I’d known about prayer sometimes did not quite reflect the reality of my experiences.

For one, I couldn’t quite relate the unfathomable Bible stories with today’s context. Why can’t people call down fire from heaven, raise up people from the dead, or convert multitudes to faith in God, with a single prayer to God like those guys?
My experiences with prayer also made me question its veracity. Why doesn’t God answer certain prayers especially when they are so important to me?

I eventually realized that these questions stemmed from a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of prayer:

Prayer is not about bringing God to me. Prayer is about bringing me to God.

This realization led me to understand prayer as communication with a living God and not a calling bell for a cosmic butler. Just because some prayers are not answered the way I expect them to doesn’t mean they are not heard or answered. Nor does it mean that prayer is unreliable. Sometimes, the answer happened to be a “no” and I had to learn to trust the heart of God when I didn’t see his hand.

Prayer is communication. But does prayer really make a difference? I believe it does and here are just two reasons why.

1) It’s the direct 24/7 hotline to God.

We live in an age of accessibility. From recipes to reality shows, from DIY’s to daily news, everything is a mere click or a touch away. Communication, more than ever before in earth’s history, has inarguably become faster and easier. Social media has reduced the distance between colleagues and continents to a single Facebook message. But while my friend may be a tweet away, God is only a thought away.

We clamor for the latest gadgets with the fastest processing speeds, failing to realize that prayer has always had the fastest processing time. It has not only proved to be fast and convenient, but also significantly meaningful. In a world blighted by feel-good morals, and feeling-based theologies, God is a sure stronghold. And unlike friends who could possibly ditch a Skype call at a moment’s notice to meet some need, God is available 24/7, ever ready to meet mine.

2) There’s nothing else that helps me overcome my limitations

In the Bible, there’s a story about a man who was swallowed by a whale. The utter improbability of the story and its intended theology notwithstanding, this story, I suggest, may as well be a cautionary tale against man’s insatiable appetite for control and power. As long as we stay afloat, we pride ourselves for commandeering our ships across the chaotic sea of knowledge, navigating its waters with the trusty oars of technology and innovation. But occasionally, history repeats itself when the whales of worry, despair, or doubt devour us somewhere along the way. It doesn’t take too long after that to realize that the captain’s manual is of little use in the belly of the fish.

Life constantly reminds me of my limitations as a human being.

The Psalmist echoes this sentiment by likening man to a mere breath and his days to a “passing shadow.” All the accolades accrued and the security insured over the course of your life simply cannot compensate for the fragility of life, however much we may hate to admit it.

We live. We die.

But in God, we thrive. Strengthened by the grace of God, The apostle Paul exclaims that in Christ, when he’s weak, then he’s strong. This paradox can only be justified by Paul staying connected to God through prayer. Paul overcame his temporal weakness by relying upon the eternal strength of God through prayer.

Prayer is my life line. When I’m humbled and overcome by the storms of life, I pray. It’s almost instinctive.

The world has become smaller. As the lines between cultures and countries increasingly blur through the exploits of man, the boundaries between the Divine and us seem to expand. Consequently, we have become more adept at communicating with our fellow human beings while struggling to maintain a decent conversation with God.

I’ve come to realize that there is a strong correlation between my interactions with others and my interaction with God. When I pray more, I love more. When I pray more, I share more. When I pray more, I relate more. and the converse is also true. I challenge you to take a few minutes today to pray. Talk to God. Tell him about your day, your wishes, your likes, dislikes, anything. Yes, he does know everything. Yes, He is very much aware. Yes, it may seem like prayer is pointless.

But prayer is not about bringing God to you. It’s about bringing you to God.

And when you bring yourself to Him, your life changes.

So go ahead.

Close your eyes.

Pray.