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!

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What Christians Do That is Worse Than Rejecting God

lady backI recently read a quote last week that messed me up.

“The darkness of the evil one encloses those who neglect to pray.”
– Ellen White in “Steps to Christ.”

“Yep. Heard that before. Nothing new there. Obviously when I refuse to pray then…”

And that’s when it hit me.

She doesn’t say refuse to pray; She says neglect to pray.

Major difference.

One implies obstinance. The other indicates abeyance.
One is willful, the other is mindless.
One refers to a dismissal, while the other refers to a disinterest.

The author then goes on to make some piercing points regarding the sad reality of many Christians who don’t tap into the riches of God’s grace because they are not intentional about their spirituality.

Joshua seemed to get this towards the end of his life:

“Choose you this day whom you will serve” he said. “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

The more I thought about this, the more I’m led to believe the following:

A major reason why many Christians don’t experience growth isn’t so much because of a refusal of growth as much as a lack of intention towards it. 

And this is worse than an outright rejection of God. How? Bear with me as I work up to a hopefully compelling answer.

The Bible has a recurring theme of God honoring the intentionality of his children. God has always been a Divine Gentleman – one who is decidedly anti-coercive yet hyper-sensitive to the choices of his people. God is an intentional God who functions within the parameters of our choices.
That’s why I like to think that the most powerful force in the universe isn’t God, but choice; Even God doesn’t mess with it.

So when I choose to act in favor of God, when I choose to be intentional about my spiritual growth, and when I choose to be aware of His presence, God honors my choice and I grow.

Conversely, when I choose to desecrate the Sabbath, when I choose to abuse the helpless and downtrodden, and when I choose to lust, God honors that choice, and I backslide.

But we tend to think there’s another choice – a “non-choice” –  that comes from a place where all choices that are not chosen sadly congregate like last picks in a pickup ball game waiting to be chosen. They are usually remembered after the game is played, usually accompanied by a feeling of sharp regret. They look like this:

“man, I forgot to pray today..”

“shoot, I didn’t give tithe last month.”

“ wow, how did I not…”

“I didn’t even realize…”

In case you are sarcasm-challenged, let me be plain:

There is no such thing as a “non-choice.” We always choose. Even if it’s mindlessness.

In the final estimate, heaven is for those who chose to be there. The citizens of the heavenly kingdom are not going to be there by accident or mere happenstance. On the flipside, even heaven will be hell for those who don’t choose to be there.

“But bro, are you talking about working your way into spiritual maturity? What about grace? Isn’t God’s grace going to grow us?

Good question. Here’s what I’ll tell you:

God’s grace is not conditional upon my growth in Christ, but my growth in Christ is conditional upon my intentional choice to receive and act upon his grace.

If this weren’t true, then everyone who calls themselves a “Born again Christian” would be walking, talking replicas of our Lord Jesus. But we know that’s far from the truth.

Moreover, there also seems to be a confusion between desiring growth and deciding to grow. Many well-intentioned Christians have confused wanting to grow with choosing to grow and it is significantly, yet subtly, stunting their spirituality.

I love how Karl Haffner puts it:

“We don’t grow by trying; we grow by eating.”

The Bible says that it is God who works in us to give us both the desire and the provision to act according to His good pleasure. However, if we are not intentional about choosing to respond to this work by inviting Him in and making some decided changes in our life, we are not going to grow.

You can’t work it out unless He works it in. But He can’t work it in unless you choose to let Him in.

Let’s also not forget that we have an enemy who is literally hell-bent on making sure that we are unaware of the choices we need to make. It’s been said that if the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. He’d rather keep you occupied in temporal matters and forget God than force you to reject God. The great deceiver usually comes in the form of things that we already love and cherish to distract us from the things that are timeless and eternal.

But here is the good news:

Your choice can be the difference between being deceived by Satan and being enlightened by God.
Your choice can be the difference between failure and victory.
Your choice can be the difference between spiritual decline and spiritual growth.

Passive spirituality is worse than active rebellion. In other words, neglecting God is worse than rejecting God, for even God cannot work in a person who won’t pick a side.

So choose. Choose to be intentional about your growth. Choose where you need to place the scalpel. Choose whom you will serve.

For when you don’t choose, you’ve already chosen.

How to Abuse Your Relationship With God.

girl-hair-meadow-403I have to admit.

Sometimes I think God is in an abusive relationship with me.

I get it. “Abuse” is a word loaded with paper trails, court appeals, and restraining orders. It does have baggage. But when taken at face value, to abuse simply means to misuse, or use improperly.

In that vein of thought, here are three ways in which you and I can ab-use our relationship with God.

Hopefully you don’t resonate.

1) Talk to him only when you need something.

Dr.Allan Walshe, my professor from my youth and young adult class, laid this gem on us:

“Requests are a part of prayer, but they are not the heart of prayer.”

He further explained that the heart of prayer is a relationship – a sincere, singular commitment to a personal God who knows you and longs to be known.

This was paradigm-shifting because prayer, for the most part, had been nothing but a calling bell for my Cosmic Butler.
It’s usually my 911 line for a bruise all the way to a breakup. Yes, I do season my communication with the occasional pre-meal grace. Yes, I do thank him for that miraculous A.  But prayer is still optional communication. I need it when I need God.

Yes. God does want us to come to Him with our requests and desires. As a matter of fact, he’d rather have us to come to Him than anywhere else. But we diminish the function of prayer when we relegate it to a mere transaction. Check out what Aunty White had to say about prayer:

Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him” (SC, 93).

God doesn’t want to be used. He longs to be loved. I’ll do well in trying to remind myself of that daily. Today, did I talk to him when there was nothing for me to ask him? Did I take some time today to tell him how great He is just because? Did I talk to him as I do to a close friend?

I wonder how our marriages and relationships would fair if we only talked to our partners only when we need something from them.

2) Enjoy the privileges of the commitment while ignoring the responsibilities of it.

When I join a company, I am made privy to two things: My membership privileges and the company contract. I can enjoy these privileges as long as I’m a member of the company, but the moment my choices conflict with the company contract, I may potentially lose my privileges as well as my membership.

Enjoying the privileges of my company while ignoring its responsibilities is a sure way to get fired. Yet when it comes to my company and commitment to God, the same rules remarkably do not seem to apply.

The privileges of Christianity are many. We are called to enjoy gifts like grace, peace, community, purpose, strength, joy and eternal life among others. But while we do that, we are concurrently called to uphold the responsibilities of Christianity such as discipleship, love, sacrifice, service, and join in with the missio dei of seeking and saving the lost.

Unfortunately many of us want to enjoy the crown without bearing the cross.
We let Jesus do all the dirty work while we get to enjoy his spoils. The German theologian and activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, referring to this as “cheap grace”, galvanized his sentiments with the following definition found in his epoch-making book, the cost of discipleship:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” 

Have mercy.

Have I enjoyed the privileges of salvation while ignoring the responsibility to my Savior? How have I done that done that today?

Salvation is free but not cheap. The price tag is still high. What then should be our response to the One who paid it all?

3) Ask him to modify your behavior without transforming your life.

The overarching meta-narrative of scripture begins with man created in the image of God and ends with the complete restoration of that image in man where the old order of things has been replaced and transformed into a new one.

The apostle Paul mentions this new order in his letter to the Corinthians:

“if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. The old things passed away, behold, new things have come.”

In order to effectuate this, he exhorts the church in Rome not to conform to the patterns of this world, but instead be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

Scripture is replete with references which convey the necessity of a total soul transformation. God seems to be asking more of his people because he wants to do more. And yet I still find myself asking him to change certain parts of my life not realizing that God is more interested in transforming all of it.

But is it wrong to ask God to give me more patience? Is it wrong to consult him for my weaknesses? I think not.  However, I think I’m missing the point when behavior modification takes precedence over a desire for life transformation.

The ultimate end of a relationship with God is God Himself. He wants us to see him face to face and to enjoy Him in an unadulterated atmosphere of holiness. This requires us to be changed and transformed into His likeness in order for us to withstand His glory in eternity.

Then what about our behaviors? When God transforms the life, behaviors are more than modified – they are repurposed.

These are three of the many ways I think I have abused my relationship with God. What about you? Have you found yourself in a similar or different situation? If you care to share, leave a comment below!

The Single Most Important Choice You Can Make RIGHT NOW to Grow in Your Relationship with God.

awareness-of-god

What’s the most important choice you can make right now to grow spiritually?

If I were to tell you, you probably wouldn’t even believe it.

It is so simple, so unsophisticated, so candid that you might even kick yourself for not realizing it.

At least that’s what I did when I first realized it.

If you’re reading this, you are probably one of those people who have vowed to spend more time with God in 2015. Maybe you are sick and tired of being sick and tired of your relationship with Him. Maybe it worries you that your relationship with God has been relegated to a prayer meeting, one worship service, and one church service per week.

If you are not, that’s ok. I’m going to let you know this anyway.

Here it is:

The single most important choice you make RIGHT NOW to grow in your relationship with God this year is to be aware.

Did you catch that?

The one thing needed to start, improve, or deepen your relationship with God this year is awareness.

The sound of those wheels and cogs turning in your head is almost deafening, so allow me to unpack this concept.

If there is a resounding refrain God has been trying to sing toward mankind throughout history, it would be the following stanza:

“I am with you.”

The story of God as mentioned in the Bible starts with God “in the beginning” with the first humans at the Garden of Eden. It ends with God promising that He will be with them in the earth made new. The story of Jesus in the New Testament starts with God declaring that He is now physically and spiritually with man. The last thing Jesus mentioned before ascending to heaven was a promise to always be with his disciples, even to the every end of the age. Time and time again, God has revealed Himself in various ways to various people and has reminded them that He is and will be with them.

It’s also evident that whenever God is with people, they change.

God revealed Himself to Moses through a burning bush and Moses was never the same. God displayed himself through the elements of nature to Elijah and he was never the same. God interrupted Saul’s trip to Damascus and when he regained back his sight, he was never the same. The disciples of Jesus, when they experienced God through the Holy Spirit, were never the same. These are some of the many exemplars throughout the story of God where people are changed and transformed because of the presence of God.

But here’s a question:

As disciples of Christ, if God’s presence is with us all the time, why aren’t we experiencing change? Why don’t we seem to be growing in our relationship with Him? Why are we not experiencing spiritual growth as much as we hoped we would?

Here’s the answer: it’s because we are not aware of His presence most of the time.

We live in a world of distractions; a world that is vying for our attention while sapping our attention spans. According to the results of a survey, if this blogpost didn’t get your attention within the first 3 seconds of you clicking it, you probably wouldn’t be reading this sentence. Ads, posts, and tweets have gotten shorter yet flashier to accommodate to our ever changing media interests. Our attention is their currency.

If attention is currency, God is broke.

God is not getting all the attention He deserves from His professed people, and if you’re anything like me, you may still be struggling with paying attention to God. But the sooner we realize it, the better off you and I would be. Giving God attention is being aware of His presence and that makes all the difference to our spiritual lives.

Moses was aware of God’s presence and he was changed.

Elijah was aware that it was God who was speaking and he was changed.

Saul was aware that God was with him and he was changed.

The disciples were aware of God’s presence and they were changed.

One of my professors summed it up this way.

The presence of God + awareness = growth

The disciple of Christ, Paul, towards the end of his life wrote that it is God who works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose.
God is with us and in us working. All the time. But spiritual growth is cooperative act! God does the growing when we are aware of Him and is work in our lives. It’s only when we are aware of His presence, through prayer, reflection, study of His word, or in service to others, that we take the most crucial step in growing towards a deeper relationship with Him.

More awareness, more growth. Less awareness, less growth.

Do you want to grow deeper in your relationship with God?

Leave this page, close your eyes, and be aware.

 What about you? What are you going to do this year to become more aware of God’s presence in your life? 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.