January 4, 2011

A Time of Prayer and Fasting

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” - Micah 6:8

Welcome to 2011. As usual my church is doing a 21-day fast to start out the year. For some inexplicable reason I feel that God has told me to give up drinking soda for these three weeks. The typical church fast is a progressive food fast, where you give up one meal for a week, then two meals, then all meals (and no snacking ever). But instead of those meals you can have juice, protein shakes, light soups, and coffee.

I realized that every year when I've done the fast as proscribed I've also cut down on my soda intake, so that the last week I'm going pop-free, which makes for a super-delightful week, let me tell you. And I thought about how some people can't function without coffee--I don't need caffeine to start my day, but if I don't have some Coke by 1 or 2pm I get a raging headache. So I've realized that if I were to do the food fast but connect myself to a Coke machine, I could probably get through the three weeks with a lot fewer problems.

So of course, before I came to this realization, God had already asked me to give up soda. I wondered at first if it would seem like "enough." Let me tell you this right now--if God asks you to fast something, that's what He wants you to fast.

Funny how that works out.

Along with the no pop I will be taking up blogging again. I find it funny that in a time of giving up things I'm committing to doing something, but blogging really is giving up as well--it's giving up sleep if I do this in the morning, and it's giving up TV/reading/relaxing time if I do it at night.

So what does all of this have to do with today's verse? How is Micah 6:8 related to fasting? Well at first I didn't realize I was going to talk so much about my fast, but as I ponder the words, I see that it calls us to "walk humbly with our God." What is fasting if it's not humbly saying "OK God, you want me to give something up so I can focus my life more on you. I will do it." And for the most part I haven't complained about the lack of soda. I think I've complained a bit about tea. I don't much like tea, although I will do my best to change my mind this month.

And I promise you I will find a way to complain about not being able to drink my sugary, caffeine-infused goodness to give me that midday or mid afternoon boost at work (did I mention it's free too?)

But what happened this year is when God said "I want you to fast pop" I said "Alrighty then." And then of course about a week later I tried to get out of it, I tried to rationalize it away and think about other things I could give up. Which brought me to the realization that this is really exactly what I need to be setting aside for three weeks. And, as a book I'm reading says, if God tells you a direction in which to go, you should walk that direction until you hear Him telling you (just as strongly) to go in another direction. And believe me, the voices in my head telling me not to fast pop were not His voice.

So here I am, at the beginning of day 3 (I know--I've survived 2 days already, woo hoo) about to get ready for the first real test of this fast--a day at the office.

But there is iced tea, and hot tea, and I'm not above taking aspirin for the headaches. And I know that I will be calling on God to get me through. I just hope to find a way to turn those "help me God" prayers into the types of prayers that He wants us to do during a fast... the type where we lift up our friends and family before Him, and especially the type where we listen quietly for Him to tell us what direction He wants us to go.

That is possibly the most challenging part of my fast, the walking humbly before my God part.

If you are reading this and have never fasted anything before, I invite you to join in. You can do a progressive fast, or give up TV for three weeks, or whatever you believe God is calling you to. It could be something simple, like your morning Sudoku. But whatever it is, you should find yourself stretching to get by without it--and when you do, pray. I guarantee that the prayers of those who fast are strong prayers. But go at it humbly, like Micah says. Don't be proud in your ability to give something up, because then the focus is not on God but on you.

I know you can do it. If I can, you definitely can. :)

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