Some things just go together. That’s not to say that you can’t have them separately, but somehow it just doesn’t seem quite right. I was reminded of that when my wife and I were on a road trip to visit Charleston, SC. We’d never been there before. I decided to stop at a fast food restaurant for a mid-morning treat. I walked up to the counter and was greeted by a nice young woman with a big smile and a typical Southern greeting. I told her that I had a really simple order. I said all I wanted was a buttered biscuit and some strawberry jelly – and that prompted the following exchange:
“You sure that’s all you want?”
“Just a plain ole biscuit?”
“Don’t you want some coffee with it?”
“No, thanks–already got some coffee in the car.”
“How ‘bout some sausage or ham on that biscuit?”
“No thanks, just the biscuit.”
“An egg might be good on it.”
“Thanks, but I’m fine with just the biscuit.”
“We could add some cheese with that egg.”
“Just the biscuit will be just great, thanks.”
“So, you don’t want no egg or sausage or cheese or nothin’ on it?”
“Just the biscuit, if you don’t mind…and some butter and strawberry jelly.”
“Well, here’s the thing … We ain’t got no more butter, and I think we’re outa strawberry jelly. You still want that biscuit?”
No Time for Comfort Zones ~
There are situations that arise that call for unique combinations of things and substitutes just don’t work. In a spiritual sense, we find ourselves in just such a situation as we begin 2023. Our nation and the world at large is reeling from an unprecedented onslaught of corruption and moral depravity. Lawlessness is rampant and random violence is regularly perpetrated on our streets. Stores are looted in broad daylight; moral filth is broadcast in every form of media; and our children are being sexualized and abused in ways we never imagined by the very people entrusted with their welfare. Wisdom and common sense seem to have been abandoned by our policy makers at every level, and while they talk about justice, it’s rarely applied. Add to that the financial uncertainties caused by rising inflation and failed economic policies, and we can say without hesitation that it’s time to move outside our religious comfort zones.
Multiplied crises like the ones we face cry out for something supernatural. We need an injection of divine discernment, a resurrection of godly wisdom, and a revived hunger for justice and righteousness. Our people long for demonstrations of faith that aren’t punctuated with a question mark. We look for spontaneous displays of courage empowered by love that isn’t conditional and hope that defies circumstances. Since the Church of Jesus Christ was born, heart cries like that have been met with concentrated seasons of fasting and prayer, and there is no better response we can offer than by following their example now.
Guidelines Revealed by Jesus ~
As Jesus taught on these practices, it’s interesting to note that He assumed that His followers would participate in them. In addressing fasting, He doesn’t say, if you fast. He says, when you fast. Then He proceeded to give some guidelines to follow. He said:
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:16–18 NKJV)
We’re warned repeatedly not to be like the hypocrites of Jesus’ day. Fasting was never intended to be a mechanism to draw attention to ourselves or some situation we’re concerned about. We already have more than enough faces contorted with grief, fear, and anxiety about what might unfold in 2023. More indications of angst won’t prevent or resolve any of that. But beyond that, engaging in an ostentatious declaration of fasting can misrepresent God and our relationship with? Him. It can suggest that we don’t really have God’s attention, and that we have to engage in extreme behaviors to get it. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Weakness Made Stronger ~
Our loving, omnipotent Father never ignores us. But He is especially attentive when we deny ourselves in order to concentrate our spiritual energies toward a deeper personal engagement with Him. There’s something about being broken and open before God that leads to making us stronger. Laying out our fears, our anxieties, our weaknesses, and our failures doesn’t sound appealing, but it demonstrates our trust in Him. It reinforces our faith and adds an element of expectancy when we plead with Him to do what we cannot do.
Our isolated, private times with Him can seem small and insignificant, but they’re not. Testimonies abound with evidence that God often responds to those seemingly insignificant prayers by launching a barrage of counteractive forces against the things that threaten His children. So, engaging in a season of fasting and prayer is not a time for displaying doom and gloom. It’s a time to put those indicators of misery in the closet and let our faces and our attitudes radiate expectant faith, optimism, joy, and hope. The world around us needs more of the encouragement that nourishes faith, not more reminders of how bad things are.
But fasting is only one part of the spiritual “combo-meal” that God offers us. The other part is prayer, and Jesus had some things to say about that as well.
And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:5–8 NKJV)
No Personal Promotions ~
Once again, Jesus assumes that prayer will be a regular practice in the lives of His followers and warns against doing it like the hypocrites. And again, His denunciation targeted the practice of making prayer a pretentious religious showcase. That’s not surprising. Everything about Jesus, from His entrance into the world to His demeanor throughout His life, was a thunderous declaration against personal promotion. That’s a reminder we must not ignore because the culture surrounding us is obsessed with personal notoriety and we are not immune from its seductive appeal. Honestly coming before God on a regular basis in a private, personal setting is both a powerful, personal defense and a broader, counteractive force against it.
Maybe it’s a little odd that we began a discussion about fasting and prayer with a story about biscuits. But consider this. We’re not the only ones with an appetite. The living God has one, too. He doesn’t need physical food like we do, but He uses our physical appetites to fulfill the spiritual nourishment that His heart hungers for. Nearly all the sacrifices in the Mosaic system involved things we humans consume as food. We might say that God used the sacrifice of food on our part to draw us toward the intimate fellowship with us that He craves.
Jesus said, “When you fast” and “When you pray,” not “If.” Beginning 2023 with a focus on nourishing and blessing the heart of God rather than ourselves could actually result in far more positive, extensive, and lasting benefits than any self-improvement or fitness program we could undertake.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “Our loving, omnipotent Father is especially attentive when we deny ourselves in order to concentrate our spiritual energies toward a deeper personal engagement with Him. There’s something about being broken and open before God that leads to making us stronger.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Laying out our brokenness, fears, anxieties, weaknesses and failures before God doesn’t sound appealing, but it demonstrates our trust in Him. It reinforces our faith and adds an element of expectancy when we plead with Him to do what we cannot do.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Our private times with God can seem small and insignificant, but they’re not. Testimonies abound with evidence that God often responds to those seemingly insignificant prayers by launching a barrage of counteractive forces against the things that threaten His children.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Engaging in fasting & prayer is a time to put indicators of misery in the closet. Let our faces & attitudes radiate expectant faith, optimism, joy & hope. The world around us needs more encouragement that nourishes faith, not more reminders of how bad things are.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The living God has an appetite, too. Nearly all the sacrifices in the Mosaic system involved things we humans consume as food. We might say that God used the sacrifice of food on our part to draw us toward the intimate fellowship with us that He craves.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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I had to chuckle when I read the biscuit exchange here, Ron – I could actually envision the waitress asking (politely as she’s Southern) all those questions when all you wanted was a buttered biscuit and jelly. Isn’t it funny that when we set our minds on some particular food we desire, nothing else can quite live up to it . . .
My hope and prayer is that we set our hearts and minds on God, the only One who can truly feed and nourish us. May all of our focus for 2023 be on our Lord and Savior.
Blessings to you and Diane!
It was definitely an unforgettable experience, Martha, and one we still smile about every time we happen to stop in for a biscuit somewhere. And you are so very right, as always, when you point out that God is the only one who can nourish those appetites and cravings that lie deep in our soul. Thankfully, He’s never out of what we need at those moments when our hearts are hungry for food the world can’t produce. Your comments are always a welcome bit of encouragement and I am grateful that you took the time to send a blessing our way.
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How’d you know what I just had for breakfast a bit ago. A hot biscuit with jelly. Raspberry in my case, cause in my mind, “strawberry jelly ain’t right.” 🙂 Still, I enjoyed the refreshing a filling meal of common sense, with a heaping serving of inspiration even more sir. When we pause to look at the many “ills” that affect the world around us, I often think of two things. One, this ain’t my world, but I’m responsible for shining God’s light into and upon it; and two, I can’t shine my light through a clouded lens. To be effective, I need to “clean the glass of my lens” from time-to-time to ensure it can shine brightly. “Shining” can take many forms; sharing my testimony, encouraging others, sharing the gospel message, and most importantly living out the gospel message in my life by sharing the fruits of the Spirit entrusted to me with others. To prepare myself for these things, I must “clean my glass” through prayer, fasting, study, and fellowship. F=W+P+O. God’s blessings my friend.
Raspberry definitely works for me, too, J.D., but Diane’s “go to” is always strawberry, so I capitulate ’cause when she’s happy, well… you know how that goes. I love the analogy you shared and the encouragement to keep our lens clean. It reminds me that it’s a two way kind of thing. I not only need to have a clear lens for the light to get out to brighten this dark world, but I need to be open about who I am and what I believe when the world looks in on me. The fasting and prayer emphasis our church does every year challenges me to do that lens cleaning thing and I find that it also clarifies what I see when I look in the mirror at myself. Like the rest of the world, I tend to want to do things to cover up my visible defects–a task that seems to be getting harder every year–but the physical defects aren’t the most important thing. My flesh always leans toward covering up my spiritual shortcomings with some kind of hypocritical behavioral makeup, but God calls me to something better. He’s not in the business of covering up. He’s all about removing the defects and blemishes altogether–what an incredible God we serve, and what an uplifting note to begin the second week of our new year. Our prayers and gratitude always find their way toward Texas and the Cross-Dubya ranch and that’s at least one thing that won’t change in 2023.
Amen sir; and let your Ms. Diane know that we’ll be sure to keep lots of Strawberry jelly on hand, just for her. Our church fasted last February as we prepared for an upcoming Bible Conference in March. Not sure if they will again this year or not, but I plan to before the Blue Ridge Conference. God’s blessings my friend.
Another mouth watering note, my friend, and I’m glad you mentioned the conference. I haven’t been in years, but I’m going to check it out and see when it is this year. If you’re going, I might just have to try to work it in. No doubt I need a bit of direction, encouragement, and fellowship with other writers. Besides, the fasting will be over by then :).