Fast and Pray or Praying Fast?

This has been an interesting week for me.  Some friends were going to be separated for a week for their first time since they were married about a year and a half ago.  We have been in frequent discussions by email and Skype about the commitment of marriage, and it concerned me when they said their responsibilities called on them to be apart for a week.  From my own experience, I do not do well when Anita and I are apart, and usually look for a prayer-partner or friend to pass some of the time and share some of the weight of being without my beloved.

So I told my friends I would fast for them this week that they are apart.  Am I so spiritual that I deserve a medal for this?  I do not even understand why we should fast at times, other than Jesus’ comment that His disciples would do so after He was taken into Heaven. (Mark 2:19-20)  So this is a simple act of obedience of a slave, not worthy of a reward for doing what he was told to do.  God forbid that I should sin against Him and never fast.  And if a need is such that it seems to call for fasting and prayer, that need should be met with fasting and prayer.

What I found was interesting.  First, let me explain a couple things about my health, and then a couple of things about fasting.  I have had multiple strokes (mine were blockages of blood to the brain by clots) and my doctors have specifically told me not to do any more “absolute fasts.”  An “absolute fast” is when one does not eat anything other than water for the duration of the fast.  Several times I have done this for up to three days, and I did not find this difficult.  Apparently I am “wired funny” in that I seem to lack the neural receptors that tell most people that they are hungry.  I have never been hungry in my life, even after a three day absolute fast.  Oh, food looks good, and its flavors are substantially enhanced at the end of a fast, but for me, it’s kind of “que sera”, i.e. whatever, no big deal.

But since my strokes and my doctors’ advice I no longer do absolute fasts.  Instead I do what is called a “Daniel Fast.”  The Daniel Fast comes from the prophet Daniel, in chapter 1 of his book in the Bible.  It is not a true fast, nor did Daniel call it a fast, but it has been adopted as a spiritual exercise and has received a lot of attention in recent years, probably because of people like me who cannot do actual fasts for any length of time.

Fasting in Christianity is different from others’ religious practices, in that the fast is supposed to be an actual time of deprivation.  Most other religions fast during the daylight hours, and then make up for it by eating a bunch during the night.  This can be a difficult discipline, to go an entire day without food until sundown, for those who have normal hunger receptors.  However, this does not seem such a stretch for people who are normally adequately fed, especially if one “tanks up” during the nighttime.  A friend living in Turkey reported to me that more food is consumed during the month of Ramadan (a celebration of fasting and feasting) than in the entire other 11 months combined!

So in a Daniel Fast, the idea is to restrict one’s diet substantially and intentionally, and to devote extra time to prayer.  In Daniel’s story, he and three Jewish young men declined to eat from the “king’s table,” a menu that included unclean animals and the Babylonian version of “junk food,” including beer, wine, “rich foods”, and assorted “delicacies,” probably including things like monkey brains, bread that had been baked over offal, and milk products (before the age of pasteurization).  They chose to only eat vegetables and drink water for a testing period, because the king’s official was afraid they would do poorly on this diet and he would be blamed.  But at the end of the ten day test period, the four Jews were healthier than any of the young men eating the royal food.

For me this means only drinking water and orange juice and eating simple vegetables.  Nothing fancy, no coffee, soda pop, wine, beer, or any of the other delicious drinks that are a common part of an American’s modern diet.  No special preparation and no big show of fasting (Matthew 6:16-17).  Only those closest to you should know that you are fasting, and only because you discuss this with them.  A quick search online will reveal lots of information on Daniel Fasting, and some of them show expansive delicious recipes . . . which kind of defeats the idea of self-deprivation.  But these sites cover the basics:

http://www.allaboutprayer.org/prayer-and-fasting.htm
http://www.gotquestions.org/Daniel-fast.html
http://www.wikihow.com/Do-a-Daniel-Fast
http://www.allaboutprayer.org/daniel-fast.htm

While not really a fast, this requires some self-discipline, especially for someone like me.  Though I do not get hungry, I reeeeaaalllly enjoy eating.  My taste buds are very well developed and I like to eat almost everything!  (Okay, NOT monkey brains!)  At the heart of the Daniel Fast is the issue of devoting extra time to prayer and focusing on the issue over which you are fasting.  This can be accomplished by each time you forego certain foods, maintaining an “open line” with the Lord, and talking with Him about the issue while you are going through the daily motions of preparing food, eating and cleaning up.  Or one may want to go into a “closet and pray in secret” (Matthew 6:6) and to spend time listening for the voice of the Spirit of God.  In any case, it is a heart matter, more than a physical exercise.

Isaiah 58 puts this in perspective when the prophet describes the fast God prefers and acknowledges, just being able to skip a meal or two . . . or a hundred . . . is not a big deal to Him.  What He wants is our hearts.  What He wants is our minds.  What He wants is our devotion to Him and no other.  The God Who Is There created us for just being together with Him, and He delights when we nudge up close to Him and allow Him to wrap us in His loving care.  He enjoys sharing our concerns and listening to us, whether we are whining or begging or praising Him.  He is our Daddy and just loves loving us just as you dads enjoy loving your children, only His love is to the ultimate degree.

So don’t pray so fast next time and take opportunity to be with Him.  Take some time to fast and pray instead of praying fast, and “He that sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6)  That’s just the way He is.

I am a prayerer.

I am a prayerer.  Yes, I pray every night.  Not because I am holier or closer to God than others who do not practice such discipline, but because I need to pray every night.  Let me explain a little without divulging too much information.

Read 1 Timothy 1:15, and think of me as running a close second. (Go to http://Biblegateway.com to read it  😉 !)  I have said before that I am not a good man.  Many of you would have nothing to do with me if you knew the full story.  Suffice it to say that I was one of those Paul mentioned in Ephesians 5:11-12, ashamed of what I used to do, and would prefer no one asked.  That past is under the blood of Jesus who has forgiven me, but the wounded and damaged lives I left behind will haunt me until I leave this world.  I established accountability with a few very close friends of grace, who know everything about me, including my wife; people who love me with the love of Jesus, and for whom the saying is true, “There is no pit so deep, that He is not deeper still.” (Corrie ten Boom)  I know because I thought I was in too deep a pit for Him to reach me.  But He did, and He made me flawless, even though, as one friend put it, I “am wired differently than anyone” he knows.

So why do I pray every night?  Well, for that you can read my first blog, “Please, Pass the Salt,” January 4, 2015.  I want to share in what God is doing in the world, to be involved with things over which I have no control, to be an action figure in what my Father is pursuing, to be a part of the conversation.  Why am I telling you this?  Very simply, in hopes that you will be encouraged to pray every day as well.

You see, Jesus and I begin to take a “walk around the world” each night as I go to bed.  Like many of you, I do not sleep the entire time I am in bed, so when not sleeping, He and I talk about the people we know and places we’ve been.  We start with each member of my family, moving from Lexington to Indianapolis to Iowa and Kansas City.  And we pick up a few “strays” as we go along, people who just need some prayers, like my old friends in Marshalltown and their son and his family (he also happens to be his parents’ pastor, and I’ve never heard of a pastor turning down someone praying for him! 🙂 ).

US MapFrom there we go on to Arizona, up to Edmonton, Alberta and back around to New Jersey to my “adopted Chinese brother” and his wife, dear friends from UK days.  Back in Lexington, we visit my neighbors one by one, go to First Alliance Church and talk about the staff and lots of our friends there.  Then we branch out to friends all across the U.S., including my first college roommate who needs to know Jesus, my first “love” of my life in Georgia, and then around the country from Beantown to Michigan to Illinois to Montana, back through Missouri, Arizona and Florida.  By now, I usually fall asleep, but when I wake up in the middle of the night, Jesus reminds me of where we left off and we pick up our “prayer walk” again.

World MapThen it’s off to foreign soil (in spite of the quote, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson).  We stop and visit friends in Australia, move through Hong Kong, Vietnam, Japan and Korea.  Then we spend a good deal of time in Mongolia where I have pledged my prayers to friends for as long as we live.  Just to the north is Russia, and around the bend is China, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and usually we stop in some of the other “Stans” where I do not know anyone personally, but He does.  Through Iran, Iraq, Israel, and Turkey, then we leave Asia and go through Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, and Albania, sometimes stopping in other Balkan nations where I, again, do not know anyone.

Finally we drop down across the Mediterranean to Tunisia, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire for our only stops on the African continent.  A small jump across the “Atlantic pond” takes us to Brazil where some of my dearest friends now live.  How many of the people that Jesus and I talk about know that they are being prayed for?  I really do not know, although a few of us discuss our prayers for each other.  Some do not know Jesus, nor ever talk with Him, and some would even be offended if they knew Jesus and I were in these discussions.  But, they do not need to know that they are being prayed for, because after all, the conversation is with Him, about them, not with them.  And the same goes for you reading this. 😊

My prayers for you are only your business if Jesus addresses you in answer to my prayers.

Somewhere along the “walk” I usually wind up telling Jesus how wonderful He is and express my gratefulness that He is willing to let me “walk with Him.”  After all, He is pretty important, has lots more on His mind than my ideas, and I remember that it is not my goodness, holiness, or righteousness that allows me this audience with the Creator.  It is His grace, and only by His grace that a worm like me can approach Him and, in spite of our differences, He calls me “friend!!”  How amazing is THAT!?

I feel like just a beginner in learning to pray, and my pattern for prayer may not work for others, but think about how much time you spend in prayer.  While prayer cannot be measured in terms of volume or quantity, if we do not pray, it is pretty safe to say it is worthless.  And while you are learning to pray, please, please, please, pray for me.  I really need it!

True Religion or True Relationship?

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:26-27)

Religion has been blamed more than the devil for most of the ills of our world by many people who have nothing to do with “religion” for that reason.  Of course, when one looks at the history of the world, religions must also be credited with much of the good that has been done in the world, particularly Christianity.  Whereever this “gospel of the Kingdom” (Matthew 24:14) has been preached, significant social, economic and personal benefits have followed.  This is due to the Judeo-Christian world-view that the universe makes sense, and the Creator wants us to make sense as well.  The universe He created was done with systematic organization and reveals something of what He is like. (Romans 1:20).

So “religion” is all right as far as it goes, that is, if it is in line with James’ view that it is an exercise of self-control, evidenced by control of one’s speech, and that it is expressed in care of those less fortunate, and by staying pure in a very impure world.  But most of the time, “religion” gets a bad name from “those who consider themselves religious,” but whose religion is worthless.  Think Elmer Gantry, Jimmy Swaggart, or the Monk’s tale from Chaucer’ Tales in medieval times.  The counterfeit seems to be giving the real thing a bad name.

MoneyWhen I worked as a store clerk for Dutchland Farms in Rhode Island, several thousand dollars passed through my hands every day as we sold milk, eggs and daily staples many folks in the neighborhood would purchase.  On one occasion, my boss asked me to go to the bank and clear up a matter of a counterfeit $20 bill that had been deposited in one night’s receipts.  This was exciting for me as a 22-year-old working my first “real job.”  The banker showed me the counterfeit $20 bill, and even knowing it was counterfeit, I could not tell the difference between it and a real $20 bill, until the banker pointed out very subtle differences in the printing and the paper qualities.  Even then, I knew that if another one passed through my hands, I probably would not recognize it as counterfeit unless I practiced like a banker to examine real bills and find the subtle distortions of the phony.

Interestingly, I never once saw a “counterfeit” paper bag such as the ones into which we would put the groceries.  I never saw a “counterfeit” calendar such as the ones we sold in the stationery section of the store.  I never saw a “counterfeit” memo pad such as we used by the front counter or on which we marked our stock counts.  Why not?  Because these items were not of value worth faking!  They were not worthwhile for trade or using for other purchases, virtually worthless beyond their immediate use, whereas a $20 bill was transferable into any purchase and held “real value” as an acceptable means of business transactions.

Now, apply this to religion, and you will see why “religion” gets faked by so many people.  If one wants to “appear” respectable, useful, or of value, one only has to pretend to be religious.  Even false religions have “counterfeiters” who try to present themselves as religious to gain respect or power over others.  Certainly true religion will be counterfeited, or faked, for the value it carries.  Interestingly, I have never seen a “counterfeit atheist!” 😉

But now consider, how the counterfeit money affects the value of the real.  If it is counterfeited so ubiquitously as to swamp the market, the real money will be devalued, but on the small scale the value of the real is unaffected.  So it is with Christ-followers.  If enough people claim to be “Christian” but do not really hold views consistent with Jesus, the crowd of fakers will convince all others that Christians have no value.  But on the small scale of me living in my neighborhood, a false Christ-follower should not affect the value of me being a real Christ-follower.

As my friend, Steve Elliott, says, “Why let hypocritical Christians keep you from a real relationship with God?  Just because they may/may not have what’s real with Jesus shouldn’t keep you from having what’s real with Jesus.”   So religion can be faked, but a relationship with The God Who Is There is a reality that cannot be faked.  You either know Him or you do not.  You can pretend to know Him, go through all the religious motions you see Christ-followers going through – you can even read your Bible and “pray” [not really pray, because He changes you when you talk with Him] – but you can go to church, live a reasonably good life, and still not know Him, not be in a friendship with the Creator.

Religion is good if it is as James defines.  But what matters most is the relationship with God.  Do you know Jesus as your Friend?  When you pray, do you find Him there, as a companion with whom you can talk?  Does He speak to you as He did to Abraham, David, John or Paul?  He is there, and He is not silent.  If you have not done this before, try beginning, like a baby learning a new language, to listen for His voice when you pray and get to know Him in a relationship, not just a religion.

Construction Continues . . . the first floor wall pour

Recall that back on August 6 I posted the blog about preparing for the first floor wall pour. Well, this is finally it!  This wall pour occurred July 28th, but I am just now getting to show it to you.

IMG_3959The bracing was up and the “scabbing” complete so that we would have no blowouts as we poured the concrete.  George of Affordable Concrete Pumping came and set up his boom pump and two workers from Olympic Construction, which has extensive experience with ICF wall construction, came to manage the actual pour, with David, Ben and I on site to assist in any way needed.

IMG_3962So the pour began at the garage wall, went around the back in about a 30 inch (1 M) “lift” that would ensure we did not put too much pressure inside the styrofoam wall forms.  The concrete was loaded from the concrete mixer trucks into George’s boom pump and then through the long arm of his pump into the walls.   As we finished each “lift” we would move around the walls again and fill more of them until on the third pass, we began to “top off” the final layer with floats that would level and smooth the finished surface.

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IMG_4003IMG_4005When we were done, we only had about one yard (1 cubic meter) of concrete left over to dump and Ben showed that “a good time was had by all,” especially because this was our second pour with ZERO blowouts!!  😉

On the following day, July 29, we took down the braces, and now we can begin framing the inside walls.

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