This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Barbie Haskell shares some reflections on Chapters 9 and 10. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.
The Difficulty of Denial
Everything about our society today shouts indulgent excess. Whether it's that jaw-dropping TV show "Multimilliondollar Mansions" or the Ultimate 32-ounce Big Gulp down at your local 7-11. Society's mantra seems to sing out strong and proud, "Indulge yourself! You're worth it!!"
And then there's Jesus who says, “Deny yourself” (Luke 9:23) and "he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). Once again, we Christ-followers are face to face with the paradox of this upside-down Kingdom into which we've been called. And this not-so-much-practiced habit of grace called “fasting” seems to painfully go right along with this theme. Counter-cultural Christianity strikes again.
If we're being authentic, we all cringe a little, don't we, at the thought of throwing ourselves head first into this particular channel by which God has designed to release grace to us?
I know I do. I can go months on end without embracing this discipline… Ok, without being obedient to what Jesus meant for us, His followers. It's just a little easier, a little less costly, to jump into the other rivers of grace.
More times than not I enjoy reading my Bible, meditating and praying. Even memorizing can be delightful. But this one? It's a whole lot more pleasant to pretend Jesus didn't really mean it when He explained to the Pharisees that His followers would fast once He returned to the Father. Not maybe would fast. Or if. But would. And well, being honest here, it's easy to rationalize that "throwing myself into the way of allurement" with those other habits (disciplines) should bring about enough grace into my life that this one doesn't seem particularly necessary.
Besides, deprivation. It's an ugly word.
Deprivation? If fasting, like David Mathis says in Chapter 9 of his book Habits of Grace, is "an expression of finding your greatest pleasure and enjoyment in life from God,” then fasting is really feasting; feasting on the One who can fill our being as no food, no entertainment, no earthly pleasure this world offers could ever do. Fasting is really all about fullness!
The Pursuit of Joy
From this vantage point, the primary purpose of this spiritual discipline really isn't about deprivation. If fasting can bring about the power to "unleash us for the happiness of true holiness", then fasting is really an act of Christian hedonism. "Pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness,” says John Piper. And Flannery O'Connor explains it this way, "always you renounce a lesser good for a greater."
The lesser good, food (or entertainment or video games or whatever), is set aside for a season so the Christ-follower can "pursue the highest good" - God! This time of abstinence can help us focus our thoughts and energies more directly and profoundly on our Father and so "strengthen and sharpen godward affections" as well as "channel and express our desire for God."
King David was the ultimate Christian Hedonist. "My soul pants for You” (Ps. 42:1), he confessed. You're almost deafened by the hunger pains growling wild in his spiritual stomach. "My whole being longs for You." Talk about passion! His desire for more of God all but consumes him whole.
And it begs the Christ-following question: Do we desire God on this level? Do we want to have that fervent, yearning passion of David to know Him better? Do we want to fill our mouths with the taste and texture of God as Bread of Life, Christ as Living Water - or log into Facebook for the umpteenth time today?
Do we want to embrace this spiritual discipline of deprivation in order to gain a richer, deeper relationship with the Creator of the Universe and the Son who gave up everything to bring us to the Father? Or go on stuffing our lives full of good things at the expense of the Better? I ask myself, how desperate am I for God? Are there limitations to my devotion to Him? This much but no further? What are the boundaries there, for me? For you?
And so the question boils down to: How much do we really want God?
It may be swift and cold, this river of Grace called fasting. At first. But in the not-frequent-enough times I've jumped in, it has never disappointed. It seems to be one of the surest, quickest ways to become permeated with the rich, goodness of the Trinity; saturated with the empowering presence of the Holy One; awakened to the absolute holiness and intense love of Father God.
This particular current of God's grace seems to be able to strip away the lesser things to a much deeper degree than just about anything else; subduing the flesh and opening ears to the Spirit, eyes to the Holy. And oh, the hunger and desperation this God ordained discipline can stir within makes all the seeming sacrifice worth every hunger pain, every sharp act of will to deny self for more of Him.
Denying self for more of the fullness of God?
That's not really much of a sacrifice, is it? That's not really deprivation.
Seems more like a lavishly wild feast of pure, holy joy.
"Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord." - Hosea 6:3
Barbie Haskell. Abba's child. Wife to high school sweetheart. Mom to 5. Grammy to 3.
Worship leader. Lover of books, writing, horses, guitar, quiet spaces, and all things family.
1. In the section "Taking Prayer into the Day," David Mathis quoted Tim Keller, who writes, "Everywhere God is, prayer is. Since God is everywhere and infinitely great, prayer must be all-pervasive in our lives." Describe the times and/or places in the rough and tumble of life that you find yourself sensing the desire to pray.
2. Refer to the section "Christ and His Company." What did you learn from considering Jesus' habit of praying with others? How do you see the importance of corporate prayer in the life of Jesus and his disciples and in the early church? What did a rhythm of corporate prayer look like in their lives?
3. Reflect on your own inclinations in public prayer.
a.) What statement best describes you?
- I tend to pray aloud quickly.
- I am often preoccupied with trying to impress others rather than genuinely speaking to God.
- I am generally too shy or afraid to pray aloud.
- I am often worried that I might say something wrong or that others will think that either I am inadequate or my prayer is.
b.) Complete the following statements:
- In order to be part of a praying community, I need to....
- God, please help me...
1. Refer to the section "What is Fasting?"
a.) Define fasting.
b.) List some "good things," other than food and drink, from which you could consider fasting for some spiritual purpose.
2. Eating and drinking, and abstaining, reveal a lot about our hearts. Eating and drinking, though routine and seemingly menial, are not inconsequential but means by which we succeed or fail to glorify God. "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). Fasting (along with feasting) is part of a larger theology of food and drink. Spend a few minutes reflecting on the following three texts. Summarize, after each Scripture, what your own eating, drinking, and fasting reveal about the condition of your heart.
a.) Luke 12:22-23: "Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat.... For life is more than food."
b.) Luke 12:19-21: "The rich man said in his soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."
c.) 1 Corinthians 15:32: "If the dead are not raise, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'" (see also Is. 22:13; 56:12).
3. Reflect on your fasting experience. Describe or illustrate:
a.) A time when you undertook a spiritual fast (not just missing a meal).
b.) The conditions/motivations that led you to begin fasting.
c.) The barriers in your heart that have kept you from fasting.
4. Take a few moments to plan a fast. Illustrate your plan. Draw a dinner plate, a fork, and a napkin. Add:
a.) to the rim of the plate a specific spiritual purpose.
b.) to the center of the plate a meal, or multiple meals, to miss (be sure to consider how your fasting plans might affect others in your life).
c.) on the fork handle a spiritually significant action to fill the time you'd regularly be devoting to eating.
d.) Return after acting on your plan to reflect on your fasting experience. On the napkin add the take-away you gleaned from your experience.