One of my favorite grad school professors (although I had several) was Dr. Stan Toler. At that time Dr. Toler pastored in Oklahoma City and served as an official in the Church of the Nazarene. What impacted me the most was his unique ability to make you feel like you were about to conquer the world. From the day the class module began until it ended each class member’s courage and confidence would grow and we literally felt as if we were faster than a locomotive and leaping tall buildings was an every day occurrence.
I often think back to what I learned under his tutelage. One of the principles he taught was Discipline – the ability to take charge of yourself. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:2, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” The ability to prove ourselves faithful requires the practice of living a disciplined life. Here are a few thoughts on how to grow in discipline:
1. Analyze your lifestyle – What do you prioritize? How do you spend your time? Do you procrastinate? What lifestyle changes need to change for you?
2. Set aside time for introspection – In addition to your quiet time with God, take a walk and reflect. Consider your life, actions, responses, etc.
3. Limit your extra-curricular activities – Don’t give up your hobbies, simply be aware of how much time you spend on it and how much you focus on being effective.
4. Look for small investments that bring great returns – Whether it’s a quick devotion, thank you note, etc. Don’t forget the small things.
5. Become an expert in something – What is an area of interest you have? Spend 15 minutes a day practicing or studying it and you will soon reach expert status (or close to it).
6. Pour your life into a few key people – You can have one-on-one with everyone, but be sure to pour into those you can.
7. Take control of your schedule – If you don’t manage your time someone else will manage it for you.
Take time to apply these principles to your life (with Christ at the center), and see what begins to happen in your effectiveness in growing disciples.
– How disciplined is your life? Do you accomplish the things you hope to accomplish?
– Have you listed to goals you hope to accomplish for today? this week? this year?
– What principle needs the most work, which principle do you excel in?
– What wastes time in your life?
1 Samuel 12:16, 18
Now then, stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes! Then Samuel called upon the Lord, and that same day the Lord sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel.
Neil Anderson says, “What no human can do in eternity, God can do in an instant – and He does it in response to our prayers. Thomas Chalmers says, “Prayer does not enable us to do a greater work for God. Prayer is a greater work for God.” Samuel demonstrated this principle in our scripture reference when he called upon the Lord. We also see it in James 5:16-18 when James recounts Elijah’s faith and his prayer. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced it crops (vv. 17-18).
Both Samuel and Elijah were righteous, and that is why they were effective in prayer; but in every other way they were no different from us.
We will never be effective in prayer if we go to God in emergencies and then return to managing our own lives when the crisis passes. It’s not appropriate to ask God to bless our plans; rather, we should humbly ask God to reveal His plans. Prayer is not conquering God’s reluctance but laying hold of God’s willingness. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God; that if we ask anything in accordance to his will, he hears us…we know that we have what we asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15). Our prayers will always be effective if our petitions and intercessions are in agreement with the Word of God.
What are you praying for today? What are you praying for during this fast? Today, resist praying for your desires and ask God to reveal to you His desires.
When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in the condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid responded, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
There are three types of people that cannot be helped. Those who will not acknowledge they have a problem. Those who are in trouble, but their pride won’t let them ask for help. Then there are those who cannot be helped because they really don’t want to get well, such was the case of the man at the pool. Scripture tells us that the angel of the Lord would stir the waters of the pool and whoever was in it at the time was healed. This man was at the pool everyday when the Lord asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
Logic begs the question, “If the man wanted to get well wouldn’t he have found a way to get in the pool?” If he wanted to get well he would have made whatever commitment necessary, whatever plans needed, whatever way possible to overcome the obstacles of his life.
Spiritually we have to ask ourselves, “Do we want to grow in Christ?” In order to do that we must find a way to remove the obstacles of apathy, pride, lack of commitment, lack of perseverance, and we must replace them with what we know will grow us: Christian community, devotion, prayer, fasting, service and other spiritual disciplines. If you’re not well, it’s time to get well! If you’re not growing, it’s time to begin growing! Make your own spiritual growth a matter of prayer today!
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Believers fast for many reasons. Perhaps, however, the three most common reasons for fasting are:
- the desire for God to do a specific action in one’s life
- for one to seek to better know the will of God for their life
- for one to submit their life more fully to the will of God
Throughout this season of prayer and fasting that we are participating in, I encourage you to use this time to ask God for something specific in your life. God wants us to come to him for our needs. However, I encourage you even more to specifically ask God to align your heart with His.
Colossians 3 encourages us in this regard. Paul reminds the Colossians that they have been raised with Christ. This reminder parallels Col. 2:20 when Paul affirms, “Since you have died with Christ.” Dying with Christ symbolizes the drastic split one has with their “old life” by placing their trust in Christ.
As you seek God for the remainder of this fast I encourage you to walk in the power that is demonstrated in this passage. Because you have died in Christ, you have been (and will be) raised with Christ. Therefore, set your heart and mind on things above. Ask God for His strength to help you do this; in it you will find the peace and strength needed to know and accomplish His will.
January 23 | How Should We Fast
“But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face, so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
Jesus said do all this “so that you may be seen by your Father who is in secret.” In other words, fast to be seen by God. Fast with a clear intention of being seen by God. As Jesus teaches it, fasting is an intensely Godward act. Do it toward God who sees when others don’t.
Jesus is testing the reality of God in our lives. Do we really have a hunger for human admiration? Oh, how easy it is to do religious things if other people are watching! Preaching, praying, attending church, reading the Bible, acts of kindness and charity – they all take on a certain pleasantness of the ego if we know that others will find out about them and think well of us. Its is a deadly addiction for esteem that we have.
This brings us to the last part of verse 18 and the promise Jesus makes about what God will do for those who focus on him and do not need praise of men to make the devotion worthwhile. He says, “And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” It is good and right to want and seek the reward of God in fasting. John Piper says, “Jesus would not have offered this [reward] to us if it were defective to reach for it.”
– Adapted from A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer, John Piper.
Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
What gripped me about this text were the words in verse 16, “Whenever you fast…” I noticed that it does no say, “If you fast,” but rather, “when you fast.” Jesus assumed that fasting was a good thing and that it would be done by his disciples. In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus is not teaching whether we should fast or not. He is assuming we will fast, and is teaching us how to do it, and especially, how not to do it.
Here is what we should not to do when fasting. In Matthew 6:16, we are told to not be like the hypocrites with gloomy faces. If people admire you for the way you look when fasting then that is your reward. Oh how strong is the love of the praise of men! We will dress for it, and strut our status in the marketplace for it, and posture ourselves for it at parties, and take up an important pose at church, and even lengthen our prayers to cover our heartless love of money with religious camouflage.
Jesus says that if this reward from other people is what you love, this is what you get. “Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”
Matthew 6:3-4 6-7, 17-18
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
But when you pray, go int your room and close the door, and pray to the Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and you Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Jesus provided the pattern by which we are to live as a child of God. That pattern addressed three specific duties of a Christian: giving, praying, and fasting. Jesus said, “When you give…” and “When you pray…” and “When you fast…” He made it clear that fasting, like giving and praying, was a normal part of Christian life.
Solomon, when writing the books of wisdom for Israel, made the point that a cord, or rope, braided with three strands is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes. 4:12). Likewise, when giving, praying, and fasting are practiced together in the life of a believer, it creates a type of threefold cord that is not easily broken.
Could we be missing our greatest breakthroughs because we fail to fast?