More than Surrender

The other day as I was walking I thought I was doing so well—using my walk as a prayer time. It sounds so simple but I have to be honest with you, for me it’s not. It takes focus and discipline. My natural tendency is to let my mind wander or better yet, moan and groan. So, I was feeling rather proud of myself for praying. I should’ve known better.

Like so many people, I like to use the acronym ACTS to keep me on track as I pray.

So as I was walking I started my prayer time with adoration—worship. Worship is an awesome thing. Taking my eyes off all the things I tend to watch and hold onto, and intentionally turning my eyes to God and His greatness and thanking Him and praising Him for who He is. It’s refreshing. It’s like hitting the reset button for me. That usually leads me to surrendering myself to Him.

Surrendering to God is good and it’s necessary to live a vibrant Christian life, but I tend to want to stop at the surrendering. I want to curl up like a cat and stay there at the feet of Jesus. I want to lay down in surrender…and then spend the day dreamily watching the clouds go by. Isn’t that what surrender is? Laying one’s self down? I can do that…

The thought had just barely flashed inside my head when I felt God’s nudge.

What about reporting for duty?

Really, Lord?
That takes work. A lot of work. And risk! I could get hurt, I could get shot down…even just being shot at is bad enough. I just want to lay here at the foot of Your throne and admire all You’ve done and sing Your praises. Can’t I do that?

I felt like I was in one of the Chronicles of Narnia movies when one of the children is standing before Aslan and the great lion says “hmmmmmmm.” I felt my shoulders fall and my chin drop.

Okay, Lord. I know You’re right. You didn’t save me to just to curl up and purr Your praises like a cat. You saved me to serve You. So here I am, Lord, reporting for duty.

Put on the full armor of God…

Really, Lord? Can’t I just sweep the floor and wash the dishes? Putting on the armor means battle and I’d really rather be a handmaid in Your house.

Put on the full armor of God. So that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Eph. 6:11-13

Mentally I started putting on each piece of the armor.
The belt of truth.
The breastplate of righteousness—not my righteousness, Jesus’ righteousness.
The shoes of preparation of the Gospel of peace.
The shield of faith to put out the flaming arrows of the evil one.
The helmet of salvation.
The sword of the Spirit.

Okay, Lord. Here I am. Reporting for duty. Ready to work.

A sober peace settled over me even as an anticipation and watchful readiness of what He had for me to do that day filled me.

It’s more than just surrendering to God, it’s reporting for duty.

7 Tips to Help You Get Started Fasting

To be honest, when I decided to fast I expected to fail. I’ve often had problems with my blood sugar falling and getting the shakes bad enough that I made sure I was sitting down. Combine that with the major headaches I’d get and it seemed like a recipe for disaster. But I saw what fasting was doing in my friends’ lives and I wanted what they had. (If you missed the post on the reasons and benefits of fasting I found, you can read it here.)

Not surprisingly, God has taught me many things as I’ve begun fasting—things I never would’ve guessed. Here are some practical things about fasting that I learned the hard way.

Tips to help you begin fasting

  • Plan for it! Choose a day when it’s okay if you aren’t laser focused, in case the fasting makes your thinking a little fuzzy. Don’t choose a day when you know your stress level will be high. (Ask me how I learned that one. Yikes!)
  • Prepare for fasting by deciding the night before that you WILL fast. Don’t leave it up to your feelings because feelings are liars. It also helps to clear your work area of any snacks or candy that might be laying around so it’s not staring you in the face. Just sayin'.  
  • Give yourself time to build up to even a one day fast. Start small by planning on fasting through breakfast to begin with. Then gradually work up to longer periods of time. Celebrate every hour you fast and it will help you go longer.
  • Do not condemn yourself if you don’t make it as long as you planned or hoped. One time I knew I had to eat, so I did. Guilt came crashing down on me, followed quickly with negative thoughts about myself. It was awful. I felt like a massive failure, not just at fasting, but in every area of my life. God brought to mind that Satan is the father of lies, the great deceiver, and I realized the feelings were a mental battle. As soon as I could I got to my knees, confessed and laid it all out before God. I recounted everything I could about who I am in Christ and how much God loves me. Slowly but surely the feelings of failure and self-condemnation lifted and I turned my prayers from myself to everyone I wanted to pray for. I may not have made it fasting, but I determined to pray as if I had. The feelings of failing turned to joy and triumph as I spent time praying for those I had been fasting for.
  • Drink water. Lots of water! When the rumbling starts, pray and drink water. (Just realize this will make for more frequent restroom stops—yet another reason to plan well for the day you fast. ::wink::)
  • Have a response ready in case someone offers you something to eat. You want to be able to graciously decline without offending and without announcing that you’re fasting. Matthew 6:18 says “…so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
  • Have a plan in place for what you want to eat when you break your fast—otherwise you may overeat, or worse, go crazy with the first thing that your hand lands on, like the time I was unprepared and ate a candy bar, or three. Ouch! It not only upset my stomach horribly but made me aggravated with myself for doing something I normally wouldn’t dream of doing.

While you may see immediate answers to your prayers, don’t be discouraged. Keep at it and make fasting a part of your life. It's one of those investments that has a great return.

Why Should We Fast?

A while ago I was asked to speak on prayer and fasting, and I have to admit, I was surprised. I’m not one that is usually associated with that in my church so I really wondered why they chose me. I almost said no, but God whispered Yes in my heart. As I prayed over the topic He gave me a message on prayer and I wish I could tell you immediately started fasting, but I didn’t. That took almost a year.

During that year, God brought fasting to my attention many times and I began noticing things. After months and even years of maintaining the status quo, things were changing. It wasn’t overnight, but looking back I could connect the dots.

The change began to happen when people began fasting.

Results of Fasting:

  • My friends gained confidence in their prayers and prayer life—a confidence that only comes through prayer, lots of prayer.
  • Their prayers took on an authority that hadn’t been there before. (Hearing them pray is one of the perks of being in a small group with some of them and of being in Sunday School with others.)
  • Their peace and joy deepened even though parts of their lives grew tougher.
  • Answered prayers and progress made in some persistent areas.
  • Direction given, leading to times of growth individually and collectively.

When I finally connected their growth to their consistent fasting I wanted in. They were obtaining things that I’ve been seeking for five or more years. That led me to paying attention to what the Bible has to say about fasting.

Biblical Reasons We Should Fast:

  • The Bible assumes that you will fast. Matthew 6:16 says “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
  • In Jesus’ time, fasting was part of Jewish life and was expected.
  • Jesus modeled fasting for us when He went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days (Matthew 4:2).
  • The Bible connects fasting with repenting. “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil. Joel 2:12-13

Throughout the Bible we see the people of God fasting:

  • David: David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and wept and lay all night on the ground… Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?” 2 Samuel 12:16, 21-23
  • Esther and Mordecai: In each and every province where the command and decree of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing; and many lay on sackcloth and ashes. Esther 4:3; He sent letters to all the Jews, to the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, namely, words of peace and truth, to establish these days of Purim at their appointed times, just as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had established for them, and just as they had established for themselves and for their descendants with instructions for their times of fasting and their lamentations. Esther 9:30-31
  • Daniel: So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. Daniel 9:3
  • Anna: …she (Anna) never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. Luke 2:37
  • Church leadership: While they (the Antioch church’s prophets and teachers) were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Acts 13:2
  • Paul and Barnabas: When they (Paul and Barnabas) had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 14:23

When I looked at everything together I knew it was time I tried fasting. I didn’t commit to a regular time of fasting, I just wanted to try it a couple of times. But when I did that I found that I wanted to add fasting to my life. I wanted more of what I was sensing and learning.

What I learned from fasting:

  • I CAN go without food without having a major crash. It’s not always easy but the best things in life are not the easy things!
  • Food doesn’t have the grip on my life that it once did—and it’s really cool.
  • Hunger drives me to prayer—if I intentionally choose to quit thinking about food and commit to praying instead.
  • Having the right perspective about fasting is crucial. Fasting is something I get to do to draw closer to God and thank Him ahead of time for the opportunity. Going into fasting with anticipation changed my outcome. Dreading a fast puts me into a negative mind set which can easily lead praying less and griping more. I get to fast and it’s a special time I get to spend with God.
  • I pray more fervently when I fast.
  • My prayer life became more consistent and deeper.

Since I began regularly fasting I’ve received the direction I’ve been seeking for five years, and I’m growing in my relationship with God. I wish I had started fasting years ago!

Coming up next are some practical tips for fasting. Hope to see you!

to bridge a gap

This weekend I sang in a choir.

It may not seem like anything big to you, but it rocked my world. You see, although I love singing, I hurt my own ears. That’s why I love it when the music is loud enough that I feel free to sing, really sing. At church sometimes I feel like a grinning fool because I’m able to sing and I can’t keep the joy contained to “appropriate facial expressions.” Joining my voice to others—no, burying my voice in the voices all around me enables me to worship God like I want to.

This weekend I went to Illinois Baptist Women’s Priority Conference and it was awesome. A few days before the conference I received an email asking if I’d like to help with “something special” they had planned. Sure! I figured it’d be handing things out or something like that. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The email reply was a link to a song and when and where to meet for a quick rehearsal.

Almost everything in me wanted to back out but I knew that if I did I would regret it. This was possibly the one opportunity I’d get to be part of a real choir, this side of Heaven. So, I sang.

God calls us and often (always?) we feel there’s no way we can do what He’s called us to do. We don’t have the skills, the training, the time, the whatever we need to do what He’s called us to. And it’s okay. God bridges the gap and equips us.

It’s about us obeying God. If we don’t show up, He can’t work in and through us, and we miss out on seeing God work.

I think I know what God’s called me to and to be honest, I’m feeling like Moses. Been there and done that, God. I landed in the wilderness and now I’m really comfortable there. I know how much work it’ll take to do what You’re calling me to. I know it’ll take almost every spare moment I have, and then some more. It’ll mean putting myself back out there. It’ll mean…

And the song we sang plays in my head...

Is anyone worthy?
Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the Grave,
He is David's Root and the Lamb who died to ransom the Slave.
Is He worthy?
Is He worthy of all blessing and honor and glory?
Is He worthy of this?
He is!

God is worthy of all my effort and all my time. Sacrificing my comfort level and time is worth it.

God will bridge the gaps of where I am and what He’s called me to. I need to show up and obey because God is able.

God is worthy of all this.
He is!

What about you? Is there something you’re wrestling with? Something you think God might be calling you to but you’re feeling unqualified to do? Leave me a comment—I’d love to pray for you.

How to Deal with Consequences

Israel was complaining.
They were thirsty.
They were sick of the food God had provided for them.
They grumbled that God had brought them out of Egypt to kill them in the wilderness.
Nothing was going right.
Everything was wrong. With them, with Moses, with where they were and what they were doing.
And they let it be known that they were unhappy.
(Is this sounding familiar to anyone besides me?)

God sent them a message.
Vipers in the camp.
Where they lived.
The snakes bit the people and people died. Lots of people died.

Israel got the message and they asked Moses to intercede with God for them. They admitted and confessed their sin and asked God to remove the vipers.

But God didn’t take them away.
Instead He told Moses to make a bronze serpent, mount it on a pole and hang it high where it could be seen. God told Moses, “it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” (Numbers 21:8b NAS)

God heard the people and He answered their prayers.
Just not how they wanted.
They wanted the consequences...
the problem
the pain
the danger
Wiped out. Eliminated.
After all, they confessed their sin and repented. An immediate resolution would have been nice.

But God didn’t do that. There were consequences to their sin. Lingering, painful and potentially deadly consequences. The vipers were not removed from their camp. In fact, the vipers still bit the people.

If it were me I’d be begging… But God, I told You I was sorry! I repented. I quit complaining and got my attitude taken care of. Why are these vipers still here? Why are we…why am I still being bitten by snakes?

There are consequences to our actions.
God doesn’t just sweep them all away when we come running back to Him. Sure, He may sometimes, but more often than not, He doesn’t and we have to live with those consequences.

The Israelites wanted a quick fix—the removal of the problems brought on by their sin. Instead God gave them an antidote for their problems. FAITH. When the people were bitten they were to look at the bronze serpent on the pole and have FAITH that God would take care of them and heal them. They had to take their focus off their problem and off their pain and look to God in faith.

That antidote is still valid today.
But we need to let go of our stubbornness and pride and turn our attention to Jesus.
We need to take our focus off our problems and pain and focus on the antidote: Jesus.
It takes faith.

God didn’t leave Israel to die in the wilderness. He provided for them and brought them into the Promised Land.

As His children, God won’t leave us. He’s given us that promise.
“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. Deuteronomy 31:6-8 NASB

When it comes to dealing with consequences, we need to take our eyes off our problems and look to Jesus. Focus on Him and Him alone. He goes with us and He will not fail us nor forsake us.

Taking the Risk

In the past few days I read Numbers 13 and 14. It’s a story that we learn in Sunday School as children and a passage that I both love and dread.

The nation of Israel has left Egypt and slavery behind. They’ve crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, taken the long way through the wilderness, have seen God work in miraculous ways for months, and now they’re camped at Kadesh-Barnea. They’re a stone’s throw from the Promised Land—the place generations have dreamed of returning to. For 40 days the Israelites wait to hear about the land God has brought them to—the land He said He was giving to them.

Finally, the 12 spies return and all that anticipation and excitement turns to fear as spy after spy stands and tells of giants and obstacles that await them on the other side of the river. Only 2 voices tell of the beauty and bounty of the land. The people become restless as fear settles on them and tightens its grip on them. After a night of turmoil and tears the people agree. “If only we had died in he land of Egypt, or if only we had died in theis wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land to die by the sword? Our wives and little children will become plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:2-3)

I always want to shout, No! Don’t do it! Don’t you remember the slavery? How could you even think of going back? Don’t you remember all the things God has been doing for you?

Truth be told, I’m so much like the nation of Israel at this point that it’s…terrifying.

Kadesh-Barnea. It’s a place I’ve been to many times in my life. It’s a place that I really have mixed feelings about. A place of excitement as I look toward the anticipated opportunity. A place of anxiety as I looked toward the unknown. It’s also become a place of disappointment as fear takes over and I turn around and head back into the wilderness.

It's funny how God orchestrates all the details of life.
Take the risk of lose the chance. Photo by Cheryl Flatt.
I was chatting with my sister the other day and she sent this quote to me. She was talking about herself but it stopped me in my tracks. It was the THIRD time the same message was hitting me in a very short time. For three months I’ve been keeping some things buried but it all came gurgling out as I furiously texted Cheryl. I knew I was at the river. Again. And I feared that if I didn’t step this time that the wilderness would claim me for good.

I knew all the obstacles and objections. I’ve lived with them many times in my life.

It was time I refocused on all that God has done and is doing.

That’s when I realized that there was no risk in obeying.
I really had nothing to lose.
But everything to gain.

What about you? Are you sitting in your own Kadesh-Barnea listening to reports of great obstacles and how small you are in comparison? Don’t listen to them! When you obey God, He fights for you and what the enemy means for evil God turns into good for you. I’m not gonna lie, it will be hard. There will be losses—but maybe some of those losses are things you need to lose (me too!!).

Turn away from the voices that say you can’t or shouldn’t and tune your ear to God. Remember and focus on all He’s done for you and move forward.

Sometimes you have to take the risk or lose the chance.

A Step of Obedience

For 7-8 months I have not been obeying. I’ve about reached the point of being miserable because of it. I’m reading and studying God’s Word and praying but I’m still feeling like I’m stranded in a cave half way up the cliff. Nothing in front of me but fog and behind me is a dark cave with who-knows what lurking inside.

I know God has heard me. I know He’s still there. But I feel like I’m lost in the fog. I don’t want to go into the cave. I mean, I really, REALLY do NOT want to go into the cave, but the ledge I’m standing on seems to be getting smaller every day.

So what am I to do?
The simple answer is easy: Obey.
But things…life is never as simple or easy as that. Especially that particular word.
But how can I obey when I know what it will involve? I know the time it will require. The focus. The energy. What if it means I have to choose between obedience and some (or worse, all ) of the things I’ve come to treasure?

I know why I feel like I’m lost in the fog.
Why it feels like God is far from me, and the space between us is ever increasing.
Why it feels like God is no longer talking to me.
My head knows He’s still there but my heart is missing His nearness, His voice.
It’s because I haven’t obeyed.
I haven’t done the thing I KNOW He wants for me to do this year.
God’s quit talking to me because I have yet to do the thing He’s already to me to do. I can’t take another step anywhere until I go back and do that one thing.

It’s a truth I’ve seen over and over again in my own life and in my friends’ lives. It’s a truth I enforce in my kids…
Until you do this (whatever this may be)
you cannot move ahead to the next thing.

So here I am, taking a step of obedience.

Dear Lord, forgive me for being so obstinate, for even now digging my heels in, fearful of what obedience will require. I want to obey You. Really I do. I want to feel close to You again. I want the joy and peace…YOUR joy and peace that comes with obedience. Help me to obey You because I cannot obey in my own strength. I’ve been trying and it doesn’t work. Please, Lord, give me YOUR power to obey, to do the thing You’ve given me to do.
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