Zechariah 8:18 Again the word of the LORD Almighty came to me. 19 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.”
It’s become an annual tradition for our church to take a 21-day period in January as a special time of prayer and fasting, to set ourselves apart for the Lord, and launch us personally and corporately into a new year. Sometimes we call it a time of “consecration”, to be more inclusive of the many ways that we can give ourselves to a time that is “holy to the Lord”. Generally, those tools we use to give ourselves more fully to the Lord have been referred to as “spiritual disciplines”, e.g. fasting, prayer, Bible study, worship, giving, serving, etc. One of the most powerful of these, I believe, is fasting. It is also probably the most under-utilized and perhaps misunderstood of these avenues to engage with God. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve under-played the fasting aspect of this time, simply because it’s an oft-hated activity. Those who have fasted will many times confess how much they dislike it, and those who have not ever actually fasted probably haven’t because they dislike the very idea of fasting.
See, actually I think that we should call them “self-disciplines” not “spiritual disciplines” because we are actually disciplining our self (aka “flesh”) so that our spirit can be free. We have the Spirit of God in us, and He doesn’t need to be disciplined, WE do! We have to put reigns on our self-indulgent tendencies (how we spend our time, money, energy and how we choose to gratify our appetites: physical, emotional, etc.) so that we can be freed to truly and deeply experience God. Fasting (and the other disciplines) is uncomfortable because it challenges our selfish nature and our self-centeredness (what we feel we “need” and what we want) – this is probably what causes our dislike/hatred of it. However, if we can apprehend grace to enter into it, fasting should be an extremely joyful experience! Why? Because it sensitizes us and opens us up to more of Jesus, and He is EXEEDINGLY joyful!
I know, we are currently in a season of “feasting” (in the midst of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays). Feasting is also very Biblical, and I hope you enjoy this season to the fullest! But, it helps to prepare yourself before a season of consecration, and that is why I’m putting this out now. The dates of our “504” (21 days = 504 hours) are January 10th-31st (some of you reading this are not a part of SOCC, but you can definitely still set aside a season of seeking God – why not?). So begin now to think about how you would like to take advantage of this time.
As I alluded to in the title of this post, it was with JOY that Jesus was able to endure the Cross (Hebrews 12:2). He knew what would be accomplished by going through the crucifixion. And, though He didn’t enjoy the process, He knew it was worth it, and He knew that He would enjoy the results. Similarly, we are told that we should take up our Cross (deny our self) and follow Him (Matthew 16:24)! Denying self — in whatever choices it looks like — usually doesn’t “feel” good in the process, but what if we could look forward to the results (nearness to God and more of Him in our life) and have JOY?? That is His desire!! That’s the whole point!
Just as the verse at the top of this post states, the Lord wants our fasts to be “joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals”. That may seem odd when in the natural, a fast can make you tired, irritable and weak. But, if the result is that you are being drawn closer to the heart of God and walking nearer to Jesus, how could it NOT be a joyful, glad and happy occasion?? And I dare say, it WILL be!
Look forward to more thoughts on this in the weeks to come, and if you have questions or thoughts, please post them for discussion!