21 Days of fasting: Day 21

Today marks the last day of our 21 day Daniel Fast (and… I’ve already got the coffee-maker ready for Sunday morning!).

It’s interesting how this year’s fast was so different from that of 2009. Certainly, the fact that our diet was not the same as that of last year has a role in the different fast experience. While our 2009 fast consisted of mainly salads, vegetables, and fruit, we chose to include nuts, legumes, and whole grains for 2010. And even though this change left me more satiated, I still found myself feeling somehow – full, yet unfulfilled – in the food department. Perhaps it was because of this feeling that I found myself fasting complete meals more often than I did in 2009. And while such a practice does make one feel hungry, such physical nudges are harnessed by the mind as reminders of God’s mercy, grace, love, authority, majesty, and power.

Sure, I’ve been thinking about doing my awesome (imo) smoked ribs, or homemade pepperoni pizza (this time with some mushrooms on top). I’ve sat and watched Diners, Dives, and Drive-Ins, and got the urge to make our own shredded beef tacos, along with fresh (or homemade?) corn tortillas, hot off the griddle. And then there’s our homemade spaghetti, with a meaty tomato sauce that’s been prepped with tons of garlic and steeped in red wine. Besides that, I’ve been looking forward to grabbing a double-meat burger, fries and chocolate shake, from IN-N-OUT. And all the while, I’ve come to the point of thanking God for the wonder He has created… the sights, sounds, textures, smells, and tastes. The love and care He has for us, created in His image, to not simply give us nourishment – but to lavish upon us a richness of the senses.

If the bread we eat, which we do not live alone by, is so rich, then how much more so is the Bread of Life? How sweet on the lips is the Word of God?

So, as the crackling sizzle of bacon permeates off the pan, as the intoxicating aroma of coffee wafts its way through the house, as the dark crimson enchilada sauce engulfs your enchiladas, as the tender morsel of pulled pork melts in your mouth, and as the enigmatic flavor of dark chocolate excites your taste buds, remember to thank our Heavenly Father, for His Love.

21 Days of fasting: Day 14

Today marks the 14th day of our Daniel Fast.

During this time of prayer and meditation on God’s Word, I’ve found that my inadequacies at engaging in a fuller prayer life are surfaced. While others about me seem to readily spout eloquently laced verbal prayers, whether in a worship service or an informal gathering, I’d rather take time to think about what I have to say, and then say it – as succinctly as possible. While some leaders extol (even direct) congregants to speak their prayers and worship “out loud”, ostensibly so others around them can hear them, I prefer to quietly direct my supplications to God. While some fellow Christians claim to have conversations with God, I tend to read the prayers in the Bible not as informal conversation, but as meditative communion. As such, it can be very frustrating for someone like myself to model his prayers as many of those in the church.

As I’ve been reading Adam McHugh’s book, Introverts in the Church, I’ve been enlightened to many aspects of introversion that I was previously unaware of. One aspect that struck me, regarding this prayer issue, is that of how the typical introvert’s mind works. In a nutshell, while an introvert is typically quiet on the outside, inside his mind is racing from thought to thought, idea to idea, recalling and analyzing past events, and so on. This is exactly the type of process that I find happening with myself (and, silly me, all this time I thought I was just daydreaming!). What McHugh states, though, is that the introvert must learn to harness this thought pattern and not just let it run unhindered. As this applies to prayer, I think one must learn to take control of the various thoughts permeating through his head, and take cues from them as prayer petitions – guides, if you will, to your supplications.

Yesterday, I read, out loud, from our church Bible, in our church sanctuary. As part of our group fast, our pastor has instituted that our congregation read the Bible within our sanctuary. It is a wonderful opportunity to have God’s Word read out loud, completely through, within the walls of the church. Individuals and families sign-up for various 1/2 hour time slots, throughout the week, and simply arrive, read, and enjoy the presence of God. In the past, we’ve had members of our deaf church participate by signing the Word, and we’ve had an Old Testament scholar read in Hebrew. My reading, yesterday, stretched from Romans 14 to I Corinthians 6.

Romans 14, from the Bible in our church sanctuary.

Image – © A. R. Lopez

21 Days of fasting: Day 11

Today marks the midway point of our Daniel Fast.

At this point, I have found the experience to be different from the Daniel Fast I participated in last year at this time. Last year, I inadvertently excluded nuts and whole grains from the menu, and the result was great hunger. Now some would say that, since you’re on a fast, shouldn’t you be hungry? Certainly, however while one is hungry on a fast, hunger should not be the focus of the fast.

Another aspect that is different from my fast of last year is the absence of the feeling of frustration. During most of my fast in 2009, though I engaged in the reading of the Word and in prayer, I experienced a great deal of frustration. That has not been the case this year. I haven’t experienced any great workings of the Spirit, as some of my more extroverted friends may have, but I have certainly experienced an immense amount of inner peace.

The reading of the Word has included the book of Acts. Some selected verses (all ESV):

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. – Acts 1:14

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. – Acts 2:42

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. – Acts 3:1

But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. – Acts 6:4

So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. – Acts 12:5

Imagine what we could do if we would pray in the same manner as the early Christians. But, we’re too busy.

Between soccer games, movies, concerts, after-school events, happy hours, television, the internet, hobbies, work, etc., we might be able to squeeze in a 5 or 10 minute prayer… if we’re lucky.

Fresh strawberries. A great fruit item to our menu.

Image – © 2010 A. R. Lopez

21 Days of fasting: Day 7

If you’ve ever limited your diet to only fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts, then you’ve probably gone through the experience of your body reacting to the change in diet. I won’t bother you with the details, but let’s just say that your body lets you know, as if you didn’t already know, that something has changed in its normal diet sequence.

One side effect I will speak about is a bit of heartburn that woke me up last night, somewhere around 3:30 a.m. Now, normally I’d just try and deal with it – maybe some antacid or the standard baking soda routine. However, the main purpose for participating in a group fast is to draw closer to God, through Bible reading and prayer. Could it be that I was wide awake in the middle of the night for a reason? Well, regardless of whether or not the heartburn was providentially motivated, I took the time to enter into prayer.

Thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to pray!

Psalm 29 was particularly striking, this week:

1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over many waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9 The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Yes, the voice of the Lord is powerful, and His blessing is the only peace we should seek.

Apples, fresh or dried, are a wonderful treat during our fast!

Image – © 2008 A.R. Lopez

21 Days of fasting: Day 4

While day 2 opened with a red sunrise, today closed with a red sunset. The heavens declare your glory, Lord! The vividness of the sunset was made even more astounding due to my vantage point, where I was able to look over the southern coast of California and see the crisp image of Catalina, one of its Channel Islands.

During our fast in 2009, I encountered more hunger pains by this point. However, we didn’t include nuts in our menu until about the third week. I believe a protein supplement is needed, while on a Daniel Fast. This year, we’ve made sure to include nuts and whole grains. Still, it was a bit disconcerting when a co-worker brought in some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies! And while we essentially have no limit on the amount of fruits and vegetables we can eat, I made sure to pick up, and eat, one almond that happened to fall on the floor during lunch.

In Luke, I was impressed with the following line,

And he went out and wept bitterly.

Of course, it is what Peter did, after denying his Lord – and then gazing upon his eyes.

I’ve wondered what Peter must have felt, after having cursed at the notion that he even knew Jesus, to then look into his eyes. Although we are separated by 2,000 years of time, and the physicality of Jesus’ presence, are there times in our own existence when we deny Jesus? Even though I’m not a proponent of personalizing scripture in an attempt to make it “speak to us”, I do think we can take away application and personal significance from the Word.

And what are we to make of this denial? Bitter remorse… precisely because of the love Peter had for Jesus.

The good news is that Peter’s bitter weeping was not the end of the story.

21 Days of fasting: Day 2

Today began quietly, with a beautiful sunrise lighting up a sky full of clouds with a deep, reddish glow.

No stomach growls until mid-morning, although I did have a bit of a caffeine-deprived headache (ahhh, coffee…). With this particular type of fast (I am doing) one abstains from meat, dairy products, and luxury foods. Luxury foods, in my case, would include sweets and products such as coffee. I’m limiting the amount of my intake for both breakfast and lunch, but have no restrictions with regards to the evening meal. Essentially, I can eat all the fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains I want. As my pastor has said, although it might appear easy to engage in such a fast, after a couple of weeks you start to get pretty tired of carrot sticks!

Scripture reading today included the first few chapters of Luke. In meditating over the verses I was struck by the manner in which John the Baptist addressed Jesus the Christ. In our extroverted let’s-all-be-friends smiley culture, we many times run the risk of trivializing who Jesus is, and how we should relate to him. Yet here in Luke 3 we find John the Baptist, the one chosen to prepare the way for the Lord, explicitly state that he is unworthy to even untie the sandals of Jesus.

Prayer for today: Let us truly understand who you are, Lord Jesus, and the worship you are due.

21 days of fasting: Day 1

In Matthew 6, Jesus speaks about believers engaging in three activities: giving to the needy, praying, and fasting. Note the grammatical structure of the following passages:

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.” – Matthew 6:2 ESV

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.” – Matthew 6:5 ESV

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.” – Matthew 6:16 ESV

Indeed, a common thread in the three verses is Jesus’ use of the word “when”. His assumption, it would seem, is that His followers would make it a practice to give to the needy, to pray, and… to fast.

While there are certainly instances where a Christ follower may conduct a fast in private, there also is Biblical precedent for declared, group fasts. The church I attend has embarked on a 21 day fast, the duration being modeled from the prophet Daniel’s fast (ref. Daniel 1), beginning today, 3 January 2010. The fast is a declared fast, yet the manner in which each church member partakes of the fast is dependent on physical limitation and / or desired commitment. Our pastor has chosen to engage in a liquid-only fast. As for myself and my wife, we will be partaking in a “Daniel Fast”, in which we abstain from meat and luxury foods.

The point of this period of fasting is, quite simply, to draw nearer to God – to enjoy the blessing of His presence – to remind yourself that it is He who is worthy of worship. By abstaining from certain foods, one then has the opportunity to delve deeper into prayer and the reading of God’s Word.

Over the course of the 21 days I hope to post progress reports of what transpires, including the downs – and ups.

As for today, lunch was a light salad, with nuts, and sliced fruit. Dinner will be vegetable soup… wonderful in its own right, yet a bit lacking when not paired with the usual fare.

Image – © A. R. Lopez