Tag Archives: fasting

Tammie Grimm ~ Fasting for Wholeness

“The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part; it is also, oddly, that part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage, the passage on which the rest was to hang, and from which you drew the courage to begin.” Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

As I complete edits on my doctoral thesis, I was stupefied to trip over this nugget several weeks ago. A month or so earlier, I heeded the wise advice of my supervisor and ripped out an entire section of a chapter that I had written and formed the whole motivation for my research and writing. It was agonising, and even though that work was at once the genesis and culmination of what I was writing towards, it was the right move. Though a valuable piece of research and writing, it does not “fit” into the thesis as it stands. It has another place in which it can stand on its own merits – but not in the thesis on which I’ve worked so hard for many years.

12705541_10156546912360578_8348237566484010861_nLent is upon us, and I’m drawn back to Annie Dillard’s thought over and over again the last week or so. In recent years, the age-old practice of self-denial and fasting from a particular enjoyment has, in many communities, been approached differently. Rather than view Lent as a time of sacrifice in this season of preparation, a suggestion is to add something healthy or positive to our daily life. The idea is that by adding something good to our lives, whether it be spiritual reading, taking a daily thematic photo or committing to a particular health routine, we must give something up, something extraneous and unnecessary, to make room for the new addition.

There have been years in which my approach to Lent, to give something up, has been to consider Lent as something of a chore. Something to be endured, a prolonged period during which I faithfully swore off chocolate, diet soda or some other item I enjoyed, only to look forward to Easter when I could add it back into my life again guilt-free. And, when I’ve taken the positive approach, adding something new and beneficial has, too often, just been adding one more thing in an overcrowded life.

However, this year, in light of Dillard’s quote, I have considered what it is I need to sacrifice in order to find life — as I did when I jettisoned part of my chapter, parts of my thesis which were (and still are) my favourite bits. How does self-denial allow for the addition of something good? How does fasting bring about wholeness? What parts of me must be cleansed in order for God to do a new work in me? Maybe in approaching Lent differently, there will be a different outcome – something more lasting and true.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God. And renew a right spirit within me” Psalm 51:10

Jack Jackson ~ Wesley’s 5:2 Fast

John Wesley believed true Christian disciples made fasting integral to the life and faith.  To not fast was to not be a Christian in his mind.  I’ve always found this a bit perturbing since my idea of fasting is to skip an afternoon snack.  But for Wesley, to not take fasting seriously as a core spiritual practice was to not take Jesus seriously.

Therefore I was intrigued when, back in December, a friend of mine introduced me to what he thought was a new weight loss miracle, the 5:2 Plan.  This program is not so much of a diet, though many use it to lose weight, but rather it is more of a health plan that includes intermittent fasting at its core.   The 5:2 Plan follows a weekly pattern of eating regularly five days a week and then twice a week fasting for 18 hours.  Typically the fast goes from 4 pm one day to 10 am the next day.  As I read more and more about the 5:2 Plan, the more I realized there was nothing new about this type of fast at all.  John Wesley followed a similar pattern of fasting that he believed was rooted in early church practices.

Wesley describes his understanding of the practice and benefits of fasting quite extensively in Sermon 27, “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount:  Discourse Seven.”  In this sermon Wesley describes fasting in great detail and I only want to pick out a number of points that jumped out at me.

First, Wesley followed the ancient Christian practice of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, not eating until 3 pm.  Second, fasting specifically entails giving up food, not just a type of food.  To avoid particular kinds of foods such as “pleasant food” is a form of abstinence as opposed to fasting.  He encourages abstinence for some, but most he encourages to follow his practice of not eating until 3 pm.   Advocates of the 5:2 Plan propose today that intermittent fasting, which is what Wesley did, is healthy in a number of ways, such as getting the body to process nutrients better.  But for Wesley, the purpose of fasting was not to lose weight or to be more physically healthy.  This relates to a third point, that Wesley believed fasting was crucial for the spiritual health of Jesus’ disciples.  Wesley believed that Jesus’ assumption that Christians will fast in Matthew 6:16 should be read by Christians as a command.  Jesus says “when you fast”, not “if” we fast.  Therefore, Wesley argued, fasting should be a core Christian practice.

I wonder, was Wesley correct?  Must we fast as followers of Jesus?  Or is fasting simply an option for us to embrace or ignore based on our preferences?

Do I need to see this ancient practice as integral to my life of faith apart from which I will find it hard, perhaps impossible, to receive God’s blessings as Wesley describes?

What about you?  How has fasting been a blessing or a burden to your spiritual life?  How do you engage Wesley’s sermon?  I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Talbot Davis ~ Could You Give Up Porn for Lent? A Pastoral Perspective on Life Change

It happened again a few months ago.

A young man made an appointment with me at the church, came into my office at the expected time, sat down in his chair, glanced around the room, nervous as a cat, and began to speak.

What emerged over the next 15 minutes was a tale of escalating addiction that led to discovery on the part of his wife and with it the threat of expulsion from his home.

What kind of addiction?

The most common kind clergy in the 21st Century face in their role as pastors:  pornography.

You’ll note that I opened by stating that “it happened again last week.”  And the again is not accidental…the odds are that when a man in our church makes an appointment to speak with me, the presenting issue is compulsive use of pornography that has in fact made his life unmanageable.  It impacts men of all ethnicities, nationalities, and even ages – ranging from adolescents to seasoned citizens.

It sometimes leads to trouble with the law.  It often leads to difficulty with the family.  It always results in disconnection from the self.

The rise of the internet has created a perfect storm for growing numbers of men to become addicted to looking at and masturbating to pornographic images.  It is available.  It is anonymous.  I suspect no other generation of men – or their pastors – had such a collision of forces that are the same time both irresistible and destructive.

So what is a pastor to do when faced with this kind of epidemic?

Well, through trial and error at Good Shepherd Church, we have devised a protocol for those times when porn comes into a pastor’s office.  The protocol stems not only from the frequency with which the addiction comes calling but also my familiarity with and appreciation for Twelve Step Programs.  What you will read below is a system we talk about on-staff, these are notes we distribute internally, and it is a process that we have seen God use to bring men to new places of wholeness and healing.

Specifically, our pastoral counseling protocol revolves around three elements:  spirituality, therapy, and community.


When a man comes to my office seeking help with his addiction to pornography, that first meeting always includes healing prayer.

While the addiction may have begun as moral failure, it most cases it has escalated to the point of uncontrollable behavior.  He no longer looks at porn because he wants to but because he is overcome with a compulsion that makes him feel he has to.

I always affirm the man’s courage in coming to me, assure him that I am not going to place another layer of guilt on him (he usually feels enough of that already), and let him know that his current impasse is, at the core, a spiritual issue.  He has substituted a false god for the true one – after all, it’s not accidental that so many excavated idols are sexualized figurines.  Internet porn is simply a modern manifestation of an ancient idolatry.

With that awareness, I will often anoint my friend with oil, lay hands on his shoulders, and pray Jesus’ healing power over his addiction.  At some point in that spoken prayer, I will have the man pray out loud for himself.  I believe it is vital for the man to own his addiction before God and to claim the healing that is available in Christ.  Whether it’s porn or alcohol or gambling or gluttony, I contend that God won’t do for you what he needs to do with you.


Sadly, all too many pastors, church, and addicts would regard the meeting described above as the end of the matter.  As in, “it’s been prayed for, I’ve been delivered, so that’s it.”

My friends in the world of Recovery call that a “spiritual bypass.”  Meaning: many addicts long for a one-stop, one-step prayer miracle – a ZAP! – that heals them without going through the difficult work of recovery.

And while deliverance from porn addiction may on occasion happen in that fashion, it is much more common for healing to occur in and through the type of community one finds in a Twelve Step Program.  So in the counseling session I’ve been describing, I will connect the struggling man with either a Sex Addicts Anonymous or a Sexaholics Anonymous group meeting in our area.

To make that connection more personal, I typically contact one of several men I know in our church who are in SAA or SA and ask them to ensure that the new person makes it to his first meeting.  Those in recovery have proven remarkably eager to help others begin working the steps.

Once in a recovery group, an addict discovers that a) he is not alone; b) he needs to be restored to sanity; and c) healing emerges from shared struggle much better than from isolated toil.  I enjoy watching church friendships flourish that I know began at SAA meetings.


The recovery community calls sexual addiction “cunning, baffling, and dangerous.”  And so it is.

So the battle against it requires the heavy artillery of individual therapy.  We are fortunate in the Charlotte area to have a number of the nation’s leading therapeutic experts in the area of sex addiction, and so Good Shepherd keeps a ready list of referrals.

There are many, many forces at work that drive a man to sexual and pornographic addiction, and it generally takes the skill of an experienced therapist to uncover root causes and to craft coping strategies.

In cases of financial hardship, we underwrite up to five sessions of therapy.

We firmly believe that all three elements – spirituality, community, therapy – are indispensable.

I have met men who were either too private to join a community or too proud to enter therapy, and the results was a partial attempt at recovery.  And, as the Twelve Steppers remind us, “half measure availed us nothing.”

Pastoral Follow Up

I do my best to maintain contact with the guys who have trusted me with their stories and their struggles.  So, via text message, email, or phone call, I will periodically check-in with those under my pastoral care.  How you holding up?  How much sobriety do you have?  Are you making your meetings?

Without fail, the men appreciate being remembered and known.

And then when I get an email like the one below from the same guy who I mentioned in the opening of this article, it’s all worth it:

Dear Talbot,

I just want you to know how much this journey of healing has meant to me.  I feel free for the first time in my life.  Thank you for getting me in that group, thanks for (my therapist), and thanks for the prayers.

Maxie Dunnam ~ Prayer and Fasting: Embracing Voluntary Weakness

Never in over 50 years of ministry have I felt as helpless about the state of our United Methodist Church. Talk of separation is rampant. I love our United Methodist Church and am committed to the Wesleyan faith and way. I get knots in my stomach when I think of the possibility of division.

Our bishops have recognized the critical nature of our situation and have written a book “seeking a way forward.” Numerous others have proposed institutional or structural plans that might save us from division. I’m afraid the common feeling is that the divide is so pronounced that staying together as “one” denomination is impossible. Honestly, that is where I have been in my feelings and thinking.

I’m afraid we are cursed with a sense of the impossible.

The Holy Spirit has intervened and challenged me through Scripture.

Matthew and Mark tell a story of the disciples of Jesus being cursed in the same way. Jesus had been with Peter, James and John upon the mountain alone for spiritual renewal and rest. There on the mountain He was transfigured in their presence, and Elijah and Moses came to visit with them. Peter wanted to stay there and build three tabernacles – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But Jesus wouldn’t allow that. We all have to leave that mountain place of excitement, joy, exhilaration and spiritual high and return to the valley. So Jesus and the three disciples did just that.

On coming down from the mountain, they were greeted with confusion, conflict and confrontation. But more crucially, they met a man in desperate need. His son was possessed by spirits that took his breath away, made him unable to talk, caused him to go into convulsions and to foam at the mouth and grind his teeth. The young fellow would not eat, and he was wasting away. In desperation, the father had brought his son to the disciples, asking them to heal him and to cast out the demons, but they could not.

After his sharp word of disappointment – “O faithless generation! How long am I to be with you?” – Jesus asked that the little boy be brought to Him.

In this father we have a picture of near despair, yet a burning hope — a picture of faith that struggles with reality. He can’t help but rehearse the awful, dreadful, condition of his son. “He’s been like that since he was a child,” he said. “He often throws himself into the fire or into the water and tries to destroy himself.” Still painting that awful picture, the faith and the hope of this father comes to the surface: “if you can,” he says, “let your heart be moved with pity and help us.”

Jesus probably interrupted him, saying, “you say, ‘If you can.’” Then He gives us that bold affirmation, “all things are possible to him who believes.”

Note a universal truth. “To approach anything in the spirit of hopelessness is to make it hopeless. To approach anything in the spirit of faith is to make it a possibility.” The tension within us is the sense of the possible struggling with the curse of the impossible. William Barclay, in his commentary on this story says, “most of us are cursed with a sense of the impossible, and that is precisely why miracles do not happen.” (The Daily Bible Study, p. 224)

That leads to the truth I want to underscore as it relates to the present state of the church. We discover it in the attitude of the father of the afflicted child. Originally he had come seeking Jesus Himself. Jesus was on the mountain top and only the disciples were available. His faith was badly shaken when the disciples seemed totally helpless, so badly shaken that when he came to Jesus all he could say was, “help me, if you can.” Then it happened: face to face with Jesus, suddenly his faith blazed up again. “I believe,” he cried.

Everybody thought the little boy was dead, but Jesus healed him. Later when he was alone with the disciples, they asked him privately, “why were we not able to cast out the demon?” Jesus responded to them, “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (verse 29). I believe here is the distinctive Christian truth for where we are in our seeming hopeless impasse:  a sense of the possible empowered by the Living Christ, activated by prayer and fasting.

A lot of folks, including me, have been calling for prayers for the unity of the church. I want to be bolder.  Believing that we are in a desperate situation, as desperate as that father with his son, according to Jesus, the answer now to our situation is prayer and fasting.

For too many of us, fasting is a strange thought, not something we have seriously considered. Wesley, our father in the faith, strongly urged the early Methodists to practice fasting, but he also sounded a warning about extremes: “some have exalted this beyond all Scripture and reason; and others utterly disregarded it.” Some speak of it “as if it were all,” he said; others “as if it were nothing, as if it were a fruitless labor.” He concluded, “fasting is not the end, but it is a precious means thereto; a means which God himself has ordained, and in which therefore, when it is duly used, he will surely give his blessing” (“Upon Our Lord’s Sermon On the Mount”: Discourse Seven).

We need good and expansive teaching on this neglected spiritual discipline. I lodge one significant claim in this call. Fasting is more than denying ourselves food. It is choosing to act out, by temporarily denying ourselves food, that we do not live by bread alone. We are completely dependent upon God, and we deliberately choose voluntary weakness. We become identifiably humble in the face of the problems with which we are dealing. We admit to each other, and primarily to God: only you can get us through this “mess.” We cease trying to define the unity we seek, believing that God will provide the unity God desires for God’s church. We become less clamorous in seeking our own way, and more receptive to what God may intend for us.

We must see fasting as an invitation. Scripture is full of this invitation.  God invites us to fast because God wants us to desire more of God’s presence, intention, and will. If we say yes to God’s call to prayer and fasting, God will honor God’s promise to heal and restore God’s people.

David spoke about fasting as one way he humbled himself before God (Ps. 35:13; 69:10). I want to humble myself before God. I am tired of the struggle.  I am confused in mind, and pained in heart. I have been reasonably successful and affirmed in much of what I have attempted in ministry, but with the division that is obvious and ominous,  I urge us to become humble and recognize that this is one of those situations that can be resolved only “by prayer and fasting.”

Let’s heed Mr. Wesley’s word about in what manner we are to fast. “Let it be done unto the Lord, with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father; to express our sorrow and shame for our manifold transgressions of his holy law; to wait for an increase of purifying grace, drawing our affections to things above; to add seriousness and earnestness to our prayers; to avert the wrath of God, and to obtain all the great and precious promises which he hath made to us in Jesus Christ…Let us always join fervent prayer, pouring out our whole souls before God, confessing our sins with all their aggravations, humbling ourselves under his mighty hand, laying open before him all our wants, all our guiltiness and helplessness” (ibid.).

How then shall we pursue it?

Wesley suggested a pattern for those in  Methodist classes and societies.  After the midday meal, refrain from solid foods until tea time the following afternoon. World Evangelism of the World Methodist Council has been calling people to make Thursday to Friday the fast time. The Confessing Movement is calling the entire United Methodist Church to join us in prayer and fasting using this method. Of course we urge prayer and fasting in whatever way is possible for you, but we believe it will be powerful and redemptive for our entire connection to pray and fast together for the unity of our church….unity in Christ, which he wishes us to experience. Let’s do it together on Thursday and Friday.

Immediately after Paul’s Damascus road conversion, he fasted for three days, waiting to receive clear direction from the Lord (Acts 9:9). That was a pattern throughout the New Testament…the Church fasting for supernatural wisdom and direction. While in Antioch, Paul and his team fasted and prayed for prophetic direction. They were given a strategic mission assignment to reach the Gentiles (Acts 13:1-2). This mission tour changed history.  Paul and his team again prayed with fasting when they needed to select and commission the elders of the new churches that were born out of their missionary journey (Acts 14:23). Can we follow in that pattern?

The spirit of hopelessness is rampant, the calls for division are being sounded, plans that might give us unity are being presented, and frustration and confusion are pervasive. The time is ripe for embracing voluntary weakness through prayer and fasting. Christ cannot give us unity if we are not willing to receive his grace and the unity that is his gift to the church. Could it be that this can come only through prayer and fasting?

Tammie Grimm ~ Daily Discipleship: to Keep the Feast and the Fast

It is Easter. Alleluia! Or, more properly, it is Easter-tide. Palm fronds saved from Sunday’s service two weeks ago are woven homemade crosses drying on the kitchen windowsill or (in my case, on the pile of mail stacked on my desk). The signs and symbols of Lent and Holy Week – along with the bins of empty plastic eggs – are packed up as we savor the last morsels of Easter chocolate many of us denied ourselves for lo those forty days. Refreshed by caffeine enjoyed anew with gusto, we put decorations into storage till next year’s Lenten fast returns and we begin the ritual again by asking ourselves “What to give up for Lent this year?”

To be honest, I did not give up chocolate or caffeine for Lent this year. Or last year for that matter. And as long as I have plans to travel to England during Lent I will not give up chocolate or caffeine as my Lenten discipline. I will not purposefully cut myself off from the widely available British treat of chocolate covered digestives with a cuppa Yorkshire tea during my travels. But traveling hasn’t stopped me from being more creative and circumspect about my choice of fast. This year I fasted (with varying degrees of struggle and success) from dependency on social media so that I might grow more mindful of my dependence upon God.

For the last several weeks, I have contemplated the rhythms of fasting and feasting as a part of Christian discipleship. How does the experience of fasting help shape us when we finally break it and enjoy the feast? In what ways are our daily lives punctuated by choices we make to abstain from certain pleasures so we might be more conscious of our need for God? And, conversely, how do we share the joy we receive in the presence of God with one another so we seek to extend it further into our communities? How and why should fasting and feasting be a part of our discipleship, our way of living that is meant to help us grow in Christlikeness?

Last month, while in England, I had the opportunity to read the manuscripts of early Methodist pioneer Mary Bosanquet Fletcher housed in the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester. Having taken requisite Methodist history classes in seminary, I knew Mary Fletcher was the first woman John Wesley permitted to preach in the 1770s. Later, she became the wife of John Fletcher, who is often considered the theologian of the Methodist movement. They were married for four years before his death and her continuation of their ministry in the same parish for the next thirty years before her death. Her journals, diaries, private thoughts, and letters embody the largest collection of Methodist papers in existence with the sole exception of John Wesley’s papers. Though I had expressed research purposes relating to my doctoral thesis, the experience of reading her handwriting ministered to my heart and soul in ways I never could have imagined.

It wasn’t the words that Mary Fletcher used that illustrated something fresh to me about discipleship. It was the ebb and flow of her journal entries among the occasions she regularly recorded over the decades. There were times in which her entries were considerably more sparse contrasted by other times in which her entries were especially numerous.

But without fail, on holy days, significant birthdays and anniversaries, she journaled about her experiences in private prayer, public worship and the holy conversation she had with persons she knew through her ministry. Journaling was an indelible feature of Mary Fletcher’s life. Other writing projects she authored and published for the Methodist movement may have diverted her from her personal journaling at times, but I am convinced that journaling was as much as her discipleship as was Bible study, regular Eucharist, tithing and participating in regular class and band meetings.

The spiritual disciplines help us establish a way of living our lives for Christ. Mary Fletcher, like John Wesley, called spiritual disciplines “means of grace” which are the regular things we do as Christians that open us up to God’s grace and the activity of the Holy Spirit in this world. Discipleship is living in those daily moments, submitting ourselves regularly to God so divine grace can make us more Christlike.

Holy fasts and holy feasts are special events which offer perspective to the ordinary everyday. Fasts and feasts ebb and flow throughout the year to help transform the everyday experience. These holidays (or holy-days) highlight our regular disciplines, transcending them from the daily fabric of our existence, which in turn, gives back to the ordinary-ness of our lives as we grow in Christlikeness.

There are times I wondered if a Lenten fast is nullified by Easter feasting. In reading Mary Fletcher’s journals, noting the ebb and flow with which she made journal entries, I understood her seasons of profuse writing were not negated by the seasons of terseness. Nor did periods she lapsed in writing void those periods of profusion. She was consistently journaling, reflecting on God’s goodness and allowing divine grace to transform her to become a worthy example to many as she became more and more like Christ. Like a tide that ebbs and flows upon a shore, the disciplines are like waves, ever-present with the rising and falling of the water. Discipleship is a life-long endeavor, regularly punctuated by the fasts and feasts we keep, consistently renewing and transforming us so we might be worthy vessels to offer the life giving water of Christ to a parched and weary world.

Matt Sigler ~ Lent with a Wesleyan Accent

The Lenten season begins on Wednesday; but, interestingly John Wesley omitted this season from the Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America, his edition of the Book of Common Prayer that he sent to the Methodists in America. His omission is likely because of the emphasis he placed on the constant practice of scriptural holiness. Methodists were not to limit their pursuit of holiness to particular times of the year. Wesley’s omission is more of an indictment of the nominalism of much of the Church of England during his day than it is on Lent itself.

Yet this was my response when, as a college student, I was asked over lunch what I was giving up for Lent. My rather self-righteous reply was “I don’t need a particular season in order to practice fasting.” Since then, however, my position on observing Lent has taken quite a different turn. Here are three reasons why I observe Lent as a Wesleyan.

One Great Motivation

The Christian practice of observing Lent is motivated by one great longing: “I want to know Christ…” Paul’s words are the cry of all of us who love the Christ. Every attempt at knowing Jesus leads us to the cross. We are reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16 that if we want to “come after” Jesus, we too must go to the cross. This is the godly motivation of observing Lent; something that can all too easily get obscured by the giving up of trifle indulgences on the one hand, or self-flagellation on the other—the type of Lenten practices Wesley rejected.

Full Surrender is the Catalyst for Christian Perfection

Observing the season of Lent forces us to be intentional about dying with Christ. Lent provides us the opportunity to journey with Christ in the desert and remember that all of the devil’s promises are rooted in one great lie: that we can find ultimate fulfillment on our own terms. The spiritual practice of fasting—something Wesley did weekly—is given pinpoint focus during this time. We fast to remind ourselves that only Jesus is enough. And in this time we are called to fully surrender our lives to him. This is an exercise of our will, a laying down of all that we are. As Wesleyans we should note that fully surrendering our lives to Christ is the prime catalyst for sanctification.

Amplifying Easter

It should come as no surprise that Wesley kept Easter in the Sunday Service as the primary Christian feast. He, like most Christians, recognized the centrality of the Resurrection. Lent, in fact, is ultimately about Easter.

A celebration of Easter without a prior descent into the grave is dishonest and naïve, just as observing Lent without the uncompromising proclamation of the Resurrection is hopeless.

The liturgy that bookends the Lenten/Easter journey reminds us of this. It begins with acknowledging our mortality and utter need for the Lord: “From dust you have come, to dust you will return.” Lent ends with the ancient, joyous proclamation: “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” During the Lenten season, we journey to the cross in hopes that we might die with Christ to be raised to life with Him. In observing Lent as a Wesleyan, I am reminded that John and Charles Wesley were persons clearly gripped by the Story of God. This is what Lent is ultimately about: living more fully into that Story.

About five years after my conversation in the college cafeteria, I decided to dive into the season of Lent for the first time. My desire was simply to follow Christ into his Story. It was a powerful forty days that ended with the Easter Vigil, an ancient service that traces the story of God’s salvation in Christ, marking the transition from Lent to Easter. During the service I was struck, in a way too deep for words, with the reality that I had died and my life was now “hidden with Christ in God.” The memory of that moment continues to be one filled with grace.

John Wesley did not live to see the significant changes that were made during the Second Vatican Council. He was never impacted by the Liturgical Renewal Movement of the 20th century. In many respects both movements sought to reform the observance of Lent in a direction that Wesley would have been quite pleased with.

As a Wesleyan, I fully embrace the season of Lent as a season of renewal; not a time of temporarily embracing certain spiritual disciplines, but a season to dive deeper into the Story—an opportunity for God to continue his sanctifying work in me.

Kimberly Reisman ~ Becoming My Prayers

I frequently lead workshops on prayer, which I always find kind of odd because I’ve never felt myself to be much of an expert on that kind of thing. Prayer is hard work for me; it’s meaningful, but it’s hard. During my workshops I always focus at some point on intercessory prayer – prayer for needs beyond our own – and every time I do, a cartoon I saw years ago pops into my head: A guy sees a friend across the church parking lot. In the bubble above his head he thinks, “Uh oh! I told Bob I’d pray for him! … Dear God, bless Bob.” Then he waves and says, “Hey Bob! Been praying for ya!”

There are a lot of levels to intercession – praying for needs beyond our own – but every time I think of this cartoon I’m reminded of an important truth: praying for others isn’t so much about rattling off the words of our prayers (even if those words are more genuine than in the cartoon). It’s about becoming our prayers. I believe God responds to our prayers – there’s mystery here I know, but I believe it despite and maybe even because of that mystery. The interesting thing about praying for needs that aren’t our own is that many times God’s response is not as much directly about those needs as it is directly about us.

When I pray for the hungry, I know God responds, but that response almost always includes, “I hear you, I’m working, but what are you going to do about the hungry?” When I pray for people who are lonely, I know God responds, but that response almost always includes, “Okay, Kim. You know I’m a comfort to the lonely, but what are you going to do? How are you going to bring that person comfort?” At every turn it’s the same. “What are you going to do?” At every turn I realize it’s not just about the words of my prayers, even though they’re important, it’s about becoming my prayers.

Now this shouldn’t be a massive revelation; but it’s significant for me as I approach the season of Lent. During Lent we often focus on sacrifice. People give something up as a part of their spiritual discipline. I frequently give up diet coke, which those who know me, know isn’t an easy thing. Often I also fast twice a week. Also not an easy thing, at least for me. So I know that during the next several weeks I’m going to have to decide what kind of spiritual discipline I will undertake to mark the season.

So why is the idea of becoming my prayers so significant for me right now? I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with a passage from Isaiah that seems to enter my mind every time I begin to think about engaging in any kind of “self-denial project”:

Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me.

‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’

I will tell you why! It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes.

Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal…

Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. (Isaiah 58:1-8, 10)

I often talk about “speaking faith,” which for me means (among other things) giving life to our ideas and beliefs by speaking them aloud. Moving them from the realm of our personal, interior selves to an external realm where they can become infectious and dynamic. That’s the kind of thing I want to happen to my prayers, to my fasting, to whatever self-denial I decide to undertake. I want to move them beyond my interior self. I want them to make a difference beyond the inner realm of my own personal spirituality.

In Healing of Purpose, John E. Biersdorf writes, “As an act of love, prayer is a courageous act. It is a risk we take. It is a life-and-death risk, believing in the promises of the gospel, that God’s love is indeed operative in the world. In prayer we have the courage, perhaps even the presumption and the arrogance or the audacity to claim that God’s love can be operative in the very specific situations of human need that we encounter.”

I believe God’s love can be operative in very specific situations of human need, that’s why I pray. But there’s a very real sense in which that love becomes operative only when I become my prayer, when I become my fast, when I become my self-denial. That’s when it becomes pleasing to God. That’s when God’s light shines out from the darkness and our darkness becomes as light as day.