This Sunday I have the chance to preach at Christ Community Church in Sumter, SC. The pastor there is an old friend and he has entrusted his people to me while he is out of town. He is currently preaching through a series on the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7 and, not wanting to break the series up, he asked me to preach on the next series of verses that would come next if he were there to preach them. My topic: prayer and fasting (Matthew 6:5-8 & 16-18).
Hmmm. Prayer I get but fasting not so much. It is one of those spiritual disciplines that sounds difficult, not just to understand but to practice. So on I marched trying to learn as much about fasting as I could and to further understand what the Bible says about it. As I pulled my notes together for preparing my sermon I realized on a personal level at least one important truth about fasting - I desperately need God.
When I'm hungry, my stomach growls and lets me know it's time to eat. Actually, for me it goes a bit further. I'm not sure if I have sugar issues but when I do without food for too long the "grumpies" set in and I can be a bear to live with and be around (my wife will kindly testify to that). I get this overwhelming sense of need for food and it can lead to binging on things that I probably shouldn't consume in too great a quantity. This is followed by a guilty phase which consists of me wishing I wouldn't have eaten what I just did and desiring a little more self-control the next time around.
The funny thing is that I don't really need food when my stomach starts to growl and I get grumpy. Rather, I desire food at that time, not wanting to wait until it's time to eat but instead preferring to dig through the pantry or fridge for a snack. If you study Jesus' teaching on fasting then you find that it's to be a private practice, between you and God. It's you expressing your need and dependence upon God as all that you need to satisfy and sustain you.
I have no problem acknowledging my need for food when my stomach growls or I'm late for a meal. But what triggers my hunger pains for God? What is it that causes me to ache with a need to commune with my Lord? How often do I shrug off the emptiness that I sometimes feel in my soul only to fill it up with TV, internet, books, or other time-consuming activities?
My greatest need is for God. One of my favorite sayings comes from John Piper who, in describing all that the believer inherits upon salvation in his book God Is the Gospel, says that the greatest gift that we receive is God Himself. That is to say, at salvation we imagine that we receive eternal life and forgiveness of sins - both of which are true - but the greater realization is that we get God. God is our greatest need and He alone satisfies our deepest spiritual hunger.
This may sound trivial and silly, but when my stomach starts to growl it's not uncommon for my mind to go directly to God and His provision for me. I'm working on transferring my physical desires and cravings to that which draws me closer to God and not to my refrigerator. We must do whatever it takes to realize our desperate need for God and to seek Him alone to be our ultimate supply.
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