Friday, March 25, 2011

The Quest: Clarification

Why are we fasting?

Until we know for sure, until we clarify that, we're just depriving ourselves of something for 40 days.  And maybe we'll feel like we accomplished something and feel really good about our spirituality.  

And I don't think any of us fast just to pat ourselves on the back.  Honestly, there are easier ways to improve our self-esteem.  

Sometimes we fast and pray for something specifically.  Like I spent a school year fasting every Monday for my kids.  A friend and I did this together, and then every Monday afternoon, my friend came over after work, and we prayed.  

When my son Jason started using drugs, quit school and his job and decided to move to Alabama, I fasted for ten days, begging God to change his heart.  It wasn't about the drugs or Alabama--I was asking God to speak to Jason's heart, and for Jason to open his heart to God's voice.  

That was eight years ago, and I'm still waiting.  

Fasting isn't a super-formula for answers to prayers.  And if we look at it like that, we can get really discouraged.  We might even get angry with God.  (We deprived ourselves, and he didn't even listen!)

During that ten-day fast, when I begged God everyday to intervene on Jason's behalf, I drew closer to God.  I got to know him better.  I listened to him more carefully.  

He comforted me.  He taught me to rely on him and trust him.  

And this is it.  We can pray about something specifically when we fast, but ultimately our fast is a quest to draw closer to God, to know him better.  

I think sometimes we forget that there's nothing more important than that.  And we best get to know God when we look at the face of Jesus.  He is the image of the invisible God, the exact representation of God.  When we see Jesus, we see God.  

Paul says nothing is more important than getting to know Jesus.  And yet we make so many things in our lives more important than getting to know him.  At least I do.  

I've been reading and praying through Brennan Manning's "19 Mercies: A Spiritual Retreat" at the end of newer editions of A Ragamuffin Gospel , and Manning urges us to ask ourselves the question that Jesus asked of his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"

It's just not possible to answer that question authentically unless we take the time to get to know Jesus personally. Otherwise, if we're really honest, we're saying things like, "My pastor says you're Lord."  My friend says you're her joy.  My Bible study leader says you're the Savior of the world.  

We can repeat back what other people have said about Jesus, and we can even believe them, but until we begin to know him on a deep, intimate level, we're just talking.  

Manning writes: 
Describe the Christ you have personally encountered on the grounds of your own self.  Describe Him as you would to a friend over coffee.  Describe not the deity you have heard about or been taught to believe exists, but only the Christ you have really encountered. (235)
So I've been thinking about this over the last few days.  Who is Jesus?  How do I know him?  How has he entered in my life?  When have I seen him move in my life, speak to my soul, correct me, advice me, teach me?  

I spent some time journaling, writing about how I know Jesus, who he is to me.  It's been interesting to remember times long ago.  I want more of those times.  I want to say with Paul - 
No matter how important something seems, I consider it worthless compared to the amazing privilege of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I gladly surrender all things.  In fact, I consider those things garbage if it means that I gain Christ and be found in him.  I can never be good enough, my broken life patterns get in the way, and I can never follow all the laws of righteousness.  So I cling to him.  He is my righteousness by faith.   
I want to know Christ.  I want to know the power of his resurrection.  I want to know the fellowship of sharing in his suffering.  I want to become like him in his death.  I want to obtain resurrection from the dead. 
And I don't know him enough yet.  There's so much more.  So I press on.  I keep moving forward to know Christ.  I put everything else aside, anything that gets in the way of knowing him, honoring him, serving him, following him.   
Nothing else matters.
I've taken a little liberty with the paraphrase, but you can read it here if you want.

But back to fasting.  When we give something up, something that's a huge part of our life, it's hard.  Sometimes it really does seem like it's not worth it.  I mean, God hears us when we're not fasting, right?  And God didn't say that we have to fast, did he?

But when we choose to give something up, when we choose to make knowing Jesus more important than the thing that we so desperately miss, we focus on Him, getting to know Him, listening to Him.

And really, nothing else matters compared to that.  

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