Living life from the center of the story

I’ve often wished I could crawl into H.G Well’s time machine. Perhaps you have too, but our bodies anchor us to the present. Moving back in the past or getting a peak at the future is only available in science fiction.  Yet while we are physically bound within the limitations of time, our thoughts, emotions, and choices are not.

For instance the Christian is to be grateful that his sins of the past have been forgiven (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Likewise, he is to live his life with the end in view.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you (Philippians 3:13-15).

You and I tend to live our lives from the center of our story. Such a temporal perspective will cause us to feel trapped by our circumstances. For instance, when things are going well, that’s great; but when things are difficult it’s easy to get discouraged.

When we read about biblical characters it’s easier for us to see the end of the story.

Here are a few examples:

  • We know that Moses will be used to split the Red Sea, and victoriously lead the Israelites out of Egypt; but we forget that he cared for sheep in the desert for 40 years first.
  • We read the letters of Paul, and know that they have ministered to millions of people, but we forget that they were written when Paul was facing beatings, danger, toil, and hardship (2 Cor. 11:24-27).

We live life from the center of the story, but our thinking is not trapped there. We must learn to set our eyes on the end of the story. When life is challenging today, remember God’s promises for tomorrow. Here’s one:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Finding hope in despair…

During difficult times we all need hope. The Psalmist captured it this way:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation (Psalm 42:5).

 I can’t remember who said it, but the words were wise:

If I am in despair my hope must be in the wrong place.

A simple search on the phrase hope in brought about the following results. Read them slowly and soak them in.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love (Psalm 33:18).

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you (Psalm 33:22).

Though he slay me, I will hope in him (Job 13:15).

… So that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments (Psalm 78:7)

Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word (Psalm 119:74).

You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word (Psalm 119:114).

. . . Hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption (Psalm 130:7)

. . . But the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love (Psalm 147:11).

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:22-24).

And here are some others passages on hope:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

. . . so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain (Hebrews 6:18-19).

So if you find you’re in despair, perhaps it’s time to refocus your hope. What are you hoping in…?

The spiritual benefits of fasting

In our world of instant gratification and fast-food restaurants most of us assume that when we’re hungry that means we should eat. But what might happen if our stomach’s prompting was a reminder to pray, not simply to eat? Such is the purpose of fasting.

In his excellent article, Nine Reasons to Fast other than It’s Swimsuit Season Don Whitney references Biblical occurrences for fasting. Here they are as food for thought (sorry I couldn’t resist that one).

1-To Strengthen Prayer (Ezra 8:23; Neh. 1:4; Dan. 8:3; Joel 2:12; Acts 13:3)

There’s something about fasting that sharpens the edge of our intercessions and gives passion to our supplications.

2-To Seek God’s Guidance (Acts 14:23)

Fasting does not ensure the certainty of receiving clear guidance from God. Rightly practiced, however, it does make us more receptive to the One who loves to guide us.

3-To Express Grief (2 Sam. 1:11-12; 1 Sam. 20:34)

We may also fast because of grief over our sins. Although it’s not a spiritual self-flagellation, biblical confession does involve at least some degree of grief for the sin committed. And inasmuch as fasting can be an expression of grief, it can serve as a voluntary, heartfelt part of confession.

4-To Seek Deliverance or Protection (Esther 4:16; 2 Chron. 20:3, 4)

Fasting, rather than fleshly efforts, should be one of our first defenses against “persecution” from family, schoolmates, neighbors, or coworkers because of our faith. Typically, we’re tempted to strike back with anger, verbal abuse, counter accusations, or even legal action, instead of appealing to God with fasting for protection and deliverance.

5-To Express Repentance and a Return to God (1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12)

This is similar to fasting to express grief for sin. But as repentance is a change of mind resulting in a change of action, fasting can also signal a commitment to obedience and a new direction.

6-To Humble Oneself before God (Psalm 35:13; 1 Kings 21:27-29)

Fasting, when practiced with the right motives, is a physical expression of humility before God, just as kneeling or prostrating yourself in prayer can reflect humility before Him. . . Remember that fasting itself is not humility before God, but should be an expression of humility. There was no humility in the Pharisee of Luke 18:12, who bragged to God in prayer that he fasted twice a week.

7-To Express Concern for the Work of God (Neh. 1:3-4)

A Christian might feel compelled to fast and pray for the work of God in a place that has experienced tragedy, disappointment, or apparent defeat. This was the purpose for Nehemiah’s fast when he heard that despite the return of many Jewish exiles to Jerusalem, the city still had no wall to defend it. After his fast, Nehemiah then went to work to do something tangible and public to strengthen this work of God.

8-To Overcome Temptation and Dedicate Yourself to God (Matt. 4:1-11)

There are times we struggle with temptation, or we anticipate grappling with it, when we need extra spiritual strength to overcome it. Perhaps we are traveling (or our spouse is traveling) and temptations for mental and sensual unfaithfulness abound. At the start of school or a new job or ministry there may be new temptations, or it may seem appropriate to dedicate ourselves anew to the Lord. . . In times of exceptional temptation, exceptional measures are required. Fasting to overcome temptation and renew our dedication to God is a Christlike response.

9-To Express Love and Worship to God (Luke 2:37)

Fasting can be an expression of finding your greatest pleasure and enjoyment in God. Fasting honors God and is a means of worshiping Him as such. It means that your stomach isn’t your god as it is with some (see Phil. 3:19). Instead it is God’s servant, and fasting proves it because you’re willing to sublimate its desires to those of the Spirit. . . Another way of fasting to express love and worship to God is to spend your mealtime in praise and adoration of God. A variation is to delay eating a particular meal until you have had your daily time of Bible intake and prayer. Just remember that your fast is a privilege, not an obligation.

The above article was adapted from the book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Don Whitney (chap. 9, NavPress, 1991).

The benefit of waiting: Dependence

Next time you feel like you’ve waited long enough for God to do something, reflect upon the characters of the Bible. Author Joann Weaver is bold enough to say what many of us were thinking when we read these stories.

Was it really necessary to leave Joseph rotting in an Egyptian prison cell for such an extended period? Was it vitally important that the Israelites wander in the desert for forty years and Noah drift on a flood for months in a boat that took perhaps a century to build? Were twenty-five years really necessary to move Abraham from the promise to Pampers? Surely there had to be simpler, not to mention faster, method by which to fulfill God’s purposes (Lazarus Awakening, p. 61).

We deeply desire independence. As we enter our teen years we crave it, and in our senior years we fear the loss of it. Perhaps it is because we long for that independence so much that God has us wait, even for a lifetime, for some of the things we desire. Waiting, like fasting, has the potential of developing a greater sense of dependence on our God. His leading. His plans. His purposes. If we respond properly to the waiting process we end up desiring our will less, and God’s will more.

With that understanding consider the following Scriptures.

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you (Psalm 25:21)

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:14)

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices . . . For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land (Psalm 37:7, 9)

But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer (Psalm 38:15).

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry (Psalm 40:1).

And Isaiah 40:30-31 remind us,

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

I once saw an eagle ascend on hot air thermals when I was fishing the Madison River in Montana. He continued to ascend effortlessly until he disappeared from my vision. In the five minutes that he was within my view, I never saw him beat his wings. He simply rode those hot air currents higher and higher. He was dependent on something other than his own strength.

The waiting period was intended that you and I might sense our weakness, inability, and frailty, and depend wholly on the Lord.