Friday, January 23, 2015

Praying and Fasting For Spiritual Discernment

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.  Psalm 27:14

Here are three important things to remember in fasting:
1) Fasting always involves food!   The Hebrew root  for fast means “to cover the mouth.” The Greek root word for fast means “to abstain from food.
 2) Fasting always  involves prayer! Fasting without prayer is nothing more than a diet.  Our focus during the fast is spiritual nourishment, we can’t neglect out prayers and petitions during the fast.
 3) Fasting always  involves waiting! Fasting puts our spirit, soul and body into a position where we wait to hear, to receive direction and ultimately find.
Why pray and fast?

The prophet Daniel is one of the many examples of Prayer and Fasting for spiritual discernment.  In Daniel 1 we see Daniel requesting permission to not eat from the King’s table  however this is really not a fast as Daniel is simply avoiding the food that were prohibited by God.

Daniel 9 is a great example of fasting and prayer.  

In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes[a] (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian[b] kingdom— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

Note that Daniel pleads with the Lord, he is not only fasting but humbling himself as well through the use of sackcloth and ashes.   How he prays while he is fasting is also a great example of how to pray while fasting:

“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. (Daniel 9:5-6)

Daniel understands that it is not God but the people that have caused their misery.  They are in captivity and will be for seventy years because they were wicked and rebelled; they turned away from the commandments of the Lord

We should fast and pray the same!

Everyone in the Body of Christ throughout this nation could repeat Daniel’s prayer and fast.  We have fallen so short of what God planned for this country.   The Pew Forum reports that presently less than half o the people in this country that was founded on the principles of God even attend church anymore.

Note how Daniel’s prayer is answered:

20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill— 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision. (Daniel 9:20-23)

In this instance Daniel received an immediate answer from the Lord.  In the very next chapter however he is told that the answer from the Lord was delayed for 21 days:

12 Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.” (Daniel 10:12-14)

I’m sure that Daniel was happy that he had decided to fast and pray for the full 21 days.    Daniel understood the principles of fasting and prayer.  It involved ‘shutting the mouth’,  eliminating certain foods from his diet. It was a period of intense prayer; Daniel cried out and confessed his sins and the sins of the people. Fasting involved waiting; Daniel was patient. If the people were to be in captivity for 70 years, he could pray and fast for 21 days to seek God’s release and redemption. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Primary Prayer

I have a good friend that was ‘exploring’ Christianity. She previously had been involved in Eastern mysticism, had explored reincarnation but was now embracing Jesus and was interested in this faith we call Christianity.  When she told me she was gong to a weekend Christian retreat I was excited for her.  

However, when she returned the people at the retreat had messed with her mind, as she no longer knew how to pray. They were so emphatic in what she could do, what she couldn’t do, how she was to pray in faith, how she was to pray in Jesus name, how she was to pray and not doubt….that it took months for the rest of us to get her back to the child-like faith that she had demonstrated before the retreat.  While these were all good individual teachings, God is bigger than these limitations. 

I mention this because it is with some caution that I offer the suggestion that we should be praying ‘Primary’ prayers.  By primary prayers, I’m not referring to elementary or childish prayers but instead a primary prayer is a prayer that aligns the petitioner with the will of God the Father

Why is this important?

It’s critical that we pray according to the will of the Father. While this is sometimes difficult to discern it is taught in the Bible: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:5)

How then can we pray according to the Father's will?  How do we do this?

1) Entrust yourself to God’s loving authority

Jesus believed this and taught this: "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." (John 6:38, NIV)   Knowing that God is sovereign in our lives and that He knows what is best for us, provides us with the opportunity to pray in a manner that it is ‘not my will but yours’ Lord.

2) Focus on God’s Priorities

Jesus said we were not to worry, not to be anxious about life “but seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33).  So much of our prayers are based on worry and fear,  but we are not to be anxious. Therefore our prayer life needs to be focused on God’s promises for us, His plan for our lives and the lives of those that we care for and pray for as well.

3) Follow the pattern of Jesus

With all that in mind, how can we avoid the frustration that commonly accompanies our prayers? I believe the answer lies in understanding the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven, 
Hallowed be thy name. 
Thy kingdom come, 
Thy will be done, 
On earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread. 
And forgive us our debts, 
As we also have forgiven our debtors. 
And lead us not into temptation, 
But deliver us from evil.

The Lord’s Prayer is a ‘Primary Prayer.’   It identifies that it is God that provides, it is He who gives purpose in our lives.   In our primary prayers, it is we that need to change; we should not be trying to change God.  We pray in a manner that aligns us, and reminds us, with what we know is God’s will for our lives.

Perhaps an example is needed.  A primary prayer is about God's plan and provision, a secondary prayer is about an immediate outcome we want from God.  We are often asked to pray for people that are in need of a job. Rather than praying that John, or Jane, or Rebecca gets the job at ABC company, thank God for his provision (our daily bread); pray that your friends will have clarity of thought, that they will be guided into the position that is right for them. Pray that they will be able to provide for their family, that their children will be blessed by the provision and even the abundance that is provided by God.  Call to mind the scripture that says, “ I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread" (Psalm 37:25).

In Romans 12:2, Paul says, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  A primary prayer for ourselves and friends would be the same; that we would be transformed by the renewing of our minds...that we would know the perfect will of God.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Unwanted Job Transition

Being in transition of any kind can be unsettling.   A job transition can be even more frustrating as it will not only impact the family finances but also gets into the actual persona, the identify of the person.

Men continue to identify themselves more often with their job than women.  Studies have shown that men identify closely with their trade, profession and even the company that employs them.    I can relate as I had over twenty years with Ford Motor Company and it took years for me to understand I was more than what it said on my business card.

The common practice of saying someone is in ‘transition’ rather than ‘temporarily out of work’ is an indication how weird this transition can feel. 

Here are some lessons I’ve learned from not only personal experience but also in years of observation and hopefully some times of encouragement as I’ve met with so many people that are in some type of job transition.

1. Take the opportunity to take stock of skills, education and training.   All too often people rush to immediately find a new job when a little introspection and self-examination can reveal opportunities that wouldn’t have been considered without the transition, no matter how unfair or unexpected.

2. Think ‘network’ rather than ‘application’ as one of the most important and critical elements in finding a new job.   Ask people if they know of jobs that may be available rather than asking for the job itself.  It’s an easier ask and if you are qualified and they have something available, they will tell you.

3. Have faith, which creates a positive persona and attitude rather than fear, that creates anxiety and according to physicians, memory loss. Memory issues are not a good thing when interviewing for a new job.

4. Have patience.  Having patience is difficult when there are bills to pay and money is short.  Having cash savings equal to three-months of regular income is really required these days.  Forbes magazine says that the average job stay is about four and a half years.  If only half of those are unwanted vs. opportunistic job hopping, most employees will find themselves in a transition on average once every ten years.   Patience allows the person to make wise decisions, create opportunities for themselves and their families and perhaps even make lemonade from a serving of lemons.

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