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I was looking around my room the other day, thinking about the meantime.  There are a lot of things single people can do, which they can’t do (at least as much) once they’re married.  And these things don’t reflect badly on them as potential husbands and wives. 

A single person is in the perfect position to start his own business.  They have free time, small expenses, and no responsibility to be successful.  Starting a business is a learning experience, and if the business takes off, a person has an independent income for as long as they want to continue the business.  If things don’t work out, a person with the initiative to start their own business has the coveted work ethic employers are looking for, and shouldn’t have trouble finding a job.  Or, if no new responsibilities or opportunities arise, at this stage of life one might try again, starting a second or third business. 

Commonly, unmarried Christians will take advantage of their freedom, and explore the possibility of a call to singleness, through missions.  Week-long trips, month-long, or even longer missions are uniquely suited to the unattached.  They provide great spiritual formation, opportunities to build friendships with likeminded people, and possible paths for the future.  World travel is greatly encouraged, but it can be argued that mission trips do a better job exposing young people to real life in other cultures than tourism does. 

Money being freer during single years, I have invested a lot in building a library.  The contents are for rereading, referencing, sharing, teaching, and – ahem – reading for the very first time.  The books on the shelves encourage and challenge me, teach me and inspire me.  Some of the books are almost a part of me.  Time is also freer at this stage of my life, so I have done a lot of reading – something I anticipate tapering down when, God willing, I start a family. 

Staying up late into the night.

Doing devotions before bed.

Not cleaning my room.

Serving friends through babysitting, fellowship, home improvement.

Building relationships with siblings and parents.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I’m in between churches right now – between congregations. All summer and fall I’ve been casually attending the meetings of various friends. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to not be obligated to make an appearance at any one building on a Sunday morning. I might tell a friend I’m coming, or I might decide Saturday night. Some Sundays I sleep in. Sunday morning heathenism is rather refreshing.

Except it isn’t heathenism. A lot of what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is of heathen origin. But heathenism is a lot more than skipping a sermon and praise concert. It is a lifestyle of rejecting God, and that I certainly have not done.

I believe the Bible teaches Christians to gather regularly with each other. That isn’t something I have abandoned either. My recent experience is filled with times of fellowship and encouragement with other believers. We do ministry together, hold each other accountable for our walks with God, philosophically tackle the dilemmas we’re facing, study the Bible, and pray. During these times we also tend to eat, to play games, to laugh and tease, sometimes to work. Kids running around get swept up by disciples of Jesus, who – like Him – love children.

About a month ago some friends invited me to their church. I went that weekend. This week they asked me what I thought, and didn’t I like it (since I hadn’t been back). And I froze, because, well, I did like it. The people were friendly and the teachings were biblical and stimulating. But I don’t think I’ll join. This Sunday I did go back there, though. And my friends’ thirteen-year-old son confronted me, “I thought you said our church was just ‘ok’.”

Hard to explain. This particular church is on the good end of mainstream churches. They have good doctrine. A lot of their money goes to missions. Kids are with parents in church for most of the time, and youth aren’t separated from their families. The music isn’t too loud or too self-centered. With a congregation of about 50, the pastor and teachers can know everyone.

After pondering for a day or so, here is my answer to the thirteen-year-old friend: (it’s alliterative so I can remember!)
1) Plurality. There is only one pastor at the church. He’s the head man. I believe Jesus is the head of the Church, and that leadership beneath Him must be shared among more than one equal. Whenever real life cases are discussed in the New Testament, the word is used in the plural. (Elders) In this way they can model cooperation and problem solving. Congregations and pastors are kept mindful that Christ is the true head, and that the Church is His project. Also, when one is weak, there is another to be strong, the proverbial man to pick you up when you fall. Two are better than one and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Pastoring is a lonely job, being at the top instead of a part of your congregation as friends and brothers. My Bible describes a different sort of dynamic, where pastors are respected for being respectable and where everyone is exercising his gifts for the good of all: pastors, prophets, discerners, helpers, administrators, on and on.
2) Property. This was quite confusing to my friend, who expects people to scorn his church for meeting in the club house of a condominium complex. Whether you own a building, rent it, or have borrowed money from a bank to claim that you own it, all represent instances where the Church of God has used resources God entrusted to them not to do what He has instructed: caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and missionaries – but to have a separate place to meet. I believe churches are meant to be gathered in homes. Limited in size, surrounded by hospitality and everyday life, the atmosphere of house church encourages the participation of everyone, the familial fellowship of believers, and the synthesis of sacred and secular.
3) Preaching. The New Testament describes and even commends preaching. Except almost always the lecture style sermon was delivered to an unsaved audience. It is a tool of evangelism. And evangelism is not the purpose of the regular gathering of believers. In fact, the church meetings described in 1 Corinthians are much more open and unstructured than what we usually think of as church. No one was scheduled to speak. Anyone (any man?) was allowed to bring a word, be it a prophecy, a teaching, a tongue – as long as he spoke it for the edification of the group. He may share a testimony of God’s work or an instruction or challenge the Spirit laid on his heart to give to his friends. A teaching might be towards an identified deficiency of understanding or may flow out of the studies individuals are making during the week on their own. Prophecy may correct the direction the congregation is going, may identify weaknesses and strengths among them, may warn them, or may give them hope and vision for the future. Some verses indicate that individuals may also bring songs of their choosing to the meetings of believers, with which to encourage each other.

Now that I’ve said those things, I do believe that there is a place for the lecture-style teaching we call sermons. I really enjoy Bible conferences, and am not opposed to worship concerts where the band has practiced and is intending to honor God. When I visit my friends’ churches, I usually view those services as conferences, and I look for the Spirit-driven gatherings elsewhere. At this stage of my life I’m not content with the small groups and Bible studies that have been getting me by. So I’m still looking, reading books and searching websites from people who are practicing what the Bible teaches about Church. I’m excited to see where that leads.

Some questions remain, stronger tensions between the familiar and the ideal: how is authority supposed to work in the church? Is it important? Is it a matter of exercising authority or of submitting to authority? How much should we submit? What shall Christians do for evangelism? Wouldn’t it be better to team up? But is it wrong to invite people in to hear the gospel, or should we go out to them? Are women to speak in the church meetings? If not, why on earth did Paul say so? – Just to prove I don’t think I know everything!

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Earlier this week I was talking to an old friend.  As long as I’ve known him, he’s been talking about ways to make the most out of all the information in the world.  What it comes down to is community: I can’t read all the books and you can’t watch all the movies, but if we do a little of each, and then share the summaries or highlights, we’ve both benefited from double what we could have done ourselves.  Another thing he brought up was the difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Wisdom knows value.  Wisdom can make choices. 

 

You get on the internet and how do you decide whether to read the article about the presidential race or the news story about international affairs?  You go to the library: upstairs or down?  Fiction or nonfiction?  M’s or Biographies?  There’s so much you couldn’t hope ever to get to, yet gaining knowledge is good.  What makes you read Jane Austen over Dickens?  Why did you pick a mystery today, but a book about Iceland last week?  Or we could look at your household.  How do you decide between Monopoly with your kids, a movie with the family, or any of the hundred chores and projects you could do around the house? 

 

The choice is wrought by wisdom: your wisdom or someone else’s.  My same friend is an excellent story-teller.  He has the wisdom to know what details are essential to letting you feel right there a part of the story.  When I get on the internet most days, I’m not thinking of choices that are life-shattering.  “What’s this about?” I ask and click.  I found all of my favorite blogs by linking out of curiosity.  Why did that article catch my eye?  I believe this is providential grace.  Do I always see purpose in my trips to the library, the museum, or the web?  Are all of my conversations with friends evidently headed in a direction good for both of us?  I believe that, though I can’t always point to it. 

 

Fruit in our Christian life is a matter of wisdom.  It isn’t dutifully devouring the books in the library shelf by shelf until we are filled with useless facts and exhausted by blurry lines on the pages.  Christianity is walking in the Spirit’s wisdom.  And the Spirit produces fruit in our lives. 

 

Luke 10:27-42 contains two stories: the first is the Good Samaritan.  The second is one we’ve been studying in Sunday school for several weeks, Mary and Martha.  This week we’re got a glimpse of the context of Mary and Martha.  We can tend to see Jesus’ reproof of Martha as a call to abandon work almost entirely.  Churches today are so afraid of legalism that they can be afraid to tell people to work.  Who was most spiritual in the Good Samaritan story?  Who was most Christ-like?  Who obeyed the greatest commandment?  It’s significant that Martha’s story follows the account of the lawyer (asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?”) who wanted to “justify himself.”  He wanted to earn credit from God.  That’s not what ministry is about.  Let’s look at a proper perspective on service. 

 

Last week in Sunday school we talked about having “living room intimacy” with God.  A few weeks ago one of our teachers shared a little of what her living room is like with friends.  She’ll serve them, but wants them to help themselves to refills or anything they need.  I love most to visit my friends and spend the day with them, changing diapers, folding laundry, etc.  What I’m getting at is intimacy that goes beyond sitting at Jesus’ feet, beyond the time of prayer and meditation on His words.  Intimacy with Jesus is an active intimacy, too.  It doesn’t turn off when we get off our knees, or when the kids wake up, when we’re at work, driving, relaxing, or even when we’re on vacation. 

 

We work as a result of being with Jesus.  We can’t do everything, so we need wisdom to know which works to choose.  Follow Jesus’ example (taken from Joanna Weaver’s Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World).  He ministered in three ways:

 

         as He went on His way

         as He went out of His way

         in all kinds of ways

 

 

In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby writes that we should look for God at work and join Him there.  In John 5:19, Jesus describes His walk in the same way: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

 

We don’t get the impression from the gospels that Jesus published an itinerary.  His disciples rarely even knew where they were going or when.  Jesus was like a living pillar of cloud and fire that the Israelites followed.  Jesus knew where He was going, and the gospels even report at times that He had to go somewhere (Jn 4:4).  

 

Even in the story of Martha and Mary, when Jesus got to Bethany, He was on His way to Jerusalem.  What does this joining God at work look like? 

 

I’ve worked at the same office for seven years.  Over that time I’ve met some favorite patients and some least favorite.  Last week we saw one of my least favorite, a man who when he came last year was a test of my Christian love.  I didn’t want to love him, to want him to be saved, to be nice to him or anywhere around him.  I wanted him punished.  But I struggled with that, and prayed that God would help my weak heart to love my neighbors no matter who they were. 

 

This year when I saw his name on the books I started to pray, but my prayers were all different.  I prayed for an opportunity to share the gospel, and for the approach to take with the gospel.  Our patient needs Jesus, no question about it.  And for all the times I’ve asked God to never let this man come back to our office, God has brought him back year after year.  God doesn’t make me miserable for no reason, so I believe God is at work in that man’s life.  I didn’t get to share the gospel.  He came in and left without even stopping. 

 

But he came back the next day, and my gifted-evangelist brother shared the gospel with him.  How incredibly cool is that? 

 

Remember the story of the Good Samaritan?  He wasn’t out on a charity field trip.  He didn’t build a shelter for beaten and unconscious penniless men to recover if they could make it.  Luke 10:33 – “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.”  The Samaritan was on his way, paying attention to the needs of others.  He ministered on his way. 

 

But the difference between the Samaritan and the other, “religious” men in the story, was that after he met the needy man on the road, the Samaritan didn’t just toss him a drink or some money; he went out of his way to help him, just like Jesus would. 

 

Joanna Weaver points us to Matthew 14:1-22  for Jesus’ example.  The first part of this chapter describes the death of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.  John was the first to proclaim Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God,’ and actually baptized Jesus.  In response to news of his friend’s execution, Jesus goes apart by Himself.  The crowds find Jesus, but He doesn’t immediately send them away.  Instead, according to verse 14, Jesus “saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  Note the word “compassion.” 

 

“He laid aside his hurt so he could pick up their pain.  He laid aside his wishes so he could become their one Desire.  He laid aside his agenda so he could meet all of their needs.”  – Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World

 

There’s a lot of emphasis these days on our passion for ministry.  What do you just love doing?  God created you to be passionate about certain types of service, truths about Him, or people groups.  As youth leaders at church we’ve been talking about that.  And when you’re building a team with a mission, that’s good.  You want those passionate about interaction to be doing the fellowship, the teachers to be teaching, the servants to be running the snack bar or sound booth, the loud and energetic ones to be leading games.  God gave the body spiritual gifts, and He gave varieties to different people so that we could work together and be the best and strongest. 

 

But we’re not talking just about targeted long-term missions. 

 

Compassion is different from passion.  Compassion is why Jesus went out of His way to meet the needs of the multitudes.  Compassion is why Jesus went out of His way to make me His.  And compassion is willing to serve wherever needed. 

 

Jesus ministered in all kinds of ways. 

 

What if Jesus had said, “Blind people aren’t my ministry; I heal the lame”?  Or “You’re a Roman; I only help Jews”? 

 

Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, healed lepers, taught Pharisees, fielded questions from lawyers and peasants.  Jesus played with kids and cleansed the temple.  Nothing and no one was off limits to Him. 

 

Yeah, you say.  That’s Jesus.  Of course He could do everything. 

 

Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

 

God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the same Spirit from whom we get the terms “spiritual gifts,” and “fruit of the Spirit.”  So no excuses.  If God is leading you to a ministry, whether for five minutes, five days, or for a lifetime, He’s going to supply the gifting.  Remember the idea of spiritual gifts is that they are supernatural.  If we could do it without God, they wouldn’t be spiritual gifts.  Ministry is God’s power working through us.  And that Power, that God, is exactly what the world needs. 

 

Remember the story of Peter and John from Acts 3:6-9 where they heal the lame man?  Peter offers the man first Jesus and second healing.  We need to have that intimacy with God (from spending particular time with Him) that gives us insight into physical and spiritual needs of those around us.  They need Him more than money, free food or good counseling.  Even the people not like the Samaritan’s neighbor, not at death’s door, desperately need to believe that there is a God with Power that they can trust. 

 

So we’re serving out of our intimacy with God, continuing the journey and joining Him in His work.  We serve and bear fruit as we go, when we embrace God’s interruptions of our plans and go out of our way to help, and reach out in all kinds of ways.  You see a person in need.  What do you have to offer? 

         Compassion that comes because God loves them.  When we spend time with God, we get His heart.  We start to love people because God loves them, and because we love what God loves.  The word compassion is an overflow of feeling.  If it doesn’t produce action, it isn’t compassion. 

         Compassion that sees their need as more than outward.  Going through our daily lives with God is a good way to keep in mind that there’s more to life than what we see or feel.  People have needs that are physical, and God calls us to care for those in distress.  But God left us on earth to spread the good news. 

         Passion for God’s glory that can’t hold it in.  Getting to know our God produces more and more enthusiasm for who He is.  Then we can’t help sharing it.  Everyone should know about God; He should get credit from everyone for the goodness that He is and does. 

 

This whole lesson on fruit is based on the idea of abiding in Christ, summed up in John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  When we have that intimacy with Jesus, we’re like a zucchini vine.  Joanna Weaver writes, “Fruit happens.  You get connected to the Vine and pretty soon you’ve got zucchini – tons and tons of zucchini.  So much zucchini you just have to share!”  If our fruit doesn’t point back to the vine, though, we’re just working.  We’re Marthas, cumbered about with that load of rocks (acts of service or ministry) God didn’t give to us, trying to earn credit from God for all the good things we do.  We’re trying to tackle the whole library.  Christian work is from “walking in the Spirit” (that living room intimacy picking up and moving through the whole house), the Spirit who glorifies Himself, and who gives people what they need and not a cheap substitute.  If all we have to offer the world is our love by ourselves, or our money, or our help – they’re not getting nearly what they need. 

 

Jesus promises that men will recognize His followers by their love (John 13:35), and sure enough, Peter and John were identified as Jesus’ disciples because they boldly healed the lame man in Jesus’ name, and would not be deterred by the religious incumbents, though the apostles were untrained and uneducated.  Jesus had made a noticeable impact on their lives (Acts 4:13). 

 

We had elections in this country last week.  Compare the US to China.  In China the Christians are often officially persecuted for their faith.  But most of them aren’t fighting to transform the government.  They know their real mission – and only hope – is to transform lives.  God changes lives when He is known in His people’s love.  “Chinese Christians devoted themselves to worship and evangelism.  They concentrated on changing lives, not changing laws.”  – Philip Yancey

 

Does the world know WHOSE you are? 

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Last Friday I had some of my dear friends over to spend the night.  As the girls fell asleep to a movie in my living room, I prayed for them because I had to.  There was no urgent need, but urgent feeling.  The next day as we spoke I felt convicted to get back to praying specifically on a regular basis.  I have been praying, but it has been need-based, and not diligent. 
 
Sunday morning my pastor preached on prayer.  I know this fact, even though I wasn’t there, and that’s enough.  Sunday afternoon there was a youth leaders meeting where the veterans reiterated the essential role prayer plays in making a meeting or ministry successful.  Filled with a sense of the needs, and the knowledge that God wanted me to refocus, I had a marvelous Sunday and Monday filled with intentional prayer.  And then I stayed up late, and slept in and stayed up and slept in.  I’ve been praying, but it hasn’t been the intentional, set aside time I resolved to do. 
 
Wednesday my mom taught the Awana Sparks about the Lord’s Prayer, and in our weekly debriefing of funny things kids said, she shared part of her lesson.  Afterward I read a new article on one of my favorite websites – it was on the Lord’s Prayer, too. 
 
This week I also received in the mail the newest Michael Card album, Hymns.  The first or second song (most listened to if you push play right before you fall asleep each night) is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  There is a part of that song I remember a pastor talking about a long time ago.  The author of the hymn wrote “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it… Here’s my heart, o, take and seal it…”  He did wander.  That’s the testimony of his life.  He knew himself.  His heart needed sealed. 
 
So does my heart, because it wanders.  In some ways this week has been beautiful, but it’s only because I’ve spotted God’s grace and messages, not because I’ve had victory in yielding to them.  I know everything about the need to be content, but I just am not content.  My heart isn’t focused.  I’m not diligent with my time or energy, or responsible with my money.  I’m tired. 
 
On Sunday something said at the leader’s meeting reminded me of Galatians 6:9: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”  Like a breath of keenest fresh air to one suffocating, I needed every ounce of the hope in that verse.  There is conviction in Paul’s words also.  That is what I want to focus on today.  
 
Proverbs 4:20-27, “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.
Let them not depart from thine eyes;
keep them in the midst of thine heart.
For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
Keep thy heart with all diligence;
for out of it are the issues of life.
Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.
Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
 
The word “keep” in verse 21 is shamar, “keep, give heed” like a shepherd or watchman. The word “keep” in verse 23 is natsar, “guard, watch over.”  So Solomon’s words, inspired of the Holy Spirit, are to be kept.  And my heart is to be kept.  How is this done? 
 
The first thing Solomon mentions after this command is speech.  There is a lot about speech in Ephesians, but this reminds me also of James, whose vivid description of the tongue as the spark that sets a forest on fire opens with “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” 
 
We’ve probably all heard the question, “Who’s being walked?  The dog or the human?”  A man holds a leash with the cord wrapped around his hand several times in the manner of a bull-rider.  The dog strains ahead, eager, easily distracted.  Sometimes the man seems to be pulled along against his will.  Other times the firm hold on the leash restrains and directs the pet.  The image of a bridle in James is that of me being both dog and master, horse and driver.  The bridle doesn’t just restrain; it guides.  It controls and regulates.  This is self-control, one of the fruit of the Spirit, also known as temperance.  Many of the fruit of the Spirit involve a self-command or restraint. 
 
Solomon goes on to talk about our eyes.  Ok, I can’t resist.  One of the best songs kids ever learn is “Oh be careful little eyes,” and actually I think we should make teenagers and adults sing it, too.  Do you remember it?  Oh be careful little tongue what you say, oh be careful little tongue what you say.  For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little tongue what you say.  Oh be careful little eyes what you see.  Oh be careful little feet where you go.  Tongue, Eyes, Feet.  Ponder your path.  Don’t get distracted.  Keep control of your tongue.  Guard your heart.  Commit to focusing on wisdom and truth and goodness.  “Set your mind on things above.”  
 
Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit.  All the virtues are connected.  Love is a choice.  Joy is something we are commanded to have.  Peace, Philippians tells us, is a result of giving our anxieties to God in prayer.  Patience, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.  Meekness has been described as power under control.  This may be what Mr. Darcy had in mind when he defended his character and his quiet nature by saying, “Where there is real superiority of mind, pride will always be under good regulation.”  While at first impression this seems like another evidence of Mr. Darcy’s arrogance, it has been suggested by those sympathetic to his character that what he was saying was a strong enough mind knew how to keep his pride – his selfish impulses – under control.  His reluctance to speak when he might be tempted to go too far is a sign of his meekness rather than of his pride. 
 
Dennis Prager is a strangely blended Jewish moralist who speaks, writes, and hosts a radio show.  Though his is by no means an absolute authority, he makes a good point by saying that happiness comes from the mind making choices over the instinct for fun or pleasure.  The mind knows better than feelings.  It can make choices based on the long-term.  Essentially he is saying that self-control brings happiness. 
 
Self-control, or temperance, is from the Greek egkrates, “strong, robust; having power over, possessed of (a thing); mastering, controlling, curbing, restraining; controlling one’s self, temperate, continent.”  Strength is active, working both on itself and on progress.  Tolkien describes a curb not only as a limit to where one can go, but as a tool for navigation: a ditch, bank, or curb would enable one to stay on a road in the dark or in a fog.  So limits restrain us, but they also get us to our destination.  Solomon warns against off-roading. 
 
Peter says to add temperance to knowledge, and patience to temperance (2 Peter 1:6).  A pastor is told to be temperate in Titus 1:8.  He is also required to be sober: “curbing one’s desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate”  Titus 2:5 uses the same word to describe that which a young woman ought to be taught.  It is translated “discreet” in KJV.  Modesty is a consequence of discretion.  Sobriety is the opposite of drunkenness or dissipation, in which control of yourself is loosed.  Dissolution is a word meaning exactly that “cut loose”, and it leads to all sorts of sinful indulgence and decadence.  I need to be moderate. 
 
Paul depicted this virtue in 1 Corinthians 9, in the metaphor of an athlete. 
 
1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all,
but one receiveth the prize?
So run, that ye may obtain. 
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.
Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 
But I keep under my body,
and bring it into subjection:
lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
 
Every man who strives for the mastery (enters the contest, contends for the prize) is temperate in all things.  Verse 27 says “I keep under my own body,” the word used here is a practice of athletes, to use their bodies roughly to make themselves tough or conditioned.  It comes from a word for the part of the face that turns into a black eye if punched.  Some Christians known as ascetics took this too far; they were so focused on abusing themselves that they forgot to do anything fruitful.  Rather, this is the same word Jesus employs in Luke 18, where He is teaching me to be diligent in prayer. 
 
Luke 18:1-8, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end,
that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying,
Avenge me of mine adversary. 
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself,
Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her,
lest by her continual coming she weary me. 
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him,
though he bear long with them? 
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.
Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh,
shall he find faith on the earth?”
 
The judge was made weary (kept under, conditioned) by the widow’s persistent appeal. 
 
Back in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul also says that he brings his body under subjection, he makes a slave of it using stern discipline.  One stern discipline, an exercise in self-control and dependence on God, is fasting.  Fasting should never be about indulging my own cravings, whether sensual, for food, for the praise of men, or to soothe my conscience.  Isaiah 58, beginning in verse 3, contains God’s design for fasting. 
 
Isaiah 58:3-11, “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not?
wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?
Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure,
and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness:
ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul?
is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen?
to loose the bands of wickedness,
                            to undo the heavy burdens,
                                                   and to let the oppressed go free,
                                                               and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry,
and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?
when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him;
and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning,
and thine health shall spring forth speedily:
and thy righteousness shall go before thee;
the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. T
hen shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer;
thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.
If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger,
and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul;
then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought,
and make fat thy bones:
and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.”
 
In a paradoxical way, while fasting is about denying one’s self, it is for the purpose of releasing bonds and weights.  Fasting is reliance on God, not only for what I don’t have, but also with what I do.  Fasting is always accompanied with prayer.  1 Peter 5:7 says to cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.  In the Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus speaks on prayer, He goes into teaching on fasting.  Though food is good, or other things from which you might fast, the exercise of self-denial and sacrifice and dependence and focus on God is good.  All things are lawful, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, but not everything is beneficial.  When I practice what is beneficial, I am stronger for the unexpected temptations when I must deny myself. 
 
I must be ready, then, by exercising self-control, to do good works.  Pray with perseverance and persistence.  Be steadfast.  Stand therefore.  Gird up the loins of your mind, and be sober, that you may be ready in and out of season to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.  Hope is even described in the Bible as an anchor – the image of stability and strength.  Do not be slothful, but fervent in whatever you do.  Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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