I’m in conversation with friends who believe that if they fail to fast for twelve hours straight they’ll lose their blessings. Some have even gone the distance to say they have fasted or abstained from food and drink for days at a time. Draining their body of nutrients and their soul of life a day at a time in hopes of attaining something from God in the process. Their purpose in bringing harm to their body was to convince God, perhaps, that they deserve something great. Why wouldn’t God bless someone who chastises their flesh?
Too often I find myself in these situations as well. What should I sacrifice so that I can manipulate the hands of the Divine to bless me? And, while in the process of attempting to convince Him of my goodness or devout pursuits, hopefully, I won’t fail or give up and thus lose that which I dream of. That which I ask for.
It could be a disease that I hope to be healed of. And an opportunity to write dozens of books and have at least half of them make it onto the NYT bestsellers list. Not that that makes the book any good but it would surely bring in a lot of cash. Perhaps the opportunity of a lifetime to work for the New York Times as a well-paid columnist or for the New Yorker as a go-to writer on observations of a Christianized culture. Perhaps as a writer for The Atlantic on the topic of cheese and watchmaking. I know very little about cheese and a thing or two about watches so I’d definitely qualify for their writing staff. And my mind sets off in hopes of using God, yes, I said ‘using’ because that’s what we like to do. Let’s be honest. Using God to get that which I want. And the problem arises when our means of ingratiating His Holiness we can give in to a state of mind that is not conducive to our spiritual growth or our mental well-being.
Take for example a person who is praying for a sick family member whose health is failing. This loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal disease of which there is no recovery or solution. Their time on this earth is shortened, their lifespan stilled, and their hopes and dreams are all decimated by this revelation. The Christian person in this family sets off to pray for change and a miracle. They make it their purpose in life to turn these events around because God is a God who operates miracles. And He does. He has.
Therefore our Christian friend places it in their heart to fast for the next six months. They set their heart and stomach to abstain from food three days a week, form water one day a week, and from sexual relations with their spouse for three weeks out of every month.
This in turn becomes a challenge in which the Believer willfully sacrifices pleasures and desires for the sake of pursuing God and a miracle. This isn’t, per se, evil or a bad thing, nor, can we resolutely conclude that such abstinence and ascetic tendencies are good in and of themselves. But either way, our Believer sets off. The first week, no food for three days, no water for one day, and complete abstinence from sexual pleasures with their spouse. All is well. The fervency of prayer alive, the reading of scriptures consistent, and the hopes of a miracle for that sickly family member intact.
As the days progress into weeks our believer is experiencing a rise in faith and spiritual growth where their persistence and discipline have become known to other believers and they commend this effort. Fellow church members join the fast because they see the immediate result of spiritual rededication and they too want to see this sickly family member recover, miraculously so.
Weeks turn into months and our Believers’ appearance begins to change, their muscles depleted, their waist has since slimmed, and their face is somewhat gaunt but their spiritual renewal is at an all-time high. Their bible study sessions beam with radiance and wisdom. Members flock to these sessions as their hopes are again elevated at the possibility that God will in fact bring forth a miracle and heal their ailing acquaintance.
The Believers’ spouse is proud, too, and possibly riddled with shame because they are willing to celebrate this new spiritual journey but feel their sexual needs and intimacy are falling behind. There is a persistence to maintain spiritual growth and also shame in feeling that their physical and emotional needs are not being met. The spouse, albeit in agreement with this pursuit, is divided in heart and mind.
Our sick family members’ health has shown signs of improvement. Their medical practitioner has produced tests and images of cells in remission, health in appreciation, and confidence in their treatment.
Applause and celebratory festivities are in stock but we’re only three months into the six-month fast challenge for a miracle. Our Believer has not given up hope. The Believer stands strong and reassured that God is on their side. Why else would God allow the sick family member to get better? He most certainly hears our prayers and petitions. He sees our sacrifice, our willful abstinence as a sign of commitment. So with great news in tow, the Believer strives for more consistency and dares to increase the level of sacrifice they are willing to endure so that God can come through with an answer.
For the next three months, the last three months that is, our believer has increased their fast from three to four days of out the week. They refrain from consuming water two days out of the week instead of one. And, seeing how the abstinence from sexual pleasures has produced some betterment of health in their sick family member they now abstain from sex with their spouse for the next ninety days.
This, you know, will bring the Believer closer to God because sex is earthly, fleshly, and perhaps, depending on the circles you move in and out of, it is considered dirty.
So our Believer is nearing the finish line of their challenge. All eyes are now on the Believer. They practice their fast with pride. They might even share the news of their fasting with coworkers and friends. Why shouldn’t they know? When the miraculous happens the world will know and people will come to God because of it. The smell of food no longer bothers our Believer, they’re tempted to forgo food altogether, forever possibly. They begin to look down on other believers who are a bit rounded on the edges, those who enjoy three steaks a week, bacon for breakfast and consume wine as a means of enjoyment. Our Believer thirsts for water but is confident and proud enough to forego it when the time comes. What else is sacrifice if not foregoing the self? And regarding sexual desires? That well has all but dried up. The Believer reassures their spouse that this is for God. This challenge, this pursuit, is so that others may come to believe in the Miracle Worker and thus, possibly, be saved as well. So, the sexual repression and sexual oppression within the marriage are at an all-time high. But, sacrifices are sacrifices and if it doesn’t hurt or cause us discomfort and pain then we’re doing it wrong.
Our Believer willingly admits to themself the idea of their want for sexual intimacy but continually shuns the thought of sexual gratification from their mind. They struggle, however, with thoughts of other persons in compromising situations, delicate situations that rekindle more debased desires, wanton desires for others, and this, is somewhat a surprise to the Believer but they keep it to themselves. Temptations are but the attack of the enemy to fault us and interrupt our pursuits, you know.
So, this fast, this challenge is full-blown downhill, a speeding train that cannot be stopped. Our Believer has witnessed a faint harvest of their efforts and cannot be dissuaded to stop, even when their medical practitioner advises against such austere measures of ascetic living conditions. The Believer spurns the medical advice and scolds the physician for not having enough faith.
They see their sacrifice as a call from God, a Divine purpose, an undeniable fact that God works in those who sacrifice the most, and our Believer will not relent.
The sickly family member whose health had improved in the first three months of this six-month challenge is now crippled with stomach pains, vomits blood, and defecates bloody stool. They are rushed to the emergency room where they can be stabilized, watched, monitored, and tested for further findings.
Our Believer gets news of this and immediately thinks the enemy, the Darkest Soul, the Ancient of Evils, the Deceiver, the Nefarious One, the Devil, as we call him, is on the rise against them and their challenge, and their family member who was on the track to a miraculous recovery. They consider this a direct assault on their faith and they are undeterred by this news and they perceive their efforts as Godly and unstoppable.
A visit is made to the ailing family member in the hospital, reassurances of miraculous recovery are made, prayers are offered, tears are spent, hours fly by, other church members visit, more reassurances are made, promises produced, prophetic utterances of longevity, long days of life, and family and dreams are given. Everyone in the hospital is aware of the ten, twenty, and at times forty church members who flood the hospital at any given time of the day in faith that this sick person will recover.
They have seen what a little sacrifice in the life of one member can accomplish so they all set off to fast and sacrifice a little in their own life for the benefit of this sick person.
Days pass, prayers are made, tests are done, and a physician gives the results. The disease is back with a vengeance, treatment has only worked to stall its progression but not deter or defuse it. All that could be done from a scientific perspective was done. The ailing family member will not walk away from this bed as they have all but a few days left to live.
Church members are now solemn but accepting of this final statement. Some linger about their church halls, family gatherings, and private prayer closets still hoping for the miraculous.
Our Believer, our favorite Believer in this story, however, is undeterred, albeit, confused. They sweat under the weight of this responsibility to be the only person of faith left in the family and church community who still believes in the power of the Miracle Worker.
Their stress levels are at an all-time high, there is continued fighting between them and their spouse which only increases in frequency with the unfortunate news.
This stress leaves our believer susceptible to more thoughts of sexual gratifications that can be accomplished through other means, other people. They push these thoughts away but they are more prominent now, more consistent. That other church member would be more understanding of their situation and would possibly be a better spouse, too. Perhaps befriending them in this challenge was the best thing possible. An opportunity to meet someone they could better fulfill themselves with later. It only makes sense that God would allow them to grow closer together as the bitter and bickering spouse distances themselves further and further. It is all making sense.
But for now, the Believer must give their undivided attention and willful sacrifice on behalf of the bedridden family member. More time is spent in the hospital than at home. God understands this sacrifice. More attention is given to the ailing family member than work and bills at home. God understands this too. Our Believer no longer attends church nor do they fraternize with fellow church members because their faith has soured. Rumors are they no longer believe in miracles. You see, their faith, because of their lack of sacrifice, consistency, asceticism, and discipline, has all but waned and disappeared. They’re too busy indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, with their daily meals, suppers, and deserts. They drink as much as they like without any prohibitions.
They give in to one another sexually, and this gives our believer a rise. How could they have so much sexual fulfillment and fruition in a time such as this? News of pregnant church members reaches our Believers’ ears but the Believer shuns it. How could we speak of new life when there is one that needs rescuing?
Joy, happiness, gladness, and gratitude are no longer terms that pass through our Nelievers’ lips. What is there to be joyful for? The miraculous has yet to take place.
Our sickly family member is on the doorsteps of the beyond, their body resembles a corpse, our Believers’ body resembles that of a corpse too, but they’re a bit more animated.
The dying family member calls the remaining family to their bedside to bid all farewell. Many are present, others cannot muster the courage to attend. The hospital limits the number of guests.
Our Believer is firm at their side, still, quietly persistent, fasting, abstaining still, trusting, and knowing God will deliver.
The dying family member shares a few memories of love, joy, and laughter, as many as they can because they are weak. A physician joins the procession only to advise the dying family member to use their words wisely and sparingly because talking will drain them of the little bit of time they have left.
Hugs are exchanged. ‘Get well soon’ balloons are removed from the room but flowers are left behind. Tears are spent and goodbyes are given. As the hours move on so do the visitors. Their hopes have all but vanished and we’re left with our Believer and the recipient of their prayers, the dying family member.
Here, the Believer comes to a crossroad. At this point, as the heart monitor begins to process the transition between life and death, the beating drum of life within a person’s chest that begins to cease, our believer is undecided, perhaps, on how to cope with this situation.
My God is a miracle worker and He hears my prayer!
And our family member succumbs to their terrible disease, expiring on this bed, the same one from which their physician said they would not walk away.
Our Believer is perplexed. Their six-month challenge has been cut short, not because the miraculous took place but because a disease took someone’s life.
Here, we know, is where an unraveling of the self begins to take place.
Questions are made in secret, in the mind, and in the depths of the soul as to what went wrong and where.
Perhaps our Believer should have done five days of fasting. That’s it. Five was the appropriate number. And water? Although it is dangerous to forego water, appropriate hydration for three, maybe four days at a time, but a sacrifice is a sacrifice and our Believer failed to trust God for sustenance. Christ relied on angels for reprieve but our Believer doubted. And doubt leads to missed spiritual opportunities, you know.
And what about sexual intimacy? Here, our Believer, having gone so long without it, begins to believe they no longer need it. Because the relational part of their marriage has all but crumbled, and this a result of their spouse and not their own, the only reason to keep the marriage is for sexual gratification but because our Believer thinks it is not a necessary element of life they forego marriage altogether because what is the point of being married to a cantankerous spouse when one can be married to Christ?
Our Believer has the option of accepting their family members’ death as a result of life. Diseases are part of life, you know. Death too. Or, our Believer can come to the rationalization that this unfortunate loss of life came about as the result of the lack of faith and a lack of assiduous concern for spiritual matters in their personal life.
Our Believer begins to scold other church members because their carelessness caused this death. They leave their church body. They create a new church ministry under the benign name of miracles, wonders, and such, as a means to attract real believers, those who are willing to pay the price for miracles.
They disparage the lack of ascetic efforts of others. Set strict guidelines for fasting regimens. The enjoyment of other benign pleasures like attending sporting venues, playing sports, watching television, catching the newest flick in theatres, and drinking any beverage that is suspect of containing alcohol is strictly forbidden and prohibited in this ministry.
If one is not willing to sacrifice much for God then God will not answer prayers.
Sex is a byword and forgiveness is no longer extended to those who fail with sexual sins. They’re brought to the front of the congregation and shamed for the practices, made to confess in front of all, and then disciplined for the same. Married couples are to abstain from sexual intimacy at our Believers’ discretion. At times without cause and other times without end.
Our Believer is a full-blown critic of simple faith and cannot imagine a life without rigorous sacrificial efforts. Returning to a lifestyle without such limitations and rules would mean returning to a life without miracles and wonders.
We have yet to see any miracles take place in our Believers’ life. They presume that the challenges of running a new minister, of an impending divorce, of critique of their new ways of rigorous living as attacks from the devil so this pushes them further into their disillusionment.
Our Believer is trapped by the fear of letting go and letting God. They cannot allow for such a life without rules, regulations, sacrifice, fasting, and such, because if they give in to a spiritual life based on faith and grace they will have to dissolve the wall of works and sacrifices they have built around themselves.
What then, has become of our Believer?
They are not living by faith but by fear. If one fails to fast, they fail to receive. If one fails to sacrifice time, pleasure, sex, fun, entertainment, family, marriage, and the self, then one fails to receive the grander things of God.
How else might we get something from God if we do not give Him something first?
Therefore our Believer is trapped and blinded by their own desires, which are first were prudent and kindhearted but turned into something destructive and all-consuming because the approach was not to glorify God in all things, win or lose, life or death, miracle or no miracle, but to prove to the self that if we do something for God then God will do something for us.
Our Believer is consumed by fear. Fueled by it actually.
And at this point, there are only two true alternatives left for our Believer. They will either continue into this disillusionment, amassing a following so great, a group of disciples so attracted to this ascetic rigidity that our Believer will begin to think they are a mini-god who speaks for God at a moments notice. There is no medium of revelation. Any reading of scriptures that is not first translated by our Believer is wrong. The congregation and its adherents will then rise in numbers, persistence, and cultish behavior. Any attempt to dissuade them will only strengthen their resolve. Their end is in themselves.
The other alternative is that our Believer will dissolve under the weight of repressed sensualities, commit a number of financial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and sexual deviances and sins, and will be rightfully ousted from their position of power and prominence.
And it is there, in their wallowing and shame that they will have an opportunity to revisit their true faith, one of grace, mercy, love, and trust, or, in their undiminished pride, they will abandon faith and God altogether.
Our believer transitions from belief, to asceticism, to disillusionment, to cultic behavior, and finally, either a rekindling of true faith or a dismantling of all belief.
All this in pursuit of manipulating the Divine.
Christians, it is our duty to rely on God no matter what. This reliance is based more so on His character and His essence than on what He can give us or get us through. Mind you, God can and has allowed, even preferred many of His own to face all sorts of ills for reasons known only to Him. Should it be health or sickness, life or death, wealth or poverty, our resolve must be to focus on the essence of who our Creator; how we can grow in His grace and in His knowledge.
It is tempting, yes, to believe that by doing a you can receive b but if b is not in God’s plan for your life then no matter how much of a you do, how much you invest into it, how many friends and family members you have join you in the pursuit to attain b by overdoing a, if it is not God’s will it will not happen.
We become enslaved by the doing of things for God to receive things from God. The drinking or the abstaining from drink. The listening or not listening. The eating or not eating not understanding that Christ has delivered us from these ascetic tendencies because they serve no purpose on the grand scheme of His master plan for our lives.
This is not to discourage the believer from prayer or fasting for their personal spiritual growth or for a miracle in any and all circumstances, but it is a warning for you to not become a slave of results or to think you can manipulate the Divine for your own selfish needs. To think that you can give enough to change the Divine is foolish.
Men and women have done so in the past, yes, but those were circumstances to help teach these people that God’s character, His faithfulness supersedes all else.
“if we are faithless, he remains faithful” 2 Timothy 2:13
We must find comfort in Him otherwise we live for these fasting sessions, these lengthy prayer sessions, these unnecessarily lengthy bible study sessions, and revival conferences that if we go without we believe we are missing out on something greater when in fact we fail to realize that the greatest thing has already happened to us and for us.
Christ has died to forgive our sins. Restore our brokenness and reconcile us to the Father. He has granted us eternal life and not just that but the power and grace and presence of the Holy Spirit to guide us through this one. Helping and assisting others, all this in the name of Jesus.
I’m being a minimalist here but that’s because I’m short on time, or rather, article length.
Christ is faithful even when we are not. Seek Christ in all things more than you seek to manipulate things in the name of Christ.
Love by faith and not by fear.