Day Twenty

Sometimes, when we are fully fasting, we are eager to pray with others. 
Here are two prayer meetings designed just for you.

Friday, January 26th at 12pm at the Prayer House
Saturday, January 27th at 12pm at the Prayer House

It will be an amazing time as we come to the conclusion to our fasting.

Daily Directive

My wife and I have spent some time now, neck-deep, practicing the art of pastoring. There is no doubt in our minds that we have been blessed to pastor some of God's best.

It has never ceased to amaze me how elusive the Gospel can be. I can give someone something to do with the hope of making their life better—three steps to this, four principles for that, seven truths to unlock the other thing. There is something in all of our hearts wanting to grab on to the three, the four, or the seven and try to do them with the hope of some liberating result.

My experience is that the result these steps produce is often not so liberating. Usually the three, four, or seven things I did just caused the ultimate result in my life to be something different from what it was before I did them. I hope the thing which became ultimate is more acceptable to my culture and will make me less dysfunctional.

The truth is the three, four, or seven did not liberate me to experience Christ as the ultimate center of my life. When I would give my testimony of what changed my life, and my testimony claimed it was the three, four, or seven that did the trick, then a bit of clean sewage would seep into my spirit. I call it clean because it looked clear, but it would no less make me sick. In my testimony, I would add that Jesus helped somewhere in the testimony, but He was not central—the three, four, or seven were.

Let me tell another story. Once I was speaking at a conference and was assigned the topic, "The Church Built Without Hands." Now there is a title for you—full of risk. In our present church culture, there is no way I could imagine anyone being assigned that subject.

The premise of my presentation was that no one can build God a house, a place to live. He is too big. Even the church has to be built by the One who said, "I will build My church." My entire presentation was built on our assignment as leaders and members of Christ's body—"make disciples." As we fulfill the Great Commission, Jesus builds His church. Put the focus on numbers and you have a man-made organization, no matter how much we seek to dress her up to look like something else. There were tremendous implications in my presentation. To make disciples who really knew Christ and were committed to Him as the ultimate center of their life, and then grow a church based on those disciples’ living and sharing their witness to the world, was beyond stretching. To consider not branding, marketing, or selling the church as the Good News was overwhelmingly a terrifying thought.  

In group discussions after my presentation, I realized that within me, as well as others, the church had become our ultimate. It was our Good News to the world. Sometimes our growth tactics were, “My Good News over here at this church is better than the Good News at your church.”

The writer of the Hebrews calls upon us to "lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us" (Hebrews 12:1). Many have sought to define "the sin" that "ensnares." The word "ensnare" is implying that "sin" is something that encircles on all sides and then attacks until all movement is controlled by the sin itself.

I ask the question, what sins would encircle my life and then begin to control my movements? Paul made a statement: "whatever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). One could say it this way: what is not of absolute allegiance (faith) to Christ is sin.

The sin that encircles my life and traps me, confining movement, is any thought, word, or deed that is not expressed from a heart in which Christ is ultimate. When my family is ultimate, oddly I am restricted from really loving my family; I actually become a slave to my family. When my job, relationship, beer, prescription, sport, smart phone, and of course the list is endless, becomes the higher priority, then I become restricted in movement.

When family is ultimate, I love them to please me, and I become enslaved to having them please me. When beer is the ultimate, I become restricted to making beer please me. When God is ultimate, I am liberated to really love my family for what is actually best for them, not seeking to control them in any way. When God is ultimate, I am not trapped into needing another beer or having one at all, but beer serves me and the purposes for which God made it to serve me.

Whenever I am on a fast, when I am abstaining completely from food, I ask this question of my heart and take an inventory of my life: “Jesus, has something taken the place of You as ultimate in my life?”

Anything, good or bad, which has captured my heart and removed Jesus from being the ultimate of my life would be the sin that ensnares me.

The first line in the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name," reveals something amazing. My daily prayer is to begin with hallowing or making the Father's name ultimate, which is another way of Jesus’ saying to pray, declaring Yahweh the ultimate Person in your life.  

Fasting is that moment when we can ask the question: could I have stepped into a trap and not known it?

Daily Scripture

“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father Who is in secret. And your Father Who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him." Matthew 6:5-8 CSB

Daily Commentary

What religion does to prayer is criminal. The very truth we can pray at all is built on graciousness. God fully transcends everything material. He is morally perfect, He is unchanging, and He is like no one or anything else. He is utter holiness through and through. He is such exquisite perfection that He casts no shadow. He outshines the sun. His every thought is a paragon of virtue and beauty. He is the flawless Ultimate.

To assume we could whip up some impressive words or express some grand thought to make our request more acceptable to God is unbridled nonsense.

The Father is looking for a heart stripped down to childlike dependence, refusing to develop even a prayer worthy of being answered due to its form or substance.

Even prayer is not ultimate to the follower; prayer is entering into the presence of the Ultimate.

The Father is looking for someone who will enter His presence, shut the door to anything else seeking to be ultimate, shuttle all impulses out of reach, and then be stripped down to the grace of God alone. When in that room, then one can have the Father speak honestly into one’s heart, and the heart can speak honestly to the Father.

Prayer is not so much answered as a petition offered to a huge God inclined to show mercy to the groveling. Prayer is an invitation flowing from the grace-motivated child, requesting the Father to "enter my life, do Your will, and consume me with Your presence." Prayer is the Father’s opening the heart to God's presence, and when God's presence enters our lives, then much more than we could ever ask, imagine, or think is the result.

Prayer is not solicitation; it is the opening of ourselves to His presence.

Daily Decisions

Today as we near the end of our fast, we take an inventory of our life. Yesterday we looked at things which separate. Today we consider anything which might seek to steal center stage.

The first moral premise of all of life is, "No other God before Yahweh." In the garden, Adam and Eve were given a choice: Yahweh as ultimate or they could seek to be like God and become their own ultimate. The question they wrestled with in the garden was, would they be dependent upon God for life or choose another ultimate to build their life upon? We all know what they chose.

No one can be ultimate to him or herself because no one can lift the weight of his or her own mortality. Whatever is ultimate to you must transcend you because death is greater than any person. Everyone has an ultimate that transcends him or her, even if it is beer. Humans were built to make something outside of themselves, ultimate to themselves, even if what they make ultimate is to benefit themselves. No one can help it; if Christ is not ultimate, something else is.

Today Jesus will show you what seeks to ensnare you and restrict you from making Him ultimate. Either Jesus is your Ultimate and you're free to really be who you are, or something else is your ultimate and you are trapped. A bird is free because it flies the skies. Put the bird in water and the bird would not be free at all. Freedom in Christ means we are liberated to live and thrive in the environment we were created to thrive in.

When Jesus is your Ultimate, you are free to thrive.

Daily Journal Thoughts

On your "Prayer and Fasting Commitments” page, write down the date.

Next, write your commitment; it might be worded something like this: “Jesus, I am asking You to search my heart and show me anything that is or has the potential to be ultimate over You in my life.”

Then, go to your "Daily Journal" and write the date at the top of the page.

Again, you might want to write something like the following:

“Jesus, You love me so much that You are showing me what things are or what things can become ultimate over You …”

What I often do is write a list of things really important to me and then ask the Holy Spirit to show me how each thing is or is not submitted to His ultimate love and authority. I have actually had to write down opinions before to discern whether or not I held an opinion ultimate over God.

This was the mission of the Old Testament prophets. They would call people back to Yahweh as the ultimate center in their life by exposing things, even their opinions, which had become ultimate in the place of God. God's prophetic voice will speak kindly and tenderly but also relentlessly, if you let Him, and will show you what is seeking an ultimate place in your life.

One last piece of advice: do not obsess over how pure your motives are or are not. This is a bottomless pit. Let Jesus just show you what He wishes to show you. No one but Jesus has absolute perfect motives. This is why you do an "ultimate inventory," so Jesus can always be doing a course correction in your life. Then nothing becomes so massive and so life-absorbingly important that we, all of a sudden, find ourselves wandering completely away from Jesus.