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Devotionals

For several years, Christian Union called on Christians to join us two times per year in seeking God through fasting. These sorts of fasting initiatives are now part of Christian Union Day & Night, but the devotionals that were written for those fasts have continued to strengthen and encourage believers, so we have made them available here.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

We have all experienced the feeling of being lulled gently into an afternoon “food coma,” perhaps following the consumption of one too many Chipotle burritos. The experience itself might be thought a pleasant one—were it not for the person sitting across the table from you, now wondering just how closely you are listening to their story as your head bobs, eyelids closed.

Likewise, we have presumably all experienced not only such times of physical lethargy but also times of spiritual slumber: our view of God is hazy, and we’ve become desensitized to the movement of His Spirit. Not surprisingly, this is an issue we repeatedly find addressed in the pages of the New Testament.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

What does it feel like to bite into a BLT sandwich? Or to craft a snowball with your bare hands? Or to cut your toe nails? In each case, it feels a certain way.

Okay, so what does it feel like to be a Christian, a follower of Christ? This, too, feels a certain way. Actually, it feels a lot of different ways at different times. But no doubt one of those ways is this: it feels like a struggle.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

“…and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” - Philemon 1:6

Fasting is a time of humbling ourselves before the Lord so that we might behold Him in His glory and satisfy our spiritual hunger instead of our physical one.  In the absence of the richness of food, fasting gives us greater understanding of the richness we have in Christ.  In the midst of fasting, perhaps sharing your faith is not the first thing that comes to mind as a means of greater intimacy with Christ, yet Paul includes this discipline as a means of gaining the “full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.”  There are a number of ways that sharing our faith can provide us with a greater understanding of our riches in Christ, just as fasting can do.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

“But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find Him, if you search after Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”  - Deuteronomy 4:29

The Bible is full of such promises as this in Deuteronomy 4:29, with a straightforward equation for intimacy with God.  Unsurprisingly, these promises of seeking the Lord and finding Him include conditionality, such as the requirement that you seek after Him with all your heart and soul.  We know of God’s holiness and the need, as the Preacher says, to guard our steps when we go to the house of God  (Ecclesiastes 5:1). This might even appeal to our sense of piety and undergoing the necessary rituals to ready our hearts to seek Him.  However, I would argue that more than being conditional, these passages present the situational requirements for seeking God, making the pursuit of God more dependent on realizing our circumstances than in anything we can do or say.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

In every society, the act of eating transcends an intrinsic need for food and involves, too, a complex web of individual, social, and historical particularities. The presence of food and drink throughout Scripture narrates, in both subtle and powerful ways, how people of faith come together and find themselves in relationship with one another. Instances of Jacob’s stew, manna from heaven, a widow’s everlasting cupboard, Jesus’ transformation of water into wine, and the great supper of the Lamb function to communicate deeper realities, from deception and isolation to God’s enduring faithfulness.

The evolution of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament stands as one crucial example where the sharing of food and drink conveys a profoundly spiritual dimension. Paul finds it a matter of first importance to write to those Christians in Corinth concerning how they were misconstruing this very special meal. Paul’s corrective teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:17–22 sought to carefully illustrate how the Corinthians’ separatist participation in this meal was in fact contributing to the malnourishment of the body of Christ.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

“Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.” - John 12:1-3

Please read this passage a few times (and maybe John 11 as well) and try to visualize this scene. Imagine and feel the love, joy, and thankfulness around that dinner table.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

Have you ever found yourself lost on the Internet? After 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or maybe even an hour, you catch yourself and wonder, “How was I able to waste so much time without even thinking about it?” For me, it is on Etsy or Pinterest browsing ideas for decorating my house -- and poof -- 30 minutes are gone.

I am not alone in wasting time decorating my house. In a little book called Haggai, at the end of the Old Testament, God raises up a prophet to tell the Israelites that they are wasting their time paneling their houses instead of rebuilding the Temple, and God is not pleased (Haggai 1:2-11).

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

One of my husband’s college friends posted on Facebook: “Does anyone in the D.C. area have a suit I can borrow, I am going to a meeting with President Obama.” We assumed he found one, even one that fit, because the next Facebook post was a picture with him and the President. We are a casual society; whether going to the opera in jeans or showing up to class in sweatpants, we don’t think our clothes represent our respect for a person or institution. But does the casual nature of our society influence our approach toward God?

In Exodus 19, the Israelites have been brought out of slavery and have come to Mount Sinai to worship and meet with their Deliverer. Verses 10-13 give instructions for this meeting: Moses is to consecrate the people, then they are to wash their garments and wait three days. Peter Enns explains consecration throughout Exodus is the “act of setting apart for special service to God. This fits well with the notion of Israel’s being a ‘holy nation’ and ‘kingdom of priests’ (19:6): They are set apart for God’s service.” They are about to meet the King of angel armies, something no other nation has ever done, and it’s clear preparation is involved. It is not a casual meeting, but a meeting with gravitas.  They are to prepare themselves and wait until the King is ready to receive them.

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

Overview

Athens in Paul’s time was no longer a politically important city.  Greece had given way to Rome, and its political influence had declined through the centuries.  It was, however, still the intellectual center of the world.  This city was heir to the great philosophers who set the standards and patterns of thought: Socrates, Plato, Epicurus, and Pericles.

After hearing about Athens all his life Paul, the academic and now the apostle, is finally there -- a city intellectually and culturally sophisticated but morally decadent and spiritually dead -- in spite of having, according to some accounts, up to 30,000 statues of gods.  No wonder they had a statue to “the unknown god!”

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days…’” - Luke 5:34

If we have never experienced what typically are the collective symptoms diagnosable as an eating disorder, then at the very least, we have certainly experienced the effects of being in a culture that is preoccupied with food, body image, and control.  Within Christian Union’s ministry at Harvard College, when a student takes the initiative to call a fast, it’s become quite common for a fellow student or two to inquire whether fasting is a good idea for them, considering they formerly struggled, or now occasionally or regularly struggle with a preoccupation with food. These students genuinely want to experience God through fasting but feel that their motives are “tainted” or that fasting might trigger the urge to engage in further maladaptive restrictions.  There is no one-size-fits all solution to this very real struggle, but, often, I’ll direct the student to the point of fasting.

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