Pastor’s Letter

WELCOME TO THE GYM

 
Train yourself for Godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, Godliness is of value in every way,
as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
I Timothy 4:7-8
 
Church at Chapel Hill Family, 
This past Sunday my message included teaching from Scripture on the spiritual discipline of fasting. Many in our church family were inspired to act on what they heard and are planning to fast. I want to share with you some encouragement and practical instruction that I hope will be helpful as you begin.
#1. Fasting is a spiritual discipline, NOT a command.
Jesus did in fact tell us that some things are only accomplished through prayer and fasting (Mt. 17:21), but He did not place fasting under the category of a scriptural command. This is important to remember, because some feel guilty that they have never fasted, or that when they started to fast, say for a whole day, they didn’t stick to it.
Please hear this: Do Not feel guilty if you try to fast for the first time (or more) and you fall short of the goal. Again, fasting is a spiritual discipline, a spiritual workout. It is the act of denying self in order to seek God in a deeper, more intense way. But if you don’t make it through an entire day (a whole workout), you have not broken a law of God. I’ve heard some people say, “I feel like I let God down when I fail to fast like I planned.” Good News – you were never holding God up in the first place! 
When Paul instructs us in 1 Timothy 4:7 to “Train yourself to be godly”, he has in mind a gym, a place where you workout, sweat, and develop your spiritual muscles. That’s what fasting is – developing yourself spiritually by resisting to give your flesh what it craves – while at the same time gaining strength in your love, devotion, and obedience to God. Some days in the gym are more productive than others – physically and spiritually – so don’t get frustrated. Be patient. 
#2. You LEARN spiritual disciplines. 
Would you be devastated if you tried to run a Marathon (26.2 miles) for the first time – but because you never practiced or trained for it – you fell short at mile five or mile twenty? Of course not. You understand that becoming a Marathon runner takes time. Gaining strength to pump 225 pounds of steel repeatedly from a weight bench takes time. Building your legs up to ride 100 miles on a bike takes time.   
So it is with the spiritual disciplines. Especially with fasting. You must start SLOW. Don’t try and fast a whole day to begin. That’s not necessary, and not even wise. If you want to “go the distance” in the spiritual disciplines, you must pace yourself. You’ve got to think long term. You want to be disciplined spiritually for a lifetime. Start by fasting from one or two meals – for one day a week for three weeks. Then aim to fast for one whole day in week four. After you’ve fasted an entire day once a week over a three or four month period, then move to a three-day fast if you are able, and so on. There’s no hurry here. No one is asking you to join the 2018 Winter Olympics Fasting Team before the games conclude this weekend. 
If you fall short of your goal, don’t get all down on yourself! There is no requirement in Scripture that says you must fast for a particular amount of time. You fast at the rate you have grown and developed into over a period of time and experience. I am grateful that many at Chapel Hill have responded to their pastor’s preaching about fasting, and want to join in. But I’ve been fasting since 2005 (with a lot of trial and error), so don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself, and set yourself up for failure and discouragement. There’s not one person (including your pastor), who is demanding or expecting that you become an elite fasting machine.    
#3. DO NOT fast yourself into mental, emotional, spiritual or relational fatigue and/or injury.
I enjoy working out, but sometimes either my body is not feeling well, or my mind is just not in a state of focus and determination – so I postpone the workout. I DON’T QUIT! I do return to the gym. But at times I push the pause button and allow myself time to reset, so I can be successful later. Sometimes you need to do that with fasting (especially if you’re a beginner). Legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi, said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” That’s true. Sometimes you need to swallow your pride and disappointment, accept your weakness, and just take a break. 
Here are two ways to avoid “injuring” yourself (or others) in regards to fasting:
First, pay attention to the calendar. I would encourage you not to fast when it’s going to conflict with an important or special day in your week. For example, if you have a high stakes business meeting to attend  – that’s probably not the best day to try fasting for the first time (your boss won’t be impressed). Or fasting on your anniversary or your daughter’s birthday (neither will be excited about your spiritual devotion). In all probability, they may end up resenting you for it. Use wisdom about the time you decide to fast. Don’t put your family in a position where they have to change their schedule and way of living to accommodate your spiritual goals. And when you do fast, first plan it with your spouse, and explain it to your children. Your family will likely support you and admire you (and may follow your example) for your desire to go deeper with God – but you need to help them understand why.   
Second, pay attention to your heart. If you’re battling with your spirit or mood so much during a fast – and your struggling attitude turns into a sinful attitude – then stop. If you are losing your temper, kicking the dog, snapping at your children, and avoiding talking to your spouse in order to “suffer for the Lord”, then you’re probably trying to fast too long, too soon. God’s Word does not encourage us to do anything that will lead us to sin. You can fast, one way or another. But you cannot excuse ungodly behavior at the expense of damaging your testimony and example to your family, even if you’re attempting to do good. Read Matthew 6:16-18 to know what your attitude should be like when fasting.
#4. KEEP ON learning and growing. 
One of the hardest things to do with any discipline, especially fasting, is to keep at it. The scene is the same on the first Monday of the year in most gyms in America. Excitement, expectation, energy, and discipline are dripping all over the floor by the newcomers working out. But two or three weeks later the gym is back to normal, and you only see the faithful regulars working out. Those are the people that are in it for the long haul – who over the years had countless times when they didn’t hit their goals – but kept showing back up the next day and grinding it out. They aren’t super human, but they are fit and physically healthy, because they consistently come back to the gym day after day. 
God is not looking for super-spiritual followers. He doesn’t need super saints. What God is looking for is people who keep coming into His presence, day after day, and allowing Him to conform you to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16 “WE DO NOT LOSE HEART. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
I will tell you from experience that fasting will expose areas of your heart, mind, body, and soul that need attention and need God’s help. Eating food is the number one desire of the human body – and when you deny your body what it so desperately wants and longs for the most – you should obviously be prepared for a challenge. More than the struggle of experiencing physical hunger, the greater challenge of fasting is in the mind – and feelings of anxiousness can distract us from the purpose we are pursuing. But again, as Donald Whitney reminded us on Sunday – fasting is God’s idea – so there is no need to fear it or run from it. Spiritual discipline is a process of growth, surrender, and trust in God and His ways – so don’t quit! Give it time.   
If you are planning to fast and have questions, or you have already started and need some encouragement – get a hold of me. I will be happy to talk you and help cheer you on. 
Kari and I love you all! 
Pastor Jon
February 20, 2018 
Resources on Fasting…
-W
What is the Purpose of Fasting? (the video I played Sunday)   
The Power of Prayer and Fasting (book by Ronnie Floyd)