Last year was about replanting and restoring health to our church, as “Following Jesus”. This year is about laying a firm foundation for a) spiritual growth, b) healthy community, and c) service to our world. This letter is not only my preaching notes, but sets the tone for the year as we begin laying the foundation, being guided by our chosen theme…
“Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation”
It might sound weird! Being the what… ?? The word/idea of “Beloved” is significant and powerful in the Bible. It’s all about “be-loved” or “being loved”, which is difficult for most people. We have to learn how to be loved, how to receive love, and thus to love. They say, “Love makes the world go round!” Pretty close! God IS love… so, love is the center of the universe, making all things work – that is IF we receive his love and learn to love as he loves – then that’s heaven on earth! But if we don’t, we make hell on earth!
Being the (God’s) Beloved is about discovering our true selves. It’s about our identity as human becomings. The deepest source and definition of our identity is God’s love for us – not the myriads of other means of identity imposed on us, or that we choose. And it’s not the “feel-good-flowery-luuvvv” from Hollywood! It’s God’s love from eternity, enfleshed in its costly demonstration in Jesus of Nazareth. He lived and died for YOU, for ME, for our sin, our rejection of God’s love, so that we may turn and receive God’s love. In fact, Jesus was who he was, and did what he did, because he came to know how deeply God loved him as his Father – confirmed at his baptism in water when Father spoke from the heavens, “You are my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased”
That voice, that Spirit of Love, opened the heavens for Father’s love to flood and fill each one of us, so that we may learn to live in his love as Jesus did. All of life flows from that. It’s the source of healing and spiritual growth, community formation and social transformation – our focus for this year as we follow Jesus together. Why not take this journey very seriously and commit to Being (becoming) the Beloved? In effect, we will be unpacking our calling as a church, our Mission Statement: Following Jesus and making followers of him, learning to live a life of love just as Jesus loved us.
To begin this journey we are calling our church to a full week of FASTING and prayer, from 20-26 January. Here are some guidelines to help us.
Understanding fasting and prayer:
Prayer is worship of God and working with God. Prayer is adoration and collaboration with God in what he’s doing – that his Kingdom comes and his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Fasting is the “amplifier” of prayer! Imagine a massive “amp” magnifying the reach and penetration of your prayers into the heavenlies! Not that God is deaf! No, rather fasting is empowered spiritual warfare: it changes YOU and confronts and drives back spiritual powers opposed to God and his Kingdom work in your life, in our church, and in our nation. Fasting is abstaining from food and (possibly) drink for a determined period in order to discipline our bodily appetites and turn them to God in hunger and thirst for his presence and power. Fasting is never easy – it goes pretty slow! The devil hates it and fights against it. Our bodies also fight it, at least initially – till the sweetness of God’s sustaining presence is experienced, then the body draws from God more than from food. God designed the body to live in/from his presence. It’s his dwelling place, where his life and love (the glory of God) enter his creation and progressively redeems and changes it. Fasting (with prayer) is a primary God-given means to slowly make THIS a reality! And by the way, fasting is NOT to diet! It’s to focus on prayer and feasting on God’s word.
Types of Fast – some guidance:
The “normal fast” is to abstain from food (‘solids’) while taking only liquids (water and diluted fruit juice) for a couple of days. The maximum is forty days (Luke 4:1f) – the first week is the most difficult, then it gets easier. If you’re working daily, you have to watch your body and pace yourself slowly! Get doctor’s advice if you’re on medication.
The most serious is the “total fast”: to abstain from all foods and liquids – can only be done for three days (Esther 4:16), and certainly not if you’re working!
The most common is the “partial fast”: to fast only certain kinds of food and drink, as in ‘The Daniel fast’, a three week fast (Daniel 10:2-3, see 1:5-17). Some include fasting TV and other “sense indulgences” to give undistracted time for prayer and Bible reading.
Therefore, decide on what kind of fast you will do for this week (or longer if God calls you to do so). Decide on which foods and drinks you will cut out, and how you will make time for prayer and Bible reading – listen to God and tell us if he’s saying anything to us! Pace yourself at work and rest a little if you can. Every time you feel hunger, weakness, light-headed, etc, cry out to God in your heart for strength and pray for the three items below. Take it seriously! God WILL help you! You WILL see the benefit, the reward!
What to fast and pray for:
- Pray for yourself – for your 2014 goals, for your journey in Becoming/Being the Beloved, for your spiritual growth in the community hothouse of Following Jesus.
- Pray for our church – for God to be so very present among us when we gather on Sundays and in home groups, to fill us with his healing and empowering LOVE.
- Pray for our nation – for God’s sovereign hand on our country, especially during this year of national elections, praying for godly leadership and true revival in society.