Thursday, October 28, 2021

Adventures in Fasting

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I’m Doug Apple...and my heart is on fire.  (Luke 24:32)

I was never good at fasting.

I tried it off and on for years and never had what I thought were good results.

I’d make the commitment, “I’m not eating anything from this time to this time.  I’m really going to seek God and dedicate myself.”

I gave it the old college try, and then would just feel cranky and hungry and scattered.  My work suffered.  Probably my family suffered, and for what?  

I saw other Christians fasting, seemingly successfully, but I felt no fire in it, no visitation, no moving of God.  That’s not required of course, but to me, fasting felt like a wasteland, without value or fruit.

Then we moved to Tallahassee at the end of 2005 and went to a church that declared a fast to start the year 2006 – but it was a different kind of fast, a “Daniel fast.”

Surely I had heard of that before, but I don’t recall it.  I thought there was just one way to fast, and that was to eat no food, none.  

So this Daniel fast was a new idea to me, where your eating was limited, but not eliminated.

So the church announced this Daniel Fast, but we had just moved to a new city and I had my hands full.  I didn’t want to mess with a new fast right then, but I said, “If they do it next year, I’ll do it.”

Then I had the idea for a different kind of fast, so I went on a shopping fast.  What does that mean?  It means I bought nothing for myself, no clothes or shoes or toys or electronics or whatever.  Yes, I bought necessities like food and deodorant, but nothing extra.  And I did that for two years.

It was humbling, and brought discipline and strength of mind, and turned my heart even more to God saying, “You are my provider.” 

And I learned one big thing about myself:  it’s hard for me to pass up a good deal!  For example, I would see a shirt I liked, and hey, it’s 50 percent off!  It’s 75 percent off!  IT’S 90 PERCENT OFF!  But no, I couldn’t buy it because I was on a shopping fast.

Like all fasting, it was hard at first, but then I learned and grew and became a better, stronger person.  And it was the first fast in my life that truly felt satisfying, like it mattered, it worked, it had value, and God was in it.

Then January, 2007 rolled around, and the church once again called for a 3 week Daniel fast, and I was in.  Then I found out that there really isn’t one set way to do a Daniel fast, but the overall goal is to deny yourself certain pleasant foods and drinks.

I wanted my Daniel fast to be easy to figure out, where I wasn’t getting nitpicky about ingredients, so I came up with these 5 guidelines:

--drink only water

--eat no meat

--eat no bread

--eat no sweets

--eat nothing fried.

I don’t know what I had been doing to my body before this, but I was quickly plunged into a dull, yucky headache.  I wasn’t particularly prone to headaches, but I did get them sometimes, and this one was constant.  It didn’t even go away after I slept.

Now listen to this.  While I was in the middle of that headache, probably a sugar and caffeine withdrawal, I felt God rise up in me and say, “Do it all year.”  And in my foggy-headed headache I said, “Yes, I will do this all year.”

Eventually the headache went away, and listen to this.  It was YEARS before I had another headache of any kind, and to this day I never get headaches like I got them before I went on the Daniel fast.

The Daniel fast was hard at first, because I cut out those certain foods, but I didn’t have good replacement foods.  I lost weight to the point where my wife was like, “You’re clothes aren’t fitting right.”

But it was an exciting journey!  I spent a lot of time hungry, but unlike a no-food-at-all fast, I was free to eat and get nourishment, just from a limited number of sources.

One thing I really learned about myself was that, even though I didn’t have one big monster sin or problem that had its hook in me, it was like I had a thousand little hooks in me, jerking me this way and that, meaning I didn’t really have full control over myself.

It was like, “Oh, M and M’s, yes!  I need some.”  “Oh, a Big Mac and fries.  I need that.”  “You know what I really need right now?  A Coke!  Better go get one.”  “You know what sounds good right now?  A HOT FUDGE SUNDAE!”

I realized that I had spent most of the days of my entire life being jerked this way and that by every appetite, every whim and desire.  And this Daniel fast was slowly cutting all those fishing lines and setting me free from their hooks.

Now I’m thinking of Philippians 3:19 where it says, “…their god is their stomach…”  The New Living Translation says, “…their god is their appetite…”

I was there, man, with every little appetite acting like my god and telling me what to do, and I was doing it!  “I need some chips and dip, right now!”

In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus says that when we fast, our Father will reward us.

I did that Daniel fast for 3 years, and the Father truly rewarded me.  

In the middle of that 3 years I felt His Spirit rising up within me and calling me to get locked back in to Bible memorization, so I started memorizing one verse per weekday, and you know what?  I’m never going to stop.  And that is just one amazing product of that Daniel fast.

Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

The question is, what are we denying ourselves?  So often the answer is, “Nothing.”  It almost seems un-American to deny ourselves anything!

But to follow Jesus there must be self-denial, and one obvious form of self-denial is fasting.  “God, I’m giving this up because I’m so hungry for more of You.”

I’m fasting secular music.  I’m denying myself whatever pleasures that might bring in order to set my mind on things above.

I’m currently on what I call a “frontline soldier beverage fast.”  Yes, now I’m making up my own fasts.  But I’m praying, “God, I’m denying myself all beverages except water and black coffee because I’m so thirsty for You.  As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after Thee.”

A while back our church once again called for a 3 week fast to start the year, but it was open-ended.  You pick what you want to fast.  So I prayed, “God, what should I fast?”

And I left it there.  I didn’t want to conjure up something to fast.  I wanted God to tell me what to fast, if anything.  I was willing, but I wanted Him to tell me.

It didn’t happen right away, but at some point it suddenly popped into my mind, “Fast breakfast.”

So I started fasting breakfast on normal workdays, and within the first few days I really felt like God had given me a gift.  Yes, I was hungry, but I was going to eat after noon anyway, so it was very doable.

And I did something different.  I did not pick an end date for the breakfast fast.  I just renew it day by day.  No promises.  No commitments.  Just, “Today, I’m doing it.  I’m fasting breakfast today.”  

And I’ve been doing it for years now, with no plans to stop.  Like I said, it really feels like God has given me a gift, a blessing!

And that’s how I now feel about fasting.  It’s a gift.  A blessing!  

What I formerly would have called “The Tortures of Fasting” I now call “Adventures in Fasting.”  My early years felt unprofitable, even negative.  But these later years have been a true joy, an exciting adventure in denying myself in order to follow Jesus every day as closely as I can.  And I pray that you will, too.

May God bless you today.

I’m Doug Apple.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Hallway Discipleship

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I’m Doug Apple...and my heart is on fire.  (Luke 24:32)

Maybe don’t be in such a hurry to flee the church building after service.

Maybe your interactions with people in the hallway are as important as the service itself.

I call it Hallway Discipleship.

You can also call it “loving people.”

It’s interacting with people in the hallway, your brothers and sisters in Christ, your family members in the family of God.

It’s informal.  It’s casual.  It’s not structured.  But it’s just as valuable as formal discipleship.

It’s Hallway Discipleship.

It’s taking time to look people in the eye, say hello, ask how they’re doing, and being in no hurry.  It’s listening to them, hearing about their day, their life, their family, their work.

It’s not looking past them to rush off to the next thing.

When we do this, when we actually listen and care, here’s what it does.  It earns us the opportunity to plant a seed.

This is where Hallway Discipleship happens.

Discipleship is helping someone follow Jesus more closely.

In Hallway Discipleship, we help someone follow Jesus more closely one seed at a time.

And God’s Holy Spirit is deeply involved in Hallway Discipleship.  Don’t take these hallway encounters for granted.  Take them as God moments, divine appointments, meetings arranged by God Himself.  God is in it!  And God cares about how we handle these opportunities.  Do we take advantage of them, like the first two guys in the parable of the talents?  Or do we bury them like the last guy, the one Jesus referred to as “wicked and lazy”?  Eek.  I don’t want to be that guy!

Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

The household of faith…that’s the people in the hallway!

More than once the Bible says, “especially the household of faith.”

It’s hard to love and care for the household of faith when we are in such a hurry to get away from them.

So slow down.  Take it easy.  Take some time.  Talk to some people.  Have some casual conversations.  Let God lead, and you’ll be amazed!

It’s not a waste of time.

It’s Hallway Discipleship.

And you’ll find God Himself right in the middle of it.

I’m Doug Apple.