Honestly…

I wish I could write that I’m enjoying this fasting time. I really do! I wish I could tell you that it’s been one of the best experiences of my life. I wish I could tell you all the amazing new insights I’m receiving and fun experiences I’m having as a result of fasting.

But honesty demands that I have to admit that none of that is happening.

It’s really hard and getting harder as the days pass. Not that I’m hungry anymore; I’m actually not. But I’m longing for food. I’m longing to sit down and talk with John over a pizza and savor the flavors and drink an ice-filled Coke and finish it up with a little chocolate and…ok, I gotta stop going into details.

It’s really boring and getting more boring as the days pass. My piece of bread or a little rice and beans (again) are filling my stomach, but sure are getting old.

It’s really challenging to say, “This is worth it” and getting harder as the days pass. I’m just being totally honest with you.

Until…until I realize that recently I’ve been extra weepy over sin and complacency and people with hardened hearts. Until…until I realize that recently I’m learning even more than ever that I am still so weak without HIS strength, so carnal without HIS cleansing, so SELFISH without His purifying of my heart. Until…until I recognize that recently I’m thinking about my Savior constantly and continually throughout the day because I need Him so much to help me do this.

Hmmmm…………maybe more is happening than I realize during this fast. Maybe it IS worth it, even if it’s hard and boring and challenging.

Patty

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An Invitation to Weep?

I’m really trying to feed on God’s Word during this fast. I keep thinking of Jesus’ words to the devil (when Jesus himself was REALLY hungry after FORTY days of going without ANY food), “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (He was quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3.) So, I want to make sure that this is not just turning away from food, but also turning toward the Word.

So, this morning I was reading the book of Ezra (again). I was struck again by his deep agony over the sins of his people. In Ezra 9, after he hears news of the unfaithfulness of his people to God, a poignant picture is given of him at the evening sacrifice. “I rose…and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed…” Then, “too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens”, he pours out his heart to the Lord who has been so faithful to the nation of Israel, even in their wandering and disobedience and impurity.

Then in 10:1 it paints another poignant picture of this man of God “praying and confessing, WEEPING and throwing himself down before the house of God.” A few verses later it says, “While he was there, he ate no bread and drank no water because he continued to MOURN over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.”

I was gripped by this picture of Ezra, especially by the picture of him WEEPING over the sins of the people. And it hit me that we, today, in our society and churches, don’t WEEP very much over our own sin or the sin of those we love or the sin of our nation and world.

I’m convinced that revival comes to a church and to a land when people are heartbroken over their own deliberate sin and the sin of others all around them. When we WEEP over selfishness, pride, lack of love, materialism, anger, bitterness, and a self-focused lifestyle (just to mention a few), God responds in loving acceptance, cleansing us and using us for His glory.

As I prayed this morning, I felt the invitation of God on my own life to commit to WEEPING over sin. Maybe you’ll join me?

“Let my eyes overflow with tears night and day without ceasing for…my people.” (Jeremiah 14:17

OOPS…I almost forgot.

(I came into church to write a brief blog on my day off so that I wouldn’t miss a day of posting.)

Well, I almost forgot. I almost started to depend on myself. I almost neglected to start my day in surrender.

I woke up today feeling pretty good. Awake. Alert. Pretty strong. A tiny bit of thinking, “Hey, maybe this fasting is going to be easy now. I’m not feeling the intensity of the hunger pains. I’m not obsessing as much about eating. I’m not counting down the days until Sunday. I’m feeling pretty strong.”

And so, I almost forgot to cry out to my Savior for His strength, peace and joy. I almost went out the door to begin my day’s activities without falling to my knees in surrender. I almost thought I COULD DO THIS.

But I caught myself just in time. Another lesson learned among the multitude of lessons my Savior is teaching me during these first five days. Again I’m humbled…and grateful…and dependent.

“Thank you, Holy Spirit, for your gentle reminder that any strength I am currently experiencing is simply and completely because you are at work in me. Thank you for nudging me to recognize that if I make it through today without obsessing about food or cheating just a tiny bit or getting a little down because I can’t eat something fun and special on my day off – if I do any of this, it’s because you are at work in me. Thank you so much for drawing me to my knees. Thank you for being so faithful and patient with me. I owe you everything. And I love you so much.”

Fasting, Prayer and the Word

I’m convinced that fasting and prayer and the Word go hand in hand. Fasting alone could turn into a joyless self-discipline effort that causes the person fasting to notice all she is giving up, all she is sacrificing, all she is missing out on – and that doesn’t seem to bring God much glory or make much of a difference in the person’s life.

But when we combine fasting with prayer and the Word of God – then we have potential for some powerful results. I was thinking this morning about some of the results I’m finding in these first days of our church-wide fast:

A greater reliance on God. Experiencing hunger pains and the weakness of not eating and the resultant tendency to irritability and impatience is pushing me to cry out to my Savior for strength and patience and kindness to flow from His heart to mine. So many times, especially the first three days, I’ve been on the verge of tears, pleading, “Lord, please help me right now. I need you desperately. I can’t do this by myself. Come, Holy Spirit, and meet me at my point of need RIGHT NOW.” And He has done just that every hour beginning early Thursday morning when I slipped out of bed and knelt before Him in submission and surrender.

An increasing sense of intimacy. Because the physical body is making itself so known, and pushing me toward continual prayer, I’m finding an even greater sense of intimacy with the Lord. It’s reminds me of those times when I spend extra time with John, focusing on him, I often end up FEELING closer to him. I’m thinking about my Savior continually because I’m praying continually, so I’m experiencing a greater sense of intimacy with Him.

A greater hope that my prayers are going to be answered. I entered this fast with three heart-felt prayers:

For the salvation of people I love the most
For revival for our church
For miracles that bring glory to God

As I’m fasting and praying, there seems to be deep inside me a sense of expectancy and anticipation that all-mighty God is working RIGHT NOW in those areas, even when I cannot see His hand or His activity. It seems that my own faith is growing.

His Word is living and active as I open it up. I’m studying Ezra and Nehemiah and Haggai right now – three books of the Old Testament that you might think wouldn’t be jumping off the pages in relevancy to me. But the opposite is true! I’m overwhelmed at how much I’m getting from these books.

And finally, since yesterday’s encounter with the Lord where He rebuked me for my lack of joy and my focus on myself, I’ve been experiencing a measure of joy. Only He could have done that in me!

Yep, combining fasting, prayer and the Word is having an impact on my life. And I’m not even half-way through it yet. Wonder what else He will be teaching me.

In closing, I pray the words of the song I sang so often years ago:

Speak, Lord, in the stillness, while I wait on Thee. Hushed, my heart to listen. In expectancy.

(And by the way, I’m also getting more sleep. Since I’m fasting from almost all TV, and since I’m weakened by lack of food, I’m ready to go to bed by 9:00! Didn’t expect that one! )

Learning As I Go

I spent an extended time in prayer today over this fast and as I wrote out my prayers to my Savior, I realized that I am learning some important lessons about myself even in these first 2 1/2 days. I’m going to share some of those lessons, even though they sure don’t make me look very good! But maybe others who are fasting will need to read about these lessons, so here goes the first one…

Lord, as I look back on these 2 1/2 days of fasting, I just realized that I have been focusing on 1) how weak I am physically without food, 2) how long this fast is, 3) how much I’m giving up, 4) how hard it is to fast, and 5) how much I can’t wait for it to be over. I realize I sound like the Israelites in the wilderness as they griped and grumbled after leaving the “rich” foods of Egypt. (Of course, when they were in Egypt, they griped and grumbled about their lot there, too!) Not a very pleasing picture of myself, Lord.

Oh, how easy it is to focus on me, to focus on what I wish I had, to focus on my wants and desires. How easily I focus on what I don’t have rather than what I do have. For 2 1/2 days now all I can think about has been my hunger, my weakness, my sacrifice…myself. If I’m honest, I see that happening in other parts of my life, too, at times: someone else’s bigger, nicer house or car, another church that seems to be perfect and problem-free, other Christians’ kids who are in ministry, and on and on it can go.

I don’t like what I see, Lord. At all. I’m sure you don’t, either. Thank you for using fasting as a means to reveal this part of me to me so I can seek forgiveness and cleansing. I confess all this to you. I repent over it. Please forgive me. Cleanse me deeply of such a carnal attitude, such deep-down self-centeredness. I am so sorry.

As long as I concentrate on all of the negatives about fasting, I can’t expereince joy! I admit, I’ve had zero joy through this first part of the committment! Zero. It’s been all about the sacrifice and all I’m missing out on. So, Lord and Savior, I must find joy in these remaining days. Show me my next steps to finding joy.

I’m wondering if this is all part of why fasting is so necessary: in the middle of it you teach us so much about ourselves! You make known to us things we may not be aware of – things that may have remained hidden or at least obscured when we’re going on our merry, extremely materialistic, earth-focused path. If so, then certainly for that reason alone, fasting is worth it.

Thank you so much for speaking to me, for making your will more known to me. I want to walk through the next 7 1/2 days different, Lord. Enable me to find joy, to experience peace, and to know greater strength from you, Holy Spirit, who lives inside of me.

The End Of One…

I’m about to finish my first day of the 10 day church-wide fast. I’m trying hard not to do this as a countdown: One day down; 9 more to go. I’m really longing to make each day count and to learn the lessons inherent in each one regarding fasting, myself, the Lord, prayer…and anything else the Spirit wants to teach me. But I admit that it’s really hard at this stage of the fast NOT to think that way. I’m wondering if it will get easier – or harder.

So, at the end of this first day, what did I learn? Nothing very profound; in fact, I wouldn’t even say that I “learned” these things but rather than I “relearned” them. Here are a few things I noticed especially today.

1. I couldn’t get over how much the body affects the entirety of my life! As I was spending some time in prayer tonight about this day, it was so clear to me that weakness and difficulties in the body strongly affect the spirit, the soul, and the emotional part of us. I began to think how detrimental that can be. I asked the Lord, “What if I developed migraine headaches and can’t focus to pray? Will I still “sense” my Lord’s presence as much?” “What if I experience the ravages of cancer and can’t study your Word? Will I be able to walk completely by faith if there are no feelings at all?” As my hunger pains and physical weakness called out to me, they propelled me to ask the Lord to help me go deeper in being a person who walks more by faith than ever before, in case those days come when faith is all I have.

2. I couldn’t help but recognize the immense power food has in my life. Nearly every moment today I thought of food: how hungry I was (am), how much I wanted (want) to eat, how much I was (am) craving food – any food – but especially rich, sugary, energy-producing food. (I understand that food doesn’t have such a gigantic power over everyone, but those for whom it does, you’ll certainly understand what I’m talking about!) I don’t like this truth about myself. John’s dad once said, “The body makes a wonderful servant but a horrible master.” I want this body of mine to be my servant, not my master so that He alone is my Master. Maybe this one of the most powerful lessons fasting can teach me.

3. I’m really weak in myself. I mean REALLY weak! I simply cannot do a 10-day fast without His strength and power. My only hope for deep-down strength is from the One who made this body and spirit and who lives inside me to help me minute by minute to walk in strength. And so, I cry out to Him minute by minute. Maybe that’s another reason fasting is so valuable in God’s eyes because He knows how much it can propel us to recognizing our need for Him.

I began this day by falling out of bed onto my knees, surrendering the day to my Savior. And then all day long I found myself crying out to Him OFTEN for His strength and power and help. I have a feeling I’ll be doing the same thing tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. But I’m trying hard not to count.

I’ll be anxious to hear how others are doing on this journey!

(My goal is to write each day of this 10 day fast but since I’ll be out of the office tomorrow, I’ll let this second writing count for tomorrow.)

A 10-Day Journey, Never Before Taken

Blogging has been tough for me to do this year (obviously!) It always seems that there are more important and urgent things to do. I think about it often during the week, but that’s as far as it’s gone for months now.

But I’m feeling the urge this week because of something specific that’s going on…So here it goes (again).

Today our church begins a journey we’ve never walked before in the almost 40 years I’ve been here. We are embarking on a 10-day church-wide fast leading up to Pentecost Sunday. During these 10 days, I’d like to write about my own feelings and thoughts and actions relating to the fast. Maybe my posts will encourage someone who reads them. Maybe they will only help ME. Either way, I’m going to give it my best shot to be disciplined in writing daily.

When John and I first began to talk about calling the church to this 10-day fast about three months ago, I was almost hyperventilating as we discussed it and then I broke down in tears, saying, “I believe the Lord is calling us to this, but I truly don’t have any idea how in the world I’ll be able to do it.” I’ve always NEEDED food every few hours in order to maintain a good blood sugar level. I couldn’t imagine how I would go hours – days – without eating regularly. But this sense of urgency was heavy upon me that this was God’s call on our lives and on our church for this period of time.

So, I decided to begin experimenting with fasting before it came to the church-wide fast. I took two days a week to do a bread and water fast. I entered the experiment with great apprehension: Could I really do this? What if I failed? What would my failure say about God and His power? Would I be too weak to do my job? And on and on the questions and fears went.

Guess what. I am thrilled to write that the Lord proved Himself to me as He’s done thousands of times before! He filled me with strength. I didn’t experience the headaches I was dreading. Though it was hard, the Lord and I did it! (It was especially hard by 7:00 p.m. I’d often say, “Lord, if you don’t help me right now, I’m going to go into that kitchen and eat anything I can get my hands on!”) My Savior came through for me every single hour of that fast.

Now I’m embarking on a much more difficult fast. 10 DAYS!!!!!!!!!! The same questions sometimes wash over me and I get apprehensive about the outcome. But I’m also filled with a measure of excitement that supercedes the fears and apprehension and anxiety. My heart pounds inside me as I anticipate what the Lord just might do in these 10 days as hundreds and hundreds of people sacrifice something (food? media?) in order to demonstrate how desperate we are for God to work in greater ways.

So, I began today on my knees, yielding this body to my Savior, asking Him to help me minute by minute to be strong in His strength. And I continue today to sing the words of an old song I grew up singing:

“Come, Holy Spirit, I need you.
Come, sweet Spirit, I pray.
Come in your strength and your power.
Come, in your own gentle way.”

Gripped anew…

Anyone who knows me well knows that I get “gripped” by quotes at times. That’s the best way I know to express it: gripped. Sometimes I’m reading a book when suddenly a sentence or paragraph leaps out at me and my heart beats quicker in response to the words I’ve just read and I’m shouting inside, “YES! That’s it!” I know it may sound silly to some of you, but quotes have literally shaped my life at times as I connect so intensely with what the author is writing that I resonate with his/her words and I begin asking the Lord to change me to more closely reflect those words I’ve just read.

I found one such quote this week in one of my favorite books: “Humility” by Andrew Murray. I’ve reread it almost every year for the past 15 – 20 years. Every time I read it again I find that though I’ve made progress in this vital, Christlike characteristic of humility (which Murray defines as the opposite of pride and “the place of entire dependence on God”), I still have so far to go! That happened to me again this week: I saw some progress and growth where the Holy Spirit has worked in this area, but I also saw areas where pride and ego still keep me from looking like my Savior. How I praise Him for progress; how I seek Him for more humility.

Want to know the specific quote that leaped out at me this week? Here it is:

“Man’s chief care, his highest virtue, and his only happiness, now and through all eternity, is to present himself an empty vessel in which God can dwell and manifest His power and goodness.”

I read and reread those words. I stopped, grabbed my pen and journal, and began pouring out my heart to the Lord! Two thoughts especially leaped out at me:

“An empty vessel”: I cried out to Him that I would be emptied more than ever of pride and ego, selfishness and stubborness, so I could be fit for Him to fill with His love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and gentleness.

“In which God can dwell and manifest His power and goodness”: I cried out to Him, “Oh, the overwhelming blessing of having God the Holy Spirit indwell the believer! Oh, the privilege of having Him live in the believer to reveal His power and goodness! Oh, the humility it brings to know that without Him I can do nothing that matters for eternity (John 15:5), but ‘with Him all things are possible'” (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27)!

I’ve been gripped anew this week by the desire to look more like my Master in this grace of humility, knowing that I’m “nothing but a vessel, a channel, through which the living God can manifest the riches of His wisdom, power and goodness.” (Murray)

May it be, Lord Jesus; may it be.

I’M BACK!!!

I don’t know why I stopped blogging. I actually had gotten to the place where I enjoyed it. But somewhere along the way there simply seemed to be so many other more pressing things to be done: deadlines to be met, books to be read, intercession to be made, meetings to attend, and on and on I could go with the reasons I stopped. And so I let one week go by without blogging, then another week, then another. Finally, after a number of those weeks, I noticed it had been a couple of months since I had written on my blog. (And boy, did those months fly by!)

I have to admit, social media stuff isn’t really me. I’m not into facebook – perhaps because I could so easily get sucked into the obsessive-compulsive side of it and stay up all night going from one person’s posts to another to another to a hundred others. I hate texting, though I’ve come to appreciate the brevity of it. I don’t even like to talk on the phone!

Why don’t I like social media stuff? BECAUSE I LIKE THE FACE-TO-FACE stuff. I like looking you in the eye and seeing your expressions as we talk. I like seeing your face light up when something good is being said. I appreciate knowing by the look on your face if I’ve said something that confuses or confounds or even irritates you. I like watching your body language and knowing by your movements if you’re buying into what I’m saying or not. I like being able to reach out and put a gentle hand on you as we share or to slap you on the arm as we laugh together if you’re being silly or to pull you into a warm hug as we’re leaving one another.

And of course, I don’t get any of that in a blog.

But I have to acknowledge that the world revolves around and in and through and with social media. I know it; I just don’t especially like it. But I know I need to use it to its fullest advantage since that’s the way the world IS.

So, I’m back. I’m not making any wild and crazy boasts about how often I’m going to post, but I AM going to try to get with the program and make this a priority.

I can’t tell by your face or your body language or your sighing or your rolling of your eyes if you’re buying into what I’m writing about, but I’ll write it anyway. Because maybe, at times, along the way, I’ll say something that will help you or encourage you or motivate you or bless you or kick you to being something more. And that will be my way of reaching out to you with a “virtual” hug.

Stay tuned.

Blessings, Patty

“He’s Working Me Over”

I’m experiencing a very convicting time of life right now.  And that’s a good thing.  It means that I’m growing.  The Holy Spirit is really “working me over”, revealing areas of my life where I need more of the Lord’s cleansing, more of His love to flow through me to others, and so much more.  He’s showing me places that don’t yet look very Christlike in Patty Bray.  He’s revealing places where I need to experience more of His power in and through my life.  He’s really “working me over.”

Much of this is happening as I’m reading several books that are extremely convicting.  (You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been writing less on the blog; that’s mainly because I’m spending so much time reading, and praying.) I thought I would share a bit about these books with you and perhaps you’ll pick one of them up and find greater conviction and growth in your own life.  Today let me share two of them.

  • “Ablaze For God” is one of my top ten books of my life.  Wesley Duewel challenges me in incredible ways!  I could quote from his book for an hour; nearly every page is underlined and highlighted.  He’s writing to committed Christians who know that they need more of the power of God upon their lives.  He writes on every page about the indwelling Holy Spirit who longs to enable His people to live lives with greater power, authority, and anointing than we have yet experienced.  He links all of that with us becoming committed to intercessory prayer.  Let me share one sentence with you:

“Ablaze for God!  Your personality so suffused with the presence and beauty of the Lord that others instinctively sense that God is with you!”  Oh, how I’m longing to live like that more than ever in my life!

  • “Seven” (by Jen Hatmaker) was a gift from one of my best friends just last week.  Oh, my goodness!  This book is going to have a profound impact on tons of Christians!

Jen’s question is, “Do you feel trapped in the machine of excess?”  She writes from a heart that is heartsick over Christians who are blinded by their wealth and don’t even know it.  (Yes!  She means people like you and like me!) She says that “it’s ruining us”.  She writes this book to help Christians find “a tangible way to bow low and repent of greed, ungratefulness, ruined opportunities, and irresponsibility.”  She writes, “The day I am unaware of my privileges and unmoved by my greed is the day something has to change”.

And change, she did.  She took seven arenas of life and experimented with “downsizing” in each. She started with food.  It’s the only chapter I’ve gotten through yet and boy is it convicting me (and John)!  You’ll have to get the book to really get what she did, but let me tell you what John and I are doing as a result of that first chapter.

We’re eating only 7 foods this week.  (Jen did this for a month…We may end up doing that, too, but we have some commitments this month that will prevent us from taking an entire month at this point.) It’s just a kind of “fast” (which I have never been good at accomplishing!)  Fasting from much (most) of the great foods I enjoy on a daily basis, depending on my Savior to enable me to do this when my stomach cries out for that Weight Watchers ice cream sandwich, or that soft drink, or that bowl of cereal, or that…well, you get what I’m thinking.  To fast from most foods, to depend on my Savior for help and strength to do this, and to think of and pray for most of this world that is living today on two or three bowls of rice as their main staple…and to be more grateful.  That’s what the Spirit is doing in me as I take on this “holy experiment”.

Who knows what else the Lord will do during this time?  But if He only does what I’ve just written, it will sure be worth the experiment.

Yes, He is “working me over”.  It’s not necessarily an easy time – conviction seldom is – but oh, is it a precious time.  I sense His presence so near; I hear from Him through His Word every time I open it;  and I feel like I can detect His smile of approval as I step out in faith more and more.

I’m praying today for those of you who read this blog, that you, too, will let Him work YOU over.  It will be worth it!