Fasting, What We Learn Through Suffering

 

A good speaker might start with a joke to make people feel comfortable.  But that's not why we're here today and I'm not a good speaker.  These are very serious subjects we're studying.

 Overcoming sin, becoming humble and fasting are subjects that might make us uncomfortable.  However, if fasting makes us uncomfortable to the point of suffering, GOOD; because that is what it is intended to do!  I was asked to speak on fasting and what we learn through suffering.

 OK, so let's be honest.   Our human minds do not want to suffer.

 There isn't a store in the mall with big lineups outside selling suffering.  Yet as I look at each person in this room, I know that you have all experienced suffering.   How do I know? You've told me and you've shared your experiences in your speeches, in your prayers, and in conversations.   I have learned so much about this .group of people because you have been open about your lives.   You are an answer to my prayer and I am grateful that you are still here fighting the good fight.

 We know that suffering and death are a result of sin.   Romans 5: 12 says because of Adam sin entered into the world and death by sin and so death passed upon all men for all have sinned.   We are all full of sin – myself included.

 All of the sinful actions of mankind from Adam and Eve till now have resulted in human suffering.  The sickness and diseases that we suffer are a result of mankind's breaking God's laws even when it's not deliberate.  And we know from scripture that the wages of sin is death.  Romans 6:23.   So the question is, “what does suffering have to do with fasting?”  Why should we WANT to fast and suffer?

 In Isaiah 55:8-9, a scripture we know well, God tells us that our thoughts are not God's thoughts.  God's thoughts are so far above our thoughts.  Keep this in mind, as we look to the scriptures for answers.

 This Bible that we have is a precious gift.  People have given their lives that we might have it.  It is a book that is the Word of God and it is full of bloodshed, violence, suffering, heartache and pain suffered by real living breathing people just like us.

 I keep in touch with a friend who I've known since we were three or four.  We grew up in the church together, just like sisters.  She doesn't go to church and this is why.  She doesn't believe that the bible is true.  She thinks it's a collection of stories meant to scare and manipulate people into going to church.

 But we who have been blessed with God's Holy Spirit know that the Bible IS true and that it is also a book full of hope and incredible promises and laws that seem strange to people in the world.

 From this book we can know we are not promised a physical life without suffering.  In John 16:23 Christ tells us "in this life ye WILL have tribulation but be of good cheer I have overcome the world”.

 Most parents do not want their children to suffer, we would go through fire to protect them, give our lives to protect them.  Did God the Father not give His son? And Christ in John 10:18 says "I lay down my life of myself."  He did give his life for us.

 In His mercy He gives us protection from the second death, eternal death, but not the first death and not from suffering.  Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto man once to die.”  In fact Christ was born and lived and died for us as an example of how we are to live and be willing to die.

 Christ also fasted.  Why did Christ need to fast?  Did He have sins to overcome? No of course not.  He fasted for the strength He would need to defeat Satan and the consequences of OUR sin.  He fasted to prepare Himself for the terrible suffering He knew He was going to have to endure for us.  Our future depended on His success.  He could not fail.

 Christ and God the Father wanted a family.  Genesis 1:26 has already been quoted here today.  Without His sacrifice and forgiveness we could not become part of their family.  But WHY did He have to suffer?

 Hebrews 4 starting in verse 14 says "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.  For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are yet without sin”.  And Hebrews 5:7 speaks of Christ saying, "Who in the days of his flesh when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death and was heard in that he feared.  Though he were a Son yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered”.

 Hebrews 2: 10 tells us, “For it became him for whom are all things and by whom are all things in bringing many sons unto glory (that's us) to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings”.  Skipping down to Verse 18, “for in that he himself hath suffered being tempted he is able to succor (help) them that are tempted”.

 We were all created with a mind capable of great things.  God created us with emotions, the same emotions that He himself has!! Scriptures tell us of His joy and satisfaction in creation when He said "it is good",

 We can know of His loving kindness and generosity by looking at the beautiful world He created for us and at His plan of Salvation.  Scripture also tells us of His anger, and righteous jealousy when we don't worship Him; and of His sorrow when we suffer.  It also tells us of his longing for us; His desire to protect us.

 Yes we were created with emotions and desires; a desire for comfort, and a desire to live.  The desire for comfort is not necessarily always a bad thing but it is only concerned with itself.  It can be selfish in nature.  If we are to follow the example of Christ it is not to seek our own comfort at the expense of the comfort of others.

 Millions of people in this world live without the very basic necessities that we take for granted.  If you can recall in the 80's pop music entertainers made a song to raise awareness and money to end the famine in Ethiopia .  In the years since then many more millions of people in Africa have died of starvation, there's been genocide in Rwanda and Aids has become a pandemic leaving many thousands of orphans.

 This past summer Barrie hosted a rock concert this time to raise awareness and hopefully reduce the debt of the world's poorest countries.  As if listening to rich self indulgent rock stars singing songs about fornication, adultery and a party lifestyle will help the family living in a corrugated tin shack going to sleep hungry every night.  After the 9-11 attacks US citizens were strongly urged "Whatever you do don't change your lifestyle".  But changing their lifestyle is exactly what they should have been doing!  Recently in the Toronto news was the story of a five year old little boy who was neglected and starved to death by his grandparents who didn't want him.  I was just so angry.

 With the election tomorrow we have been swamped with election promises on the issues of concern to Canadians.  How they’ll keep those promises they really don't say because they really don't know.

 I hold in my hand the greatest party platform ever written down in detail.  It covers Economic reform, fair lending and tithing laws, and land ownership laws.  It was very important to God that each generation had an inheritance.  Land that had been sold had to be returned to the family in the year of release as people had to grow their own food.  It also covers environmental protection laws, healthcare, marriage laws, agricultural practices, animal welfare and contains a justice system where the punishment fits the crime, childcare responsibilities, and labour relations.  If you had servants they had to be treated well and after a number of years of service had to be released AND you could not send them away empty handed!  There is a lot more but do you get what I'm saying?  

 The author of these laws is a leader we can stand behind, of whose government we are called to be representatives.  It's just too bad that these laws have become obsolete and done away.  NOT!!!

 There is very little comfort in this world; very little justice.  People who try to do good things for others feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the world's problems.  All of man's best efforts are not going to fix the world's problems.  The other desire I mentioned that is programmed into us is the desire to live.  Usually when we die our bodies shut down in stages.  Circulation of the blood slows, organs cease to function and respiration stops.  But the brain does not want to let go.  It hoards oxygen and will stay alive for as much as four minutes after we stop breathing.

 Foregoing food and water kicks our survival instinct into gear.  It knocks us out of our comfort zone.  Human nature is lazy; as long as we stay comfortable our sense of urgency and desire to live is relatively dormant.  When we start to feel uncomfortable our brain sends us the message "Hey send some food down here".  If we deny that our brain gets more concerned and sends serious signals such as headaches, pain, maybe even dizziness.  To go without food and water any longer raises our self preservation instinct to emergency levels.  People have done desperate things when they fear death.  People are forced to acknowledge that they cannot live without food and water.

 There is a time coming when the haves of this world will become the have nots.  The book of Lamentations speaks of desperation and starvation and gold being thrown into the streets because there is no food to buy.

 What we want to learn from suffering through fasting is the important difference.  We must not seek to preserve this physical life or the way our carnal minds think.  We must acknowledge that what we need is God to survive.  We must seek to obtain eternal life.  We seek to suffer so that the world's suffering might end sooner; to prepare for the Kingdom of God .

 As I was writing this down I was thinking to myself this is not something that my neighbor and I could sit and chat about over a cup of coffee.  She would think I wasn't making any sense.  People in this world want to preserve its lifestyle and freedom to do whatever they feel is right in their own eyes.  God's way of life is the way to true freedom from sin and results in happiness and justice for each person.

 Christ's followers must also learn from suffering and fasting.  We have their examples in the scriptures.  The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11: that many times he was in peril, imprisoned, hungered in fasting often, beaten, and shipwrecked.  None of us here have been through that.  But we have suffered.

 I think of my mother and though she and others fasted that she might be healed of cancer, she in fact received something far more wonderful than a long physical life.  Her time of physical suffering was a time of spiritual growth and strengthening.  She spent her remaining time studying and praying and drawing close to God because she knew she had so much to learn and perhaps not long to learn it in.  I have her Bibles and notebooks and many things written in the margins of her bible are things we talk about in services now.  When she died she was able to do so with courage and a calm dignity, trusting in God's mercy, forgiveness and the promise of the resurrection.  She was a wonderful example to me.

 I'm sure that when you think of the things you have suffered through in your life you realize that you have gained invaluable knowledge and insight and that have made you the person you are here today.

 So to answer the question asked at the beginning, why would we WANT to fast and suffer?  Just as we exercise our muscles in our body to train them to become stronger, we fast to exercise our suffering muscles.

 We fast:

To follow Christ's example.

To show our intent to follow Him and seek His will, not our own will.

To prepare ourselves for trials to come.

To understand the mind of God and His plan for mankind.  To please Him with our trust and dependence.

To acknowledge that He ALONE is our sole comforter and true provider of all things.

To show our love and gratitude to Him for His love for us, and His willingness to suffer for us.

To have compassion and empathy for others who are suffering.  Remember Christ suffered so we couldn't say to Him "You had it so easy" "You don't know what it is like to suffer".

To show Him we rely on Him to give us the spiritual strength and courage to get through whatever suffering we need to go through to be created in His likeness and build His holy righteous character.  In our physical weakness God's power is revealed.

 LASTLY:

 To have a greater vision of and desire for the Kingdom of God and that future without suffering.  To make us really want it.  Christ had that vision, and was able to endure terrible suffering.

 We need to see the BIG picture, that vision of the future when people will be given the opportunity to live in a world that is ruled by God.

 I'd like to read from Micah 4:3, “And He shall judge among many people and rebuke strong nations afar off and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall they learn war anymore.  But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree and none shall make them afraid for the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken it”.

 You'll remember the church crest with the lion and lamb together with the little child.  God speed that day.  Can we imagine the peace and prosperity? How bad do we want it?

 How bad do you want it?  That is the question Christ is asking us each day.  We are in training for that right now.  Do we want the temporary comforts of this world which we can't take with us and even Solomon realized was all vanity OR are we storing up treasures in heaven for eternity?

 We learn through suffering.  We are alive so that we may learn and build character.  We are given a period of time to do that learning in.  We don't know how long that may be.   But we can know that we are promised in I Corinthians 10:13 that we will not be tested more than we can bear.

 So let us consider all of the many benefits of fasting that we have learned here today AND REMEMBER to exercise our suffering muscles.

 Thank you.

 Carol P.

Family Forum

Sunday, January 22, 2006