Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fasting Day Thirty-Seven: The "discipline" of God's presence

Suddenly, instead of looking at the enormous number of days stretching out ahead of me in the fast, and wondering if I’m ever going to make it to the end, I’m looking ahead and thinking how little time is left. My experience so far has been good. I’ve had a consistent time of connecting with God, and yes, I’ve been more disciplined in it than I had been before the fast, and have been reminded that in some sense the fact that I have to talk about being “disciplined” in getting time with God shows the poverty of my spiritual state.  I’m not “disciplined” in eating every day… I eat every day because it’s something I need physically, and additionally it’s something I enjoy. Any time I start talking about “needing to be more disciplined” in getting time with God, I’m saying that spending time with God is a chore and I don’t desire it.  That has shifted now. Fasting is a discipline. But I want more time with God. Not as a discipline, but because I need it and enjoy it.

I told Krista today that I need to take one more day with the Lord before the fast ends, and we made plans. On the 39th day, which is a Saturday, we’ll go to church as a family, and on the 40th, a Sunday, I’ll take a day by myself and go out and pray and spend time with God, then meet Krista to break my fast in the early evening.

Mmmmmm. bamboo!
Ten years ago, the only other time I did a long fast (not a full 40 days… but close to 30), I felt completely disconnected from God basically the entire fast, far more than during this fast. God was silent, purposely shut off from me. He was present but distant. Silent. On the last day of the fast, I took a long day and walked around our city (we were living in Asia at the time). I walked through strange, remote parts of the city I had never been to before.  Toward the end of the day I wanted to find a place I could be by myself, I wanted to find a “lonely place” to pray without the eyes of every person watching the white guy wandering the city. It’s not easy to find such a place when you live in a city of six million, and in a moment of desperation I found a stand of clumping bamboo outside of a hotel and I crawled into it. Once inside, it was like I was in a bamboo room. No one could see inside, and though I could hear people walking by and talking occasionally, no one could see or hear me. I started to pray and after a long time I felt that disconnection with God begin to lessen. I felt like I could hear God, but he was in another room… I could hear the sound of his voice but none of his words. I kept praying, but it didn’t get clearer. I waited there in the bamboo, silent myself, and tried to hear his voice.

Just when I was ready to give up I heard him speak clearly. The conversation was short, but for me it was significant. He didn’t tell me something. He asked me a question. He asked if I was willing to have writing be part of my service to him… more than a hobby, that it would be something he expected of me, something I would be held accountable to him for as part of my job in his service. I thought about it briefly and said yes, and then he cautioned me to think carefully before answering, and started telling me things about it that would be hard for me… that it’s often a solitary pursuit and that I would be lonely at times. That it would require discipline and hard work that thus far I hadn’t been willing to put into it. I considered those things and told him that I would be willing. It was, for me, a change in direction, a new addition to my calling, even though my vocation and day to day job weren’t changing. When I agreed to adopt this into my life, he released me from the fast. I went home and told Krista and sat at our dinner table and drank some grape juice and ate some bread and had communion, and then ate a meal. It was a month of silence from God that ended with profound communication from him. I felt relieved and exhausted. Perhaps that’s what waits in the next few days. I hope that’s true. 

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