Hungering for God

Every day for the past two weeks my kitchen has looked as if an explosion has taken place in it. I have always been an enthusiastic cooking-from-scratch-kind-of-chef, but since engaging in a Daniel fast for the last fifteen days my methods of cooking have drastically altered. The Daniel fast is a completely plant-based diet, but also restricts caffeine, sugar and any sort of processed food. Things like milk, butter and eggs have gone by the wayside and my pantry has been stocked with all sorts of new and exotic organic foodstuffs.

Before I go any farther I want to say that I know that the fast is not about the food. The real principle of fasting is to develop your spiritual hunger for God and to grow closer to Him. These past two weeks have been a remarkable time of spiritual growth for me as I prepare to speak at a women’s conference in October. As I have quieted myself before the LORD, he has poured out His love over me and I have been incredibly blessed.

That being said, living a vegan lifestyle has been an adjustment for me. For instance, I made some Daniel fast approved “oatmeal raisin cookies.”As I pulled them from the oven I quickly found that the bumpy brown circles of oat flour bore no resemblance to my regular oatmeal cookie recipe. I’m sure Keebler never put anything like them on the shelf. Of course, had the recipe been more truthfully titled such as “lumpy oatmeal blobs” I guess I wouldn’t have tried it. My mantra has now been “keep your taste bud expectations low and you won’t be disappointed.” (Don’t judge – I promise you I said it with a smile.)

I am really not trying to be negative here, just realistic. Eating a restricted diet is a spiritual discipline that I am using to worship and honor God. So no matter what I try to whip up in the kitchen, it isn’t going to taste like anything I am used to eating and I have decided that it’s OK.

On the positive side, I have had some really nice culinary discoveries like quinoa. Who knew that a tiny seed that looks like something I would put in my bird feeder could be so tasty? And dates! Those plump little fruits are incredibly sweet and sumptuous, especially to someone who has been without processed sugar for a few days. And thankfully without refined sugars, my palette has adjusted and fruits taste so much sweeter than they used to.

And I have also found that as my daily dependence on God has increased, the time we spend together has become so much sweeter. His words to me are clearer, my purpose in life has been redefined and my desire to work for His glory has been reignited. The small things that I have given up during the 21 days of fasting in no way compares to what He gave up for me. He stepped down out of heaven to dwell among men so that we could have life eternal. He gave His life for me because of his great love for me. And now each day I have the opportunity to draw near to Him and gain instruction for the journey He has prepared for me.

I’ve had a few people ask me if I am going to continue my vegan diet after I break my fast. Honestly, I don’t know how much of the diet I am going to continue. I like not being addicted to sugar and caffeine. Physically I feel much better without them in my life. But one thing I know that I am going to continue is my desire to seek a closer relationship with Jesus. I went into the fast seeking more of Him and I that’s what I got. And that is something I would never be willing to give up.

Living in the Fast Lane

Lately, I’ve been considering what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus. I’ve thought about what it takes to be someone who isn’t just playing church, but is wholeheartedly sold out for God. And as I have been thinking and praying, God has been patiently, lovingly nudging me toward the idea of fasting.

And in my usual stubborn way I have been trying to dodge the issue. Putting it off because the time was not right, my life was too hectic, or I was just too afraid to face the fact that I might be too selfish to give up my favorite foods. Socially acceptable seasons of fasting like Lent would come and go with only the smallest effort of sacrifice on my part.

Honestly, the thought of any kind of fast was petrifying. How in the world would I make it through the day without the three major food groups – Coffee, Diet Pepsi, and Chocolate? To be truthful, I could live without meat – but dairy and bread? Come on, Lord – I’m a midwestern girl!  You know those two groups make an appearance at every meal. 

And so I quietly resisted. Assuming that fasting was intended for someone much holier than me. Continuing to pretend as if I didn’t hear the call.

Until now.

On Saturday, I began my journey on a 21 day Daniel fast. It will be three weeks without dairy, meat, bread, sugar, caffeine or processed foods. In addition to that, the Lord has called me to a deeper fellowship time with Him that does not include TV or social media. (So to all my Facebook friends, except for publishing my blog, I won’t see you again until October.)

This past week as I prepared for my fast, I cut down on my sugar and caffeine intake and tried to eat as organically as possible. Still, on Friday morning I had an unexpected major meltdown. I was on my way out to school and was stopped at a red light when I started crying. Of course, there were other cars on both sides of me. Their passengers gawking at me probably wondering if the little blonde woman in the car next to them was having a mid-life crisis. As I wrestled a napkin from my lunch to catch the waterworks I was wondering why didn’t I listen to my mother about always carrying a Kleenex in my purse!!

It had begun because I’d been thinking about the fast. Suddenly I was gripped with an overwhelming sense of fear and guilt. Fear of not being able to go through with it. Guilt over the fact that if I was considering backing out then I was obviously addicted to food. But even in that panicked moment I felt God’s comforting presence. I began to pray and I remembered that in God there is no fear and no guilt. Those are schemes of the enemy. I spoke God’s Word over my anxiety and allowed Him to replace my fear and guilt with love and mercy.

And so off I go into the land that is not flowing with milk and honey. But I go knowing I am not alone. Only when I am willing to totally surrender my life can He can take away the things that separate me from Him. And in my state of physical hunger I will wait for Him to satisfy my spiritual hunger. I am ready now, Lord. Ready to encounter the loving God who wants to pour out His heart to me.

After You

It was my turn to speak to the children during one of the Sunday morning worship services. The highlighted scripture that day was Luke 14:1, 7-14. In this passage Jesus had been invited to dinner at an important Pharisee’s home. It records his observations of the guests’ behavior as they maneuvered their way around the table trying  to get the most honorable seat. As an adult I understood Jesus’s implications, but translating it into understandable words for a five or six-year-old child proved to be a challenge for me.

I spent several days scouring the internet for relatable children’s sermons, but none of them seemed quite right. Finally, I talked to my daughter about the difficulty I was having and she gave me sage advice. “Mom, the stories Jesus told were always about what God wanted him to reveal about His character. You should ask Holy Spirit to tell you what He wants you to say.”

I went to bed Saturday night without a plan of my own, but prayed that Holy Spirit would teach me what to say about the character of God. The following morning I awoke with this story spinning in my head.

Once there were two little boys. One was named Me First; the other was After You. Although Me First and After You were members of the same class at school, they were very different characters. When it was time to line up for art or music class, Me First elbowed his way to the front, never caring that someone got their toes stepped on or was pushed to the ground. After You didn’t mind where he stood in line. He was too busy helping up the little girl who had been pushed to the floor as Me First ran by. 

When it was snack time Me First jumped from his seat to retrieve his snack, then gobbled it down with gusto. After You was slow to rise because he’d noticed the distressed look on the new student’s face. He soon found that the new boy had not known to bring a snack so After You graciously offered him half of his.

At recess time Me First made sure to get the purple ball before anyone else could take it. It bounced the highest and flew the furthest when he kicked it. He would surely be the winner of all the games if he had it. After You didn’t care which ball he played with. He was too busy helping others clean up their area before stopping to hold open the classroom door for his wheelchair bound friend.

At the end of the day the teacher told the children that she was going to give a reward to the child in the class who had the most humble heart. Me First didn’t know what a humble heart was, but he was sure that he would receive the prize. After all, he was so good at everything.

Then the teacher did a surprising thing. She asked the class who they thought should receive the reward. One by one, hands went up telling of the kind and humble things that After You had done for them.  The teacher smiled as she called After You to the front to present him with a giant candy bar.

Even though this story was intended for children, Holy Spirit impressed upon my own heart how it was also for me. The truth of the matter is this – try as I might not to be a Me First kind of person, my efforts often fall short. I get irritated when someone cuts in front of me in traffic, takes something I had my eye on, or even overlooks the good job I have done. “Me First!” my heart cries out. “Not fair! I deserved that place of honor.” It is only when I say “After You” to Jesus that change occurs.

Allowing his supernatural love to permeate my heart reminds me that being like Jesus means coming to the party to serve, not to be served. Looking at life as an opportunity to share God’s love with others even at my own inconvenience is the place where I can truly be the kind of woman I long to be. The kind of woman who lives her life in a constant state of After You.