Tag Archives: fasting

Look at My Muscles, Dad

When my children were younger, they would suddenly get it into their heads to start exercising. They’d do some jumping jacks and some push-ups, taking all of five minutes. After they were done, they would flex their biceps and say something to the effect of, “Look at my muscles, Dad. See how strong I’m getting? I’ve been working out.” Not wanting to crush their spirits, I would praise their efforts, after all I remember doing the same thing when I was younger. Not surprisingly, it would be weeks (or even months) before they would work out again. This is how Christians, including me, act towards growing in our strength. A little Bible reading here; a little Bible reading there. A prayer today; another next week. The difference is that many times, we don’t become giddy with accomplishments like a young child after doing push-ups. We lament that we are not growing in faith and strength.

Paul wrote to Timothy that he was to “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7, ESV). The word for “train” is where we get the word “gymnasium.” It has reference to training or to exercising. Training might work, but exercising is not helpful in our culture since many exercise like my children and I used to do. The best word is perhaps “discipline.” My godliness is linked to my discipline—my buckling down and getting to business, consistently and intentionally. If I were to consistently and intentionally do all the disciplines that Don Whitney wrote about (Bible reading, study, meditation, and memorization, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving others, stewardship of money and time, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning on my own) there is no telling what type of man I’d become! Two things are for sure: I would be a very busy man and I would be so busy, I wouldn’t have time to get ensnared by sin. That isn’t to say that I would never sin, but that being captured by it would be nearly impossible. Holiness, or as Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:7: godliness, would be a near given state of being.

In some ways, I wish Dr. Whitney’s book was introduced by the concluding chapter, but then again, it probably would not have had the impact that it does as a conclusion. In that chapter, he articulated what discipline really was: “But even though disciplining yourself is sometimes difficult and involves struggle, self-discipline is not self-punishment. It is instead an attempt to do what, prompted by the Spirit, you actually want in your heart to do.”[1] This will probably be the point that I am going to take with me. I’m not seeking to make my life drudgery by disciplining myself; I’m seeking to give my life godliness. That’s what I really want. It is easy to forget the reason for doing anything, especially the things that go against the flesh. The flesh has a way of fogging up the mind. Whitney reminds the reader that the heart (not the stony heart, but the born again, heart of flesh) wants godliness and holiness. It is a struggle, but it is one worth fighting.

In my bullet-journal, I have a habit tracker in which I record whether or not I did a certain habit (good or bad). My goal is to actually add a Spiritual Discipline’s tracker which would include all of the disciplines Dr. Whitney wrote about. I was planning on having it done by August, but as the saying goes: “No time like the present.” As J. C. Ryle wrote, “Tomorrow is the devil’s day.” Thus, I will be sure to finish my Spiritual Discipline’s tracker today, and begin today with disciplining myself unto godliness. May God allow me to supplement my faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge and knowledge with self-control and self-control with steadfastness and steadfastness with godliness and godliness with brotherly affection and brotherly affection with love (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-7).

[1] Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Downers Grove, IL: 1992), 244.

Book Review: Pray for the Flock

Brian Croft has done it again! I am probably becoming this pastor’s biggest fan.  This is the fifth book I have read of his in as many weeks; I am just as impressed with this one as I was the first, perhaps even more so.  You can read my other reviews on The Pastor’s SoulThe Pastor’s FamilyThe Pastor’s Ministry, and Caring for Widows.  Pray for the Flock is actually co-written by Ryan Fullerton.  Pastor Fullerton is the lead pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, KY and Pastor Croft is the senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist in the same city.  Brian Croft is the founder of Practical Shepherding, and Ryan Fullerton serves on their board of directors. It is obvious that these two men have authored this book having a good rapport with each other, and if not, they mention their longstanding friendship a couple of times within its pages.

That being said, Pray for the Flock: Ministering God’s Grace Through Intercession, published by Zondervan in 2015, is a short but powerful book on prayer.  Fullerton takes most of the first half of the book (Croft wrote one chapter of six in the first half), and deals with the question of why we should pray.  In other words, as the section heading states: “What Does the Bible Teach” about prayer? I have read quite a few books on prayer because, like everyone else, I do not believe my prayer-life to be “up to snuff.”  I want to learn to pray better, longer, more earnestly, and so I go in search of my answers.  I’ve read E.M. Bounds (not every one of his books), I’ve read Mohler, Miller, Tautges, Sproul and others as well. They have helped me with my theology of prayer, some with the practicalities of prayer, and some (quite frankly) have made me feel guilty about my prayer life (and well they should) but none have made me excited to pray. That is what Pastor Fullerton has done in this book.  He reminded me that “If we want to have New Testament ministries, then we must understand and practice the New Testament priority given to prayer,” (p. 24) and instructs us: “Don’t just read God’s promises. Like Daniel, pray them. Ask God to bring them into reality!” (p. 45). Why? Because “God has decided that he is most glorified in accomplishing his purposes by answer the prayers of his people.” (p. 45).  The reality that “Most of us don’t have a theology of prayer that is capable of getting us out of bed in the morning, let alone powerful enough to move mountains,” is convicting because it is true.  But the great thing is that Fullerton doesn’t just leave us convicted, he provides the hope that is needed to alleviate this truth.  I’ll let you read the book so that you can get the full picture and have your heart warmed, primed and ready to go to God in prayer.

Pastor Croft took the second half of the book, as is often the case. He dealt with the more practical side of praying for the flock in the section titled, “The Practice of Prayer.” This is where the book takes more of the pastoral tone (the first half could be read by anyone, with only a few spots dealing directly to pastors).  The titles of some of the chapters in the second half are almost like “click-bait” that can make one think, “I’ve got to read that; how is the true?” Like the chapter titled, “Pray Occasionally.”  That is actually the penult chapter of the book (second to last), but each chapter deals with a specific time or type or way to pray.  We are to pray specifically for our people, not in general. Each person ought to be prayed over, for, and with.  We are to pray with other pastors. We are to pray for missions and that God would raise up and send missionaries and pastors from our churches specifically.  Through six short but eye-opening chapters, Brian Croft revealed thoughts I had never considered as to that which we ought to pray.  In fact, I have already taken a few of those ideas and put them into practice.  My favorite (a “why haven’t I thought of it before” kind of lesson) is getting a little notebook (small enough to fit in my back pocket) and writing every person in the church on a page, then when I hear of a prayer request I can write it down under that person’s name and continually pray for and with that person (adapted a little from his suggestion) and then I contact that person with a short note letting them know I’ve been praying for their situation.

The Appendix deals with Pastor Fullerton’s 40-day fast that he had apparently just finished during the writing of this book.  I found it a bit slow, and not as compelling, as the rest of the book. However, it still gave great insight as to how fasting and prayer go together.

Coming in at only 125 pages, this is the shortest book I have read by Pastor Croft, but it is the best book I’ve read on prayer.  I woke up early the other day, having just finished the book, and as I lay there I was wondering what I should do: try to fall back asleep? get on Twitter or Facebook? Then an excited feeling deep within came bubbling up, I knew what I wanted–wanted!–to do: pray.  Much of the time we simply don’t believe in the power of prayer or we don’t know how to pray as it seems we say the same things over and over again. If that’s you, I’d highly recommend reading this little book. If you’re not a pastor, I would still encourage you to read this–especially the first half.