Where's our Focus when we Fast?
January 10, 2023
Happy New Year, dear SUMites. I do hope you all had a blessed time with loved ones over the Christmas/New Year period.
And now we Fast. It’s become the traditional way we SUMites start our years. It’s a great way as individuals to draw closer to God and doing it together can deepen that experience and strengthen our bonds as a group.
“We become what we behold” – William Blake
I think I shared this Blake quote in a previous post as it’s become one of my favourites over the years. During Advent, I was drawn to the notion of how we spend our time while we wait; Advent, of course being a season of waiting.
I mentioned last time in my Advent post that I’m presently in a season of transition. Looking forward to what the next season in my life holds having spent much of the last few years caring for my parents.
We’re all probably familiar with the story of Anna, the prophet, who greeted Mary and Joseph when Jesus was presented in the temple. Let’s meet her, here in Luke:
“There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:36-38 NIVUK)
Anna, like we SUMites, knew a thing about waiting. She had been waiting for the redemption of Israel through the fulfilment of the OT prophecy of the Messiah. After becoming a widow, likely to have been in her early 20s assuming she married as a young teen like most women did in Biblical times, she spent around 60 years hanging out in the temple. Now that’s a lot of waiting.
And what do we read she does? She worships, fasts, and prays. Continually. Incredible, isn’t it? Her faith is extraordinary. Anna is formed in her devotion to Jesus as she waits for Him. Waiting, even though (often) uncomfortable, is a significant time for our spiritual formation.
What we look at while we’re waiting is very important. Read that again.
Increasingly, I’ve found myself being very distracted, struggling to ‘focus’ and as a result be present with God and others. Life with all the technological advancements of the past 20-30 years has made it very easy to get distracted. We’re constantly bombarded but also drawn to social media and the like. We have hundreds of streaming channels to navigate, and we can buy anything at any time of the day and night. I’m a research geek, so I can lose myself for hours on end trawling down the internet for all manner of seemingly interesting tidbits.
Late in the year, I was drawn to some writing about seeking God more intentionally and felt the nudge by the Spirit to adopt ‘focus’ as my Word for the year. What have I done to become more focused:
- straight after Christmas by turning off social media. It’s become an easy time waster for me.
- I’m intentionally reading the Gospels this year as my Bible study reflections. Two scribes I admire both mentioned that if we desire to seek more of Jesus in our life, starting with the four books He stars in is a good start. I like that idea. Intimacy with Jesus requires focus. Being a good friend with Jesus requires focus.
- I’m praying specific short prayers during the day to invite God into the moment. One that I regularly pray is very simple:
“Lord, I want to know you more intimately,
So I can love you more intensely
To follow you more closely.”
- When I’m exercising, I’m picturing Jesus doing it with me. Even the other day at the cinema, I pictured Jesus sitting in the seat next to me inviting him into the activity.
These are just some of the things I’m doing. Seeking to invite Jesus into more of my day.
And fasting requires focus too, doesn’t it? To relieve the hunger pangs, we need to focus on another. And that is the idea of fasting. We use the hunger pangs to in fact draw us closer to Jesus. We focus more on Him and invite Him into our hunger as He is able to sustain us and carry us through the day. I'm praying I might gain some greater clarity around what's next for me and where I should next step.
Do any other SUMItes have a Word for 2023 yet? It would be a wonderful discussion for us to have in the comments if we share them and perhaps provide a little background as to why this Word is significant this year.
Go well this week. We’re excited to hear of some of the fruit we may experience as a result. But do remember, that often the fruit comes later, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t receive a lightning bolt of inspiration during the week.
Grace and peace