Tag Archives: anxiety

To Fast….or Not To Fast…A Question for Lent

Photo by Karen Mitchell Smith of TopShelfPhotos, cross by John Stout

Today,  Ash Wednesday, begins the traditional Christian season of Lent. Having grown up in a Baptist home, Lent wasn’t something we observed. I knew that my Catholic and Episcopalian friends ate fish on Fridays, and they talked about “giving up” certain things for Lent, but beyond that, I really knew nothing of this Christian season.

As a convergence Christian, I truly became aware of Lent a few years ago and began to do a little more study each year as to the purpose. Sometimes it’s hard to break out of past mindsets (whether or not they are correct) about so-called dead traditions, etc., so I wanted to be sure that if I chose to observe Lent, it wasn’t to be en vogue or so that I could join the masses who give up chocolate for Lent and then complain long and loud about it. I wanted it to mean something.

So, the first step was to gain an understanding of what Lent actually is and is not. The word “Lent,” itself, is a word with ancient Germanic roots, meaning “springtime.” A time of renewal. Traditionally, Lent is observed in four ways:

Fasting, Prayer, Charity and Scripture

The idea of fasting at this time is to die to oneself (Gal 5:24  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires), in preparation for proper reflection on Christ’s life, death and resurrection as we move into the Easter season. You can fast food, television, Facebook, texting, and any number of other things that will remind you that you are giving up something to which you have the right, but you are choosing time with God instead.

The encouragement for prayer and works of charity comes from Isaiah 58:6, where God rebukes those who fast for public approval’s sake and exhorts them to a fast that He can honor. A fast where his people break the yoke of oppression, divide their bread with the hungry and loosen the bonds of wickedness.

This same scripture tells us what Lent is not, or more generally, what fasting is not.  “‘Why have we fasted and You do not see ? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice ?’ [the people say.] Behold, [says God] on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?”

Through this scripture, God makes it clear that the purpose for fasting is not to draw attention to ourselves, to whine about what we are giving up for Lent and how hard it is or to live by our own fleshly desires. For this reason, I have hesitated to participate in Lent. I don’t want to begin a commitment to God and not be able to keep it. I don’t want my experience to be another type of New Years Resolution that lasts the first week and is a memory by the third week.

Moreover, the ideals of Lent are ones I try to live by daily, anyway. Although I don’t fast, I do try to die to my flesh in other ways. Fasting can be giving up your rights: your right to be right, your right to be first, your right to sleep in on Sunday mornings, etc. I read the Word daily and meditate on scriptures during devotional time, and I find ways to help those less fortunate than me. So do I really need to observe Lent?

I think, for me, this year the answer is yes. I want to enter a deeper time of devotion to God. A time of consciously making decisions that honor him. A time of being aware everyday that I’m choosing God over myself.

With that decision made, these are the things I plan to do during Lent, 2011:

  • Give up worry: When I begin to worry, I will consciously turn that worry over to God and quote scriptures, just as Jesus did when Satan tempted him in the wilderness.
  • Pray for the world, one nation per day: Operation World makes this easy by highlighting a nation everyday. If you follow their schedule, you will have prayed for every nation by the end of one year.
  • Support a needy child in a Latin American country through Latin America Child Care, an outreach of the Assemblies of God church: Because I love Roatan, Honduras so much, I have chosen a little girl in that country. Her name is Uzi, and I will be praying for her daily and sending money for her support monthly.
  • Read my Bible everyday: It’s something I already do, and I would love to say I’m going to do something amazing like read the Bible through in a year, but I know it won’t happen. At least not this year. So I’m going to do what I know I will do.

The Choice Is Yours!

If you’re thinking of participating in Lent this year, I would encourage you to first examine your heart for the reasons why. God lays out six wonderful blessings in Isaiah 58: 8-10 for those who fast with a purposeful and right heart.  If you decide that God has purposed you to celebrate Lent this year, I pray for your springtime renewal as you move with me and the millions of others through this meaningful season. And if you choose not to observe Lent, remember “there is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The choice is yours. Be blessed, whichever you decide!


Filed under Spiritual Journey

Peace…Be Still

The Word in Me Today: Peace




Photo by Karen Mitchell Smith of TopShelfPhotos



All right, I confess. I’m a worrier. The “what ifs” and the “maybes” and the “I should haves” sometimes start ringing in my mind around 4 AM. I try not to worry, and I know I shouldn’t worry, but it happens. By the time I actually get out of bed, I’ve usually started an action plan. And somehow that plan almost always involves me fixing my own problems.

But that’s not what God has called us to do.  In Mark 4:35-39 we see an interesting account of Jesus and his disciples. The scripture says, “That day, when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down, and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’

They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”

If the disciples had taken matters into their own hands, abandoned ship perhaps, they would have drowned. Instead, they stayed in the boat with Jesus and asked Him to do something to help them. Even though their faith was very young, and they had not known Jesus long yet, they instinctively knew He could change their situation. And He did. Jesus commanded the storm to stop.

In Phillipians 4:6, Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

The disciples made their petition known to Jesus, and He acted on their behalf.

But My Problems are SO Big!

Jesus, fully God and fully human, understood with his man’s mind and his God’s heart that his followers struggled with anxiety. Not only was there the occasional storm in their lives, but they lived in a difficult time when taxes were high and a pagan culture ruled them. And Jesus knew that by choosing to follow Him, his people would suffer the wrath of  Rome. Yet he told them to consider the lilies of the field, and said, “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans [Romans] run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Peace Replaces Anxiety

Jesus gave his followers, and gives to us, something to replace worry. In John 14:27 He said, “”Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

If peace could be bottled and sold on store shelves, it would be a priceless commodity. But it isn’t something that is offered by this world, and it cannot be obtained. Peace is something to be attained. And there is only one way to attain lasting peace. In a world where the rules change almost daily, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. And forever! The peace that comes in knowing the Savior cannot be purchased. It can’t be learned. It can’t be manufactured and bottled and sold. It is a gift from God that comes to us when we learn to take our anxieties to the cross and, with thanksgiving,  leave them there.

I believe we have trouble doing this because we are used to the peace the world gives. The world’s peace is transitory, ever changing and very much circumstantial. Did you get a raise at your job? That peace of mind  is good only for as long as your company doesn’t start layoffs. Did you finish that difficult project you had been so worried about? The peace and relief you feel will  last only until the next project comes along. We have trained ourselves to find peace and comfort in things the world gives, but in the back of our mind, in the dark hours of the morning, there is that nagging knowledge that at any moment, whatever we are taking comfort in can be ripped from our grasp.

On the contrary, Jesus gives peace that is eternal. When the winds blow or the earth shakes or the lay offs come, Jesus Christ still holds your hand. When we learn to stay in the boat and wait for Jesus to act, His peace stills our storm. His name is a strong tower; the righteous run into it, and they are saved. His word is a two-edged sword. His resurrection power quickens your mortal body. If God is for us, who can be against us?

It Can Work For You!

Over and over God’s word speaks peace to us, but we have to seek it. Where do we find it? We can’t find peace in the USA Today over coffee, but we can find it in the living Word of God over coffee…or lunch…or on break from work…or before bed. Whenever the world is threatening your peace, His word is there, and it doesn’t change like the nightly prime-time channel line-up. God’s peace is everlasting, His kingdom has no end, and it doesn’t suffer economic downtimes. God is not out there on a thousand hillsides to see if he owns less cattle than before! His Word endures forever. That, beloved of God, is true peace.

In Isaiah 30:15, God says, ” In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” Just prior to that verse, in Chapter 28, verse 16 b, He says “One who trusts will not panic.” What an amazing promise! Here God is referring to the coming of Christ, the foundation stone in Zion. One who trusts that Rock, “WILL NOT panic.”

Finally, in Proverbs 14:30 it says, “A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh.”

I encourage you to find a quiet place today and let the peace of God wash over you. His peace is unending, like the waves of the ocean. Find your strength in quietness and confidence, and stay in the boat with Jesus.


Filed under Word in Me Today