Friday, March 16, 2018

Does God Suffer?

A friend recently sent me an article which articulates quite well various arguments for the "impassibility" of God, the idea that God does not change in His emotions - He is eternally constant in certain emotions (love etc) and never experiences others (grief etc). This idea was almost universally held by Christians until the past hundred years. The article discusses why popular theology has changed and why he upholds the former theology of impassibility.

Check out the article by clicking this LINK!

As a long time (28 year) advocate of a PASSABLE God, I read this article critically, though (hopefully) with an open mind. Here below is my interaction with the text /arguments of the author, followed at the end with my thoughts on the topic. Excerpts from the article are in black text, my responses in blue, and my concluding thoughts in green. (My comments will make more sense in the context of the article as a whole.) 

The predication of various emotional changes of state within God are not literal statements of His passibility, but illustrate and verify the literal truth that God, being transcendent, far from being fickle as men are, is unalterably, within all variable circumstances, all-loving, all-good, and all-holy.

Personally, it does not seem intrinsically inconsistent for God to be both “unalterably loving/good/holy” AND experience both pain and anger (as He seems to in the Bible.)

The present critique of the Fathers is then entirely misconceived. Contemporary theologians wrongly hold that the attribute of impassibility is ascribing something positive of God, that is, that He is static, lifeless and inert, and so completely devoid of passion. This the Fathers never countenanced. The Fathers were merely denying of God those passions that would imperil or impair those biblical attributes that were constitutive of His divine being. They wished to preserve the wholly otherness of God, as found in Scripture, and equally, also in accordance with Scripture, to profess and enrich, in keeping with His complete otherness, an understanding of His passionate love and perfect goodness. 

So the author is saying that impassibility is not a thing in of itself (positive attribute) but rather a description of NOT having any passion that would be inconsistent with perfection of goodness. Also, impassibility is NOT having anything which would make God anything other than wholly 'other', set apart from all created material.

First, It seems a little presumptuous to say, “God is perfect, therefore He must not have X experience or attribute.” God is the definition of perfect, so whatever His attributes are, we must acknowledge these are within perfection. (So just because pain/anger doesn't fit with our idea of perfection doesn't automatically mean that it is not perfect/in God if the Bible indicates that it is.)

As for the whole argument from otherness:

First, it seems fallacious (and unnecessary) to insist that God have NOTHING in common with man/creation in order to be “other”. (Perhaps I am misunderstanding the author's argument.) God shares our positive emotional states (joy, love etc.) so why not unpleasant states?

Second, (and perhaps this necessarily makes me a pantheist) if God made all things out of nothing, did He not initially make all things out of His own substance? And is it not “in Him” that all things hold together and have their being? (Acts 17:28, Col 1:17) Furthermore, it does not seem necessary that God remain physically/psychologically separate from creation in order to remain distinct from it in being. Why should He not enter, experience, and even permeate the created world while remaining “other”? It seems to me that, in our experience of reality, it is possible to enter and withdraw. In His plane of existence, even more may be possible.

He cannot be deprived of that love and goodness which would cause Him to suffer, for to suffer such loss would make Him less than perfectly loving and good.

First, is loss of your own love and goodness the only cause for suffering? (I would say no.)

Second, is it not true that the “loss” (damnation) of a soul IS a reduction of the total goodness in the world? I am not “the world” (thus did not personally suffer this loss) but I can recognize and respond emotionally to this loss. How much more so God?

I'm not saying God necessarily suffers, but I'm finding fault with this particular argument as to why He logically “must” not.

God is perfectly compassionate not because He suffers with those who suffer, but because His love fully and freely embraces those who suffer. The absence of suffering in God actually liberates God from any self-love that would move Him to act to relieve His own suffering.

As Michael Dodds has perceptively written, “If it were my friend’s compassionate suffering itself that brought me consolation, then I would be in the peculiar situation of reacting in quite the opposite way to my friend’s suffering from the way that he reacts to mine. For I would be taking some sort of joy in his suffering while he reacts rather with sadness at my own.”

Now this is very interesting. Before reading this line of the article, this conundrum had already begun to dawn on me. It is clear that it is emotionally significant to me that God can/does suffer. The suffering of God inspires me to compassion for HIM; and out of compassion, tenderness, love, and eager motivation. (Moved by empathy with His heartbreak to reach those He loves etc.) The suffering of God dissolves my intuitive defensiveness, grumpiness, small-mindedness, and reluctance. The suffering of God inspires me as nothing else does, almost to ecstatic fervor of love for both God and man.

And yet, if He did NOT suffer, would I love Him? (And/or others?) Furthermore, if He did not suffer, would I actually wish He DID, so that I might (gift) love Him? If so, is this not UNLOVING and the exact opposite of genuine compassion? In eternity, presumably, no one (including God) will suffer. Will I love Him then?

This is something for me to chew on. Regardless of whether God “suffers” in an ultimate sense or not, He almost certainly does not do so in the manner I imagine. And He almost certainly will not / does not in Eternity (only in time). So it is important that my theology/love be built fundamentally on something other than empathy for the suffering of God.

No, for suffering is caused by the loss of some good, and while as man the Son was deprived of His human well-being and life, He was not deprived of any divine perfection or good.

Ok, so this is somewhat enlightening. The author defines the baseline cause of suffering as “loss of some good”. The Buddhists identify the baseline cause of suffering as “frustrated/unfulfilled desire”. I wonder if the author would agree that God experiences unfulfilled desire? (Which goes back somewhat to the question of whether God sovereignly allows man's will to thwart His own.)

Moreover, to hold that the Son suffered as God would mean that He experienced our human suffering in a mitigated divine manner, and thus that He did not truly experience authentic human suffering. God in the end would not truly experience suffering and death as men experience suffering and death. Ironically, those who advocate a suffering God, having locked suffering within God’s divine nature, have actually locked God out of human suffering.

Interesting. I'm not sure I agree. I think it is conceptually possible that the divine God could experience suffering as Jesus without mitigating that experience. Furthermore, I do not think that God experiencing suffering (as Jesus) necessarily negates the value of Jesus salvic sacrifice. When it comes to the exact nature of the incarnation, we are in murky territory where it is difficult to state anything with clear certainty.

This ecclesial confidence, as a member of the risen Lord Jesus’ body, is completely absent within a theology of a suffering God. There one is merely “consoled,” in the midst of one’s own isolated suffering, by God’s co-suffering.

Again, the author seems so black and white! So all or nothing... Why is it that, if there is consolation in the co-suffering of God there is therefore NO confidence as a member of the risen Body? Why, if God can empathize with our suffering, does it mean categorically that no salvation / end of suffering exists? (For both man and God?) It seems to me that this overlooks the fact that time exists apart from eternity. Can there not be ultimate painless perfection (for God and man) while both experience temporary distress in time?

Some other thoughts (not direct responses to quotes):

1. It is hard for me to conceive of a God (ultimate, higher being, creator) who cannot empathize/conceive of pain, loss, etc. How could He make beings with PAIN RECEPTORS and expansive emotional range, and intrinsic impulse to secrete tears in response to emotion, etc without a concept for it?

2. To say that pain/grief/loss is intrinsically incompatible with God is to equate these emotional experiences with SIN. I wonder if the author would agree with this statement.

3. Even if, as pure/perfect/set-apart Spirit, God would be unable to empathize with material/emotional experience, it seems obvious to me that He certainly gained experience of it through Jesus. (Heb 4:15 more or less spells this out.)

4. The Biblical description of God (particularly in the old testament) seems to clearly describe God as having the emotions of pain, sorrow, and anger, in addition to joy, love etc. It seems very dangerous to interpret away all these emotional descriptions.

5. I can see how any emotion God has ever had, He must necessarily have always/continually/everlastingly. (Love etc.) In a similar way, Jesus was crucified “before the foundations of the world” and retains the nail marks in His hands while reigning on high. I think it likely that God experiences pain/sorrow as part of His ongoing, eternal nature and that He accepted this as part of the price of creating “free will” beings – The prize is freely given love; the cost is freely accepted pain.

Does this mean that there is no hope of relief? Either for God or man? The Bible seems to suggest that there is REAL comfort in heaven (every tear wiped away etc) at least for man. Also, if you do not equate pain with sin, then it is not impossible for God to endure it endlessly whereas we (more limited in scope?) might only endure it temporarily. 

Note: In conceding that God may experience grief/pain eternally and constantly (as He does joy, love, and peace,) I am actually describing an IMPASSIBLE God. But an impassible God who experiences pain - a sort of hybrid / compromise between the two positions contrasted in the original article. 

6. Regardless of (and in addition to) logical arguments, my experience of God is as one who seems to experience distress (as well as joy, courage, hope, love, laughter etc.) That being said, as mentioned above, it is important that my love for Him (and love for others) not be fundamentally dependent on / reactionary to His pain.  

My conclusion is that the Bible seems to describe an emotionally expansive God (including pain/grief/anger, both as Father and as Jesus.) It also describes a “perfect”, eternal, and “other” God. There are promises of ultimate comfort / salvation. And there are the logical conundrums of time vs timeless eternity. It is a mystery. And perhaps a paradox. But that is not uncommon, when we let scriptures speak for themselves. Truth lies in the tension. Whatever else God is, He is compassionate (with or without pain.) Whatever else God is, He is supreme – to be trusted, with or without understanding. (As Job demonstrates.) And with that as our baseline, we have endless opportunity to explore His Nature - further up and further in!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Thoughts on Grace

I've been using a certain phrase a lot recently: There was a grace for it.

There was a grace for getting up at 5am the first few weeks of January to meet with God.
There was a grace for fasting during the Randy Clark conference. Etc.

What really do I mean by that?

I've describe the same phenomenon as, feeling invited by God. It's characterized by an inner feeling of peace and resignation, a yieldedness, a willingness, and an ability to act on it without the level of struggle and difficulty which normally would be expected.

A grace for it.

I've also recently noticed in myself a distinct lack of grace in another sense. Specifically, I've noticed myself getting agitated, frustrated, and offended when made late by someone or made to wait by someone.

For example, the girls of my small group wanted to meet (in a home) right up until noon, the time pre-school prayer started. This meant that we would all arrive to school barely in time, with no chance to get a good seat. I told the group I cared about leaving for school no later than the stroke of noon, but in practice this wasn't realistic. At noon we were still chatting and gathering our things and turning off lights. In reality, I needed to decide whether I was willing to stay with the group and be late, or whether being to school at a given time was important enough to me for me to leave early. I ended up staying the full time, rushing frustrated to school late, getting a less-than-desirable seat, and being grumpy the rest of the day.

Another example, the very next day, I told some people who were carpooling in my car that I would be waiting for them in my running car at 2:25, so as to be on time to where we were going. Even though it wasn't a "big deal" to be a little late, I felt offended and frustrated when one of the girls in my car decided to go use the bathroom (making us 10 minutes late) instead of meeting us on time and using the bathroom once we arrived. In reality, it wasn't a problem, but I had a problem with it.

It was in this second situation that I realized: I value time and punctuality more than people!

I further realized, like a shiver down my spine, that this mindset is inconsistent with that of God. God lives outside of time. God created time, but it is not His natural habitat. It does not constrain Him and it does not concern Him. What does concern Him, however, is people! Anytime I sacrifice people, it's a big deal, particularly for the sake of something God doesn't value very much, like time.

With resignation but little enthusiasm, while waiting for the girl who was still in the bathroom, I confessed my inappropriate value system to God, asked for forgiveness, and asked for his help (grace) to change my way of thinking. I resolved, as much as I could remember, to intentionally let go of my demand for punctuality whenever it led to devaluing individual humans.

On a slightly different note, twice recently I was unexpectedly asked to give rides to people who were in unexpected need. In both cases I did agree, but I felt put upon and maintained a gruff, unpleasant attitude throughout.

I wonder what this counts as...? 

On one hand, I did the gracious action. I covered them. I made up for their need in that situation. But my attitude was not gracious. I begrudged them. In one situation, the recipient thanked me over and over and over again, (probably because she could tell that picking her up was a big deal to me.) Feeling anything but gracious, I said with a flat, dead voice: "It's the least I could do. Really, I'm just paying forward a tiny fraction of what I have received from other people. Plus helping you is a participation in the grace of God, which is the principal joy and privilege of being a representative of Christ in the world." The funny thing is, I actually believed this, but still I did not experience it emotionally at the time.

Yesterday I was called upon unexpectedly to give a two minute sermon on the topic of grace. One thing I said was that, "whenever grace is needed, it is never deserved."

By it's very nature, there will almost always be this feeling of "injustice" and/or "not my fault/responsibility" when there are opportunities to extend grace. Perhaps that feeling (of "not fair!") is not a red flag but a green light. 

So what is grace? I've heard so many definitions, most of which are vague. A friend of mine in Japan spent months trying to get a straight answer. "How can I seek Grace if I don't know what it is?" he asked me in frustration. What I mean when I say "grace" is the act extending of extra resources to someone beyond that which they could rightfully expect and require. Extra time, extra help, extra chances.

One thing I've noticed from other people who are very gracious is that they don't tend to see it as a burden, or inconvenience, or annoyance. They seem genuinely moved with compassion and internal motivation to assist and alleviate and promote beyond what the needy person can do on their own. They aren't grudging; they are generous.

My Friend Lucy comes readily to mind. If ever I give a hint of need, she falls over herself to get to be the one to meet the need. She will take me in, feed me, drive me anywhere, and always wants to pay when we go out. I think the reason her grace is different from mine, is that her grace is commingled with love. 

Love motivates Grace.

In my case, I've been seeking to show grace out of a groping attempt to honor, and please God. My grace for people is related to my love for God. How much better it will be, however, when a empathy with God's love for people becomes an additional motivator. Until then however, I rely on choice not emotion.

The time I experienced grace most significantly in my life was when I caused a car accident in Japan. Driving to school instead of taking the train violated the terms of my employment contract, but that day I decided to do it anyway because it was much cheaper, faster, and more convenient. I got caught because I caused an accident. I was at fault for the accident and at fault for driving in the first place. I missed all my classes that day, caused my supervisor to miss her classes, and brought shame to my school. Additionally, it was discovered through this, that I unknowingly had an expired driver's license! I did not have a leg to stand on with my school or with traffic law. I didn't even feel that I had a legitimate reason to ask for leniency. It would have been perfectly reasonable/just for me to lose my job and be sent back to America in disgrace. Tragic, terrible, and heartbreaking, but reasonable.


My school let me sort out the clerical error with my license, removing the legal issue of driving without a license. My school also interceded for me with the police and I never heard about the accident again. The Board of Education came to speak to my principal and to me. They decided to extend to me the grace of a second chance. I didn't have the confidence to ask for anything, but they offered me a full pardon. Grace.

I can't tell you how helpless I felt in that moment. I felt completely exposed, because I had used up all of my rightful resources. I wanted to keep trying, I wanted to do better, I didn't want to be sent home. But I was out of resources. That is the moment that needs Grace.

I was far more motivated after that. I never drove during school hours again. And I strove to be the best, most honoring, most dedicated employee possible, hoping to bring honor to my school and demonstrate my gratitude for their grace. In my case (and I suspect in most cases) grace did not become an excuse for apathy and neglect. It became a motivator for improvement.

Funny - I tend to think of "messing up" as taking me "out from under the umbrella of grace," exposing me to rightful consequences such that it's not even right for me to ask for grace. In these circumstances, it seems more noble to resign myself to the consequences. But that's not the nature of grace at all... The umbrella of grace only starts where you become exposed. 

In my mind, the opposite of grace is enforcing justice. I used to wish I could "whip people into shape." I would see things that seemed objectionable and I wished I could correct people and enforce the standards I thought were best. Now I recognize the very great blessing of not being in that position over people.

The summer I worked at Camp Hebron I was in charge of a group of high school aged interns. It was my responsibility to train them, manage them, and give them feedback/correction. At the end of their weeks at camp, I had to rate their performance and give a recommendation as to whether they should be hired as staff the following summer. Thus, if I did not train them well and/or give them the opportunity to correct their shortfallings, it could cost them their opportunity to work at camp in the future!

It was my responsibility, for their sake, to equipped them and inform them how to improve. That was the hardest part of the job. I hated confronting them. I hated giving them negative feedback of any kind. I wanted to affirm them and I wanted them to like me. But, as I said above, I had to face my fear or their rejection for their sake. It was my job, it was my role, and it was my responsibility. But it was not my pleasure.

Now I Rejoice that I am not set above my brother. I rejoice when I am in the role of supporter, intercessor, champion, friend, sister. I rejoice when it is not my job to judge or correct. Someone has that job, but thank God whenever it's not me! I get the much more enjoyable roll! I get to dole out grace! I get to dole out forgiveness! I get to scatter gifts from the Father. I get to be the sympathetic ear, and the one who intercedes on their behalf. I get to extend a "covering" with the grace available to me. It's like having a blanket of a certain size that I get to share. Praise God!

For what it's worth, since that day when I repented of valuing time more than people, I have not noticed a single incident of being frustrated by other people's punctuality. Additionally, the week after the time I was called upon for the unexpected ride, (and chose to behave graciously though I didn't feel gracious,) I have given multiple rides with inner, emotional generosity.

I believe that adjusting my mental posture (repentance) directly resulted in my emotions following suit. I believe that God Himself extended to me the ability to follow through. He extended to me extra ability that I didn't have on my own. He extended to me grace. There was a grace for it.


Friday, January 26, 2018

Fasting for Hunger Part 6

Looking back at the fast....

1. There was a “grace” for this fast. 

This is hard to describe. I didn't particularly “want” to fast but I felt invited. Thus I approached the fast with respectful fear. I asked people to cover me in prayer and faced the possibility that, apart from the grace of God, I might not “make it” all the way to Friday, and that would be ok. 

I experienced (miraculous?) absence of the physical suffering. I didn't even feel “distracted” by hunger or have trouble focusing. 

Throughout the fast I had a feeling of peaceful resignation. There was very little inner struggle to resist temptation. I was able to withstand freshly baked cookies and an evening working in a restaurant without too much difficulty. I believe this is evidence of supernatural GRACE. I don't think this is normal... 

2. There were significant emotional results of abstaining from food.

I noticed that a large percentage of my daily schedule, motivation, and enjoyment comes from my eating habits! This was a surprise. I had a lot less interest in getting up in the morning without the incentive of a hot cup of coffee waiting for me. I also felt like I was “waiting around” a lot of the time. I felt disconnected from people and "left out" when others partook in food.

3. Noticed in myself an “all or nothing” mentality. 

“If I am fasting food and focusing on God, then why do anything at all, other than simply wait on God to direct me and respond submissively?” All the normal things I usually do (homework, talking on the phone, taking a walk, hanging out with friends etc) felt inconsistent with focus on the Lord. Though when I actually DID any of these things it ended up being life giving to me. Still, I find it strange that “surrender” to God seemed subjectively incompatible with normal life.

4. The experiential allegory of hunger.

It was very interesting to note the parallels between physical hunger, emotional hunger, and spiritual hunger. In the physical, there was bodily weakness, disinterest in other things, aching emptiness,  and highlighted awareness of the smell of food, all of this is a bodily picture of the sensation that people describe as "hungering" for God. 

In the emotional realm, there was insatiable longing - longing that leads to tears - tears that draw love - love that deepens connection - connection that comforts and gives hope and thanksgiving. Perhaps the same system comes into play with hunger for God - longing motivates a crying out, which sets us up to connect with God in ways we otherwise would not.

5. The truth of what Logan (the second year student) told me: 

I discovered I truly did't “need” the things I think I need. The Lord is my strength and my 'reason' for showing up. By grace, it really was as though I did not “need” food at all; I only “wanted” food. Similarly, though I "wanted" it, I didn't “need” the continual high of social stimulation.  

6. My fast was a little bit backwards....

I was fasting because of the ideas I read in Defining Moments. The stories of that book demonstrated that there is “more” to the Christian life, and to relationship with/experience of God, than I have experienced. In the case of most revivalists' lives, intense spiritual “hunger” for “more of God at any cost” preceded their breakthrough encounter with God. Several of them paired their spiritual hunger with physical fasting.

I see I need this “more” of God if I am to live the supernatural life of relationship and partnership with God. Though people universally report that encounter with God is “good” and “worth any cost”, I am afraid of the cost, not inspired by hungry “desire” for God (such as would justify the costs.) So my fast was not out of hunger but for it. First things first...

7. That being said, the thing that sparks the greatest hunger, (in the case of food, friends, and God) is not deprivation but getting a TASTE of it. Taste and see that the Lord is good...

“The Holy Spirit is addictive” I've heard. “Once you taste Him you can never get enough and are ruined for anything else.”

The trick to hungering for MORE is to first have some. During my fast, whenever I got a taste of sugar (gatorade etc) or a taste of friendship (Caleb, Lucy, and Melody,) the result was courage and hope. May I taste the goodness and reality and Presence of the Lord even more than I have already. And may that taste propel me, in hope and courage, to seek even more!

8. Testimony of fruit

During the conference I only prayed for two members of the public. The first woman was not healed at that time. The second was! Praise the Lord for His grace and intervention. He doesn't owe us anything... 

Randy prayed for sick people intentionally and fervently for 11 years before seeing more than a handful of healings. Be encouraged! I am encouraged. 

I may not feel emotionally "hungry" for God, but as I pointed out to the accusing thoughts in my head, I must be pretty hungry (as well as sensitive and responsive) since I came to this school, spent something like 30 hours in prayer/worship/teaching this week, and took on the invitation to fast. God is good. Miracles are real. My friends are faithful. And there is more! 

9. Since the fast.

For the first couple days after the fast I actually didn't eat much. I had an emotional peace, knowing bodily that I am not beholden to the tyranny of food.

That being said, the emotional feeling of insecurity and social "hunger" also persisted after the fast. I tried to "fix" it by changing my biochemistry with food, but to no avail. I'm still learning what it means to have healthy relationships without being "dependent" on social stimulation for my inner peace.

This past Wednesday I "manifested" in my body for the first time. I didn't "feel" anything during the impartation times of the conference, but I sure felt something yesterday! The muscles of my abdomen twitched and contracted involuntarily. I visibly jolted in my chair for around 15 minutes. I have watched other react this way all year and wondered what it was like. Could people be "faking" it? Nothing was different yesterday, except I was twitching. Sometimes it would stop for a few moments. But then, without any intention on my part, it would start again. 

For those of you who have not (yet?) had this experience, don't worry. It was interesting, and I am very grateful to God for His grace in giving me a taste of what I had been observing. But this time of shaking doesn't change the fact that He continues to relate to me in a unique way, before and after. Our relationship - the way He interacts with me - is so much more than bodily reactions. And so, in response to all that God offers, far beyond I have yet experienced, I say, "Have your way, Lord."

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Fasting for Hunger Part 5

Friday, day four of the fast, final day of the Randy Clark conference.

As the day dawned, I noted that I was still was in NO serious physical discomfort from the ongoing fast. No stomachache, headache, muscle ache, dizziness, faintness, nausea, or blood sugar problems. I continued to have an odd, distasteful, dry, gummy feeling in my mouth, but that was the most pronounced physical symptom.

The theme of the first talk for the day was "Before there is promise, there is process." Paul Martini, associate evangelist with Randy Clark's ministry, Global Awakening, taught this principle from the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. Jacob didn't love Leah, but from Leah came sons whose names meant "to see", "to hear", "to be at one with", and "praise". From Leah came the line of kings and of the King. Martini drew a parallel between Leah and "process". We need to "love our Leah" in order to see our longed-for promises fulfilled.

This fourth day I sat with Lucy, my best friend at school. She held my hand and stroked my hair and frequently checked in with me asking earnestly, "How are you doing?" At lunchtime (instead of eating) I answered her question. I poured out all my thoughts, feelings, longings, and worries. As we walked back towards our seats, I broke down into tears - ugly, snotty sobs - deep pain from past and present bubbling up and out. As she held me I whispered in my mind, "I love you, Leah...."

In the afternoon Randy Clark taught on the distinction between Christian prayer ministry and non Christian healing practices, specifically Reiki and Therapeutic Touch (which also seem to convey supernatural power for healing.) This is a topic which I have found of great interest in the past. However, that day I struggled with feelings of dull disinterest and even disbelief. I noted, however, that this was out of character for me. In response to the (lying?) thought, “I am not hungry for this stuff” I wrote on my note pad, “I am clearly hungry, obedient, sensitive, and receptive enough... enough to come to BSSM, enough to seek, enough to fast...”

The end of the school day came before I knew it. I ran out the door to go to work. 

I had to let out another wry chuckle. This would be a new level of challenge. Fasting in a restaurant... 

Originally I was not scheduled to work during the conference, but I agreed to cover a coworker's shift, not as a waitress, but as a hostess. Hosting is significantly more challenging and humbling than waiting on tables. Hosting means devoting yourself to primarily serve the other staff, all the while making minimum wage without the compensation of tip money. I was there purely to serve. But like the rest of the week, there was a “grace” on it. It was a very smooth shift.

And after I clocked off at 9:30pm, I broke my fast.

I figured it was better to break the night before than at the beginning of a day.  Plus the food available at the restaurant was perfect: Miso soup over rice, some cooked vegetables from an extra meal, a single bite of coconut cake. The PERFECT breakfast after four days of lemon water.

Very refreshed, I went back to school for the last 30 minutes of the conference.

I got there just in time to hear some of the more demonstrable testimonies. For example, six people who had torn their ACL were healed. One man who hadn't been able to lift weights, exercise, or squat in 4 years was running back and fourth like a mad man! Also my personal friend Chrystal, who hasn't been able to walk for a week because of a sprained ankle, was completely healed and carried her crutches down the stairs and out the door!

That night I cheered, praised, and thanked God with the best of them. And, as people started to leave the conference, I confidently raised my hand to indicate I was available to offer prayer. 

Like the first night, a lady came to me. But this time things were different.

The lady told me and another student that her knee, injured in a scooter accident several months earlier, was throbbing with pain. While we prayed, the injured knee tighten up tangibly and the woman's pain level drop dramatically. Upon a second prayer, her pain disappeared completely and, with tears in her eyes, she reported herself healed!

The first time I've ever seen someone instantly healed at my words. Praise God!!!

When we asked her more about her experience, the lady told us that God had told her to go get prayer, (though she didn't want to,) so she was confident He was going to heal her. While we prayed the second time she heard God tell her she needed to 'want' the healing, not just tolerate it. So she had internally adjusted her heart and was healed. 

As I hear people say all the time, it wasn't anything about ME that got the lady healed. A power apart from me (God) decided to heal her. But because of my willingness to participate through prayer, I got to be directly part of a miracle.  

I went home rejoicing. On my way out the door my dear friend Melody ran up to me.

“Have you broken your fast yet?”

“Yup!” I declared merrily.

“Then I have something for you!” She pressed into my hand a little pad of dark chocolate.
Let the feasting begin!
My lovely lady friends <3
Tune in tomorrow for a final installment in this series, a post considering the take-away lessons I learned from this, my first ever four day fast. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Fasting for Hunger Part 4

Thursday, the third day of the conference, I arrived to school a little bit later than planned. Anxious not to end up alone, I took the first seat I could find with someone I knew, (a guy from my Revival Group.) When I returned to the seat after running to the bathroom, however, I was distressed to find that my friend was gone! Strangers eventually filled the seats around mine, but after a while they also left.... this happened several times! It was like I was in the rotating section...

For some reason, this triggered major feelings of loneliness and insecurity. As the day wore on, I was seriously bothered by lying voice saying 'I don't have any real friends...' When the second and third sets of people sitting near me moved away, it occurred to me to stop and pay attention to my feelings to see what they/God were teaching me.

No food... no friends... hunger... longing... desire... fasting.

I realized - the degree to which it bothers me to go without social stimulation shows the degree to which my happiness is dependent upon on. Do I “need” to sit with friends? Am I here at this conference for social reasons? What is my primary purpose for being in my seat today?

In absence of food, I discovered, I was particularly anxious to receive satisfaction, comfort, stimulation from social interaction. This hunger for affirmation, reassurance, and connection was a Soul/Heart hunger, analogous to physical hunger for the comfort/satisfaction/pleasure of food. I was highly attuned to every savory smell wafting through the room, and my eyes roamed over the room, watching jealously as others mixed and mingled. 

As I examined my craving, it reminded me of an addict in “need” of a cigarette. I actually do have many friends, and plenty said hello as they passed my seat, but it didn't relieve my anxious, social hunger. Neither food nor friends, perhaps, can satisfy the deeper craving, the underlying ache, that was revealed when both were removed. 

Tears of longing bubbled up from my heart. I heard in my head a line from a song, “Like a bride waiting for her groom, we'll be a church ready for you.”

Interestingly enough, that morning Bill Johnson taught about fasting, among other things. He also spoke about the peace of heaven which allowed Jesus to sleep during a storm. "We don't need to know why something happened," Bill said. "We just need to ask Jesus what we should do now." This teaching spoke to me. During lunch break, instead of aggressively seeking company, I relaxed into my storm.

At the end of the afternoon session there was another impartation of healing Holy Spirit. I stood quietly with hands open in “receive mode". Individuals all over the auditorium began to respond to the Holy Spirit physically by shaking violently, making loud noises, staggering, and even falling on the floor. Others leaped on the opportunity to pray for them to receive “more”. 

Again I felt nothing. Except annoyed and uncomfortable.

I quietly gathered my things and slipped out the back door. As I walked away from the chaos I heard the convicting thought, “Michelle, you are fasting for more spiritual hunger and for a more significant touch of the Holy Spirit, so why do you leave when the Holy Spirit is moving?”

Ick. But ok.

Meekly I went back into the crowded room. Not sure what else to do, I gingerly reached out to touch a few of the convulsing people. Imitating the prayers of others I muttered “More Lord...” No one reacted to my touch, (though at others' prayers the shaking increased dramatically, which actually makes me think there is more to it than psychosomatic expectation.)

Eventually I moved to a clear spot in the room and simply knelt down to receive. "Here I am Lord..." Pretty soon I felt hands on me and heard whispered prayers. I do think I felt a slight twitching of muscles in my abdomen. I went with it. Not faking, but not resisting. Just responding. It was very faint, but tangible.  

As I knelt like this (I'm sure my face a portrait of tragedy) a sweet friend of mine named Caleb came over to me and asked if I was ok. After chatting a little bit, Caleb invited me to come hang out at his house that evening. I struggled for a few hours before deciding, wondering if it was too “indulgent”, but eventually decided to go. I'm glad I did. 

As I drove away from school I prayed frankly. “God, other than respecting the fact that You commanded your disciples to go do supernatural things, I don't have a strong desire for the power gifts. I have much more of a desire for your voice...and for encounters with you.”

I went on to tell Him what else I actually desire: To hear Him express His actual feelings for me and others, to see through His eyes, to experience His love, and to receive encounters that demolish unbelief and impart confident faith. I am so tired of being lukewarm and unsure... 

I felt much better after this prayer. (And also perhaps because of the gatorade I was drinking.) 

When I arrived to Caleb's house he had just taken out of the oven a fresh batch of cookies. Wonderful... I had to chuckle. If you are going to fast for the sake of 'hunger', might as well be hungry!

That night I told Caleb about my feeling of not having many real friends and also told him that I don't consider most men to even be my “friends” unless there is an understanding that they will not take my friendship as romantic encouragement. As I was fumbling with my words, he cut me off. "Don't worry. We are safe. I am your friend.” I'm sure my gratitude and joy shown out my eyes. “Well, then,” I said radiantly, “That opens up a whole new world of possibilities."

So that is how I started the day feeling social isolation and ended it with a new friend. A lot of people might scorn the "friend zone", but for me it is a very precious place. I so dearly love my friends.

Melody and Jeremy

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fasting for Hunger Part 3

Wednesday - the second day of the fast - I woke up ahead of my alarm. Instead of getting up, however, I turned over grumpily. I was not eagerly interested in starting a day without food.

Eventually I did get up and do my morning routine (sans breakfast or preparation for bagged lunch/dinner.) Since I wasn't sure caffeine on an empty stomach was a good idea, I decided to skip my beloved morning cup of coffee and instead drink black tea and lemon water.

On the way to school I messaged some close friends and asked them to cover me in prayer this week. I've had mixed experiences with fasting before, so I asked them to pray for my fast to be “protected and productive”. (In the past I've found that times of fasting can correlate with increased weakness to other kinds of temptation.)

I arrived to school excited and eager. The day before had been full of great teaching about truths and tensions related to miraculous healing. 

In his message The Thrill of Victory Randy walked us through five principles that are generally true, but all subject to the grace of God. For example, the Principle of Faith. Faith (on the part of receiver of prayer and/or pray-er) does make it easier and more likely for a miracle to occur. However, God can and does sometimes heal sovereignly without any human faith being involved. For each principle, Randy supplied first hand examples of documented miracles he had witnessed. 

In addition to teaching on the Thrill of Victory, Randy also taught on the Agony of Defeat. He started with the question, "Why don't more charismatic, miracle-believing Christians pray for physical healing?" He proposed that it is because of the emotional pain of dealing with the times when people do not get healed. 

Over his years, Randy has seen countless healings and creative miracles. But it is certain times when a person has NOT been healed that stand out most severely in his memory. One occasion particularly, his entire church prayed long and hard for a certain child, but the child still died. Randy considered giving up praying for healing entirely after that but he realized, despite the sorrow of having lost that child, to stop praying would result in MORE casualties not less. So he continues to pray, seeing countless victories, punctuated by some defeats. With this warning he invited us to enter the fray, take up the banner, and pray for the sick. 

So back to the story...

At some point in the middle of morning worship, I realized I had left my large bottle of lemon water at home! So I slipped out of the auditorium and bought a Odwala green juice smoothie thing. I figured it was ok since it was truly just “juice”; besides, I set the parameters of this fast anyway.

I downed half of it before making it back to my seat. I have rarely tasted anything so delicious! I decided to save the rest for later. I immediately noticed the effect of the drink. As I headed back into the worshiping crowd, I found myself getting excited about indulging in all kinds of special drinks during this fast. Kombucha, Hot Chocolate, Smoothies...

Then I realized... This was NOT the point of the fast. I don't HAVE to fast, but if I am going to fast, then why look to exploit loopholes?

“Ok, Lord,” I thought, “I'll just finish this one smoothie and then go back to lemon water as planned.” But even this intention met with an inner check. Why make compromises? Sure, I was in innocent earnest when I first bought the drink, but if I've decided that smoothies are not part of this fast, why keep drinking one? This is an opportunity to make a true, “Drink Offering” unto the Lord.

With a sigh of resignation and breath of determination, I got up at once, left the alter, and went to the bathroom. As I poured the remaining Odwalla down the sink I prayed, “Lord I want you more than this $3 drink, more than food, more than comfort, more than compromise...” Turns out, alters come in a variety of forms...

After school I had three hours to kill before the night session. Disinterested in going home (or anywhere) if I couldn't eat, I went to the Alabaster Prayer House at Bethel main campus. Though I had homework to do and all my books/computer with me, I didn't do it. I read a little more in Defining Moments and took a few notes on my thoughts/prayers but otherwise I waited...

That night Randy taught against the various major practices/teachings that undermine hope and faith for healing. (If you want to know more, look up Randy Clark's teaching called "Removing the Rubble") After this teaching, Randy and a couple other staff members started calling out "Words of Knowledge", (specific conditions God had revealed a desire to heal tonight.) As they listed the conditions ("Bullet wound in right thigh" "Complications from a stomch surgery" "Neck injury from diving into a pool") people who had that condition stood up. Then, if/when the people experienced 80% or more aleviation of symptoms, they waved their hands over their heads and were counted. 

The room was abuzz with excitement, clapping, and cheering. Hands were waving all over the place. People reported feeling heat and tingling and movement in their bodies. One man said a metal plate on his skull had disappeared. I think they counted over 180 people reporting healing during that Words of Knowledge time. I myself stood up in response to a the word of knowledge about a misaligned jaw. But I did not experience anything in my body and eventually sat back down.
After this time, we were all released to pray for the sick. Uneasy with the whole thing and discouraged about not having felt anything in my own body, I dutifully went down to the main floor and raised my hand to indicate availability to pray. One woman came to me for prayer. She had a frozen shoulder, an inflamed wrist, partial deafness, and a couple other problems. Trying to remember the script, I fumbled through prayer as best I could. After a couple uneventful prayers, the woman indicated rather apologetically, thank you but she wanted to go home. I was disappointed but not surprised. I also wanted to go home.

"Well," I comforted her (and myself) "There are two more days to come." Who knows... 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Fasting for Hunger Part 2

Tuesday I arrived to school bright and eager, inspired from reading Randy's story the night before. 

During morning worship I thought cheerfully, “I bet there is a grace on people for fasting right now. I'm glad I had breakfast already or else I might be tempted to fast today! And that would be a bummer, because I can't wait for lunch!” I dismissed this thought and turned my attention back to worship, I couldn't quite shake it. “...there is a grace for fasting right now...”

By the time I got back to my seat, I was uneasy about digging in to the lunch overflowing the bag at my feet. If there was a grace for fasting, then I wanted in on it, even if I did eat breakfast already! Then again, I was quite hungry... I decided to “delay” eating lunch to think about it. 

The day continued as usual. During the dinner break, instead of heading to a restaurant with my friends I wandered up to the stage area and lingered there. I was waiting for the next session, but also waiting on the Lord. I felt a relaxed peace rather than an anxious urgency. I had nowhere to be and was in no hurry.

As the evening session started, it occurred to me, “When should I break this fast?” For some reason, tonight and tomorrow both seemed “not quite right”. With some alarm, I realized that, intuitively, it seemed most fitting to continue fasting till the conference was over!

Anxious questions and thoughts started to buzz through my mind:

“Won't the hunger of fasting distract me from paying attention and receiving the messages of the conference?” 

“If I'm pushing myself to fast as long as I can, is that striving?”

“If I'm fasting food, does that mean I also should not do anything other than pray/worship?” 

“If I extend this fast, when will it end? Maybe I'll never feel released to stop fasting and might as well stop now!”

But in the midsts of these fearful thoughts I also thought:

“There has been a real grace for the fast today.”

“It is interesting to notice the parallels between physical hunger and spiritual hunger.”

“There is rarely a more appropriate or inspiring situation in which to fast than when seek greater spiritual hunger while receiving impartation from Randy Clark.”

As the evening session wound down, I my friends Lucy and Melody about what I was considering. Just then, a second year student seated in front of me, turned around in his seat and chimed into the conversation. 

“We second year students are also fasting till the end of the conference. Don't worry. The Lord really is your strength. I bless you to know you really don't need what you think you need. ” 

That settled it. I took a deep breath. As God gave me grace for it, I would not eat (food) again for three more days.