Circle MakerBy Kristin Bonham

 

Scripture is God’s way of initiating the conversation; prayer is our response.                                                   ~ Mark Batterson The Circle Maker

 

While I was out of town over Christmas, I started reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.  It was perfect timing for starting a new year with 21 days of prayer and fasting.   I wanted to grow in my prayer life and strengthen my conversation with God.  I was ready for the challenge and made my list of all the things I wanted to pray about. 

Mark Batterson says in his book, “We don’t pray bold prayers because we’re afraid.  What if God doesn’t answer the way I want?”  I can relate to that because I’ve prayed bold prayers that were not answered the way I wanted.  I built up a wall and fear of God not answering influenced me as I made my list.  I have to admit, my list was safe. 

I felt God leading me to throw it in the trash.  Not that He didn’t want to move in my safe areas, but I felt God was challenging me to step it up and believe for more; to take a step of faith and trust Him with a bold prayer.  When I listened, what I got was a bold list!

When I think about praying bold prayers, I realize that I have no problem believing for big things in other people’s lives, but I hesitate to ask for myself.  In 2013, I want to change that and this verse is encouraging me:

 

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”           1 John 5:14-15 NIV

 

I’m praying and fasting specifically for 2 things.  They are big things!  When God answers, I will have no doubt that He did. 

I know that it was God’s timing that I read The Circle Maker before starting my fast.  I have renewed faith in God working through our prayers.  He wants us to join our faith with the situation or person we are praying for and bring it to Him with boldness!

 

Kristin Bonham is a pastor’s wife and the Women’s Ministry Director at Grace Family Church. She’s been married to Chris for 24 years and is mom to Taylor, Abby and Casey. She loves the beach, New York City and traveling with Pastor Chris to anywhere tropical. She collects books and reads some of them. Her favorite part of the week is Sunday lunch with family and friends around the table. 

By Sam Elam

Have you noticed the ‘system’ of the ‘world’?  Have you evaluated the ways of our American culture? You know that system that is contrary to the supernatural ways of God? For example the ‘world’ says, “just do it,” “to succeed you have to get to the top,” “your success is defined by what you achieve,” and other self-gratifying and self-glorifying mantras of the day. On the contrary, the Bible, God’s heart, says things like, “the first will be last,”  “to succeed you must serve,” “prefer others above yourself”.

How do we cling to the perspective and values of God when the world views them as unpopular or outdated? 

As Christians, we are inundated with media that dilutes our thinking and influences us to view casually such things as sex outside of marriage, divorce, pornography, dishonesty and TV shows that glorify sex and have no redeeming value.  Christians are often participating in the “things of the world” with no more discretion than the unbeliever. 

A few months ago, Kristin Bonham wrote a blog about, “Why I am not reading 51 shades of Grey.”  Maybe you had already read the book.  Maybe you disagreed with the blog.  Or maybe you wondered how Christians could possibly be so confused on how we should stand on these issues.

I too, have looked at the sin in my life and justified it. I have embraced it. I have not wanted to call it sin. When I got to the place of recognizing it as sin, I couldn’t even repent because I wasn’t willing to change. True repentance has to include a changing of attitude or behavior.

Then I fasted. I took that first step to ‘step’ out of the world’s system. I choose to deny myself the food that makes me feel so good; the food that comforts me and gives me energy.  I choose to say, even though it feels good, I won’t do it. The world’s system is all about satisfying ourselves; the coffee, the cake, the desserts, the soda, just one more of this and one more of that. I choose to say no, totally aware, that without God’s help, I could not be successful in this fast or in my Christian walk.

When you choose to fast, you are saying ‘no’ to the world’s system and “YES” to God! We have to starve our ‘flesh’, our desires, and our wants so that the Spirit of God in us can increase! When that happens, then we can see the truth that we maybe hadn’t seen before and that truth can penetrate our soul! The truth of God leads us to true repentance and fills us with the power to change. 

I chose to fast which led me to greater understanding of His truth and love, which led me to repentance, which led me to change!  Broken again, I cried out to God. More aware everyday of how the world’s system can deceive me if I let it. Through regular fasting, I find that I stay sharp to His truth. I stay focused on His love. I stay, very aware, that I cannot do life without God and that by God’s grace, I am more than a conqueror!

In repentance, we find God. In God we find the power to change. In that transformation, we break off chains that so easily capture our heart and mind. Yes, in God we can truly celebrate life, love, and have fun; free of the slavery of the world’s system; free of the addiction to self gratification. I challenge you to stay strong in your fast! Step out of the world’s system and watch God transform your life, your priorities, your understanding, and enrich your life in every way!

There is no other successful way!

Mark 7:6 says, “People honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”

May we invite God to do the work in our hearts so that we honor God with our lives and not just our words.   

 

After 20 years in Insurance, I left my manicured life to serve God in Nicaragua with my husband of 23 years and 14 year old daughter, Tiffany!  (Sam and Greg were members of Grace Family Church while living in Tampa and you can read their story at http://helpinghandsnicaragua.org.) 

by Leslee Stewart

Sugar. Meat. Bread. Coffee. Dairy. Could I really go three weeks without eating any of these things that were a regular part of my diet? In January 2012, I challenged myself to my first Daniel fast – a 21-day fast where you abstain from certain foods in exchange for time spent each day in prayer before God.

A friend of mine told me that for several years, she had dedicated the first three weeks of the year to doing a Daniel fast. She took that time to pray and focus her mind, body and spirit on whatever God was showing her. She kept a daily prayer journal where she wrote out her prayer requests, and spent about an hour each day praying and worshipping before the Lord.

I felt led to do the fast after talking with her. She had witnessed God answer many of the prayers she’d prayed during her fasts, and she really encouraged me to give it a try. There were several big things on my “prayer plate” that I wanted to serve up to God, and I felt like the fast would be a good way to focus on them and let God speak into my life His direction and plan about each one.

The Daniel fast is based on two fasts that Daniel did in the book of Daniel (Chapters 1 and 10). There are a couple of variations of the fast, but the one I followed restricted my diet to only fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, and water. It’s like a vegan diet, but with more restrictions (no processed foods or sweeteners, for example). When doing a fast, the point is to make your flesh sacrifice something you care about (food, technology, excess spending, etc.) in exchange for more focus on and commitment to God. If it doesn’t hurt a little to give it up, odds are it isn’t going to make as much of an impact on your spiritual life.

During my fasting experience, I spent time every day in prayer, pouring my heart out to God about all the things I was concerned about. It’s important to be very specific when you are praying. That’s where the prayer journal came in handy. I wrote out my specific prayers – things I believed God to move in my life about over the coming year. Some of those things included praying for a promotion for my husband, for wisdom on what to do about a difficult school situation with our oldest son, and even prayers that our youngest would stop desiring his pacifier. No matter how serious or trivial the prayer request, for 21 days, I wrote them in my journal and spent time praying God’s word over each and every one.

Was it easy? Not at first. There were definitely times when I wanted to give in to yummy foods or when I didn’t feel motivated to pray. But every time I felt like giving up, I reminded myself that three weeks of sacrifice was nothing compared to the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for me and for every one of the requests I was bringing before Him. The small, sliver of time I spent sacrificing my fleshly desires was one of the most spiritually rewarding times of my life. I felt very close to the Lord. I had a spiritual confidence I hadn’t felt in a long time, and I knew – even though I didn’t have all the answers – that God was in control of every situation I’d placed before Him.

Within six weeks of completing the fast, my husband received a promotion, God opened a door for my son to attend a new school, and my youngest just up and quit using his pacifier like it was no big deal. Before the fast, I’d seen God answer prayers in my life, but nothing like the magnitude or speed in which He did this time. As thrilled as I was about my husband’s promotion and my son’s school change, the pacifier situation was probably my favorite answered prayer because it showed me that God really does care about everything that concerns us – even 3-year-old pacifier addictions!

Did God answer every prayer? No…well, let’s say not in the way I thought they would be answered.  And I’m completely okay with that. The fasting experience showed me that even when God doesn’t answer right away, or even closes a door you thought was supposed to open, He always does it with gentleness and grace that makes even a “no” answer okay. Things I really thought I needed, He took the desire away and replaced it with His desire for my life.

If you’ve never fasted before, I strongly encourage you to consider it. If you’ll give up just a little in honor to Him, He will give back to you more than you could imagine.

 

Leslee Stewart oversees communications for GFC Beautiful. She is a wife, stay-at-home mom of two boys and former communications executive. She openly admits she owns too many throw pillows, loves junky old furniture and can sing all the parts of “Bohemian Rhapsody.