Daily Grace

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. 

Exodus 16:4

When Israel was traveling through the desert, the Lord provided “daily bread” for the people. He called it manna. “…in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor“(Exodus 16:13-14). There was enough for everyone to take as much as they needed for that day, but only for that day. “Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away“(Exodus 16:21). They had to gather in the morning. By the time the sun grew hot, the manna was gone.

I have found this same reality to be true of daily grace, especially during a season of grieving. There is enough grace for this day but only this day.

Each morning when I wake up I feel like an above-ground pool that has no water in it. Without water, an above-ground pool is just a thin piece of metal on the outside and a thin piece of plastic liner on the inside. Flimsy. Yet, when it is filled with water, it feels rock solid. I wake up every morning and spend time with the Lord, and He fills me with His daily provision. He fills me with His Presence, His power, His strength, His grace for that day. I wake up flimsy, but after some time in His Presence, I am filled, I am changed, and I am ready for the day.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24

Every day there are new mercies, new compassions, new manna on which to feed our souls. There is not enough for tomorrow. But there is enough for today. Jesus told his disciples, “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own“(Matthew 6:34). So true. And God provides enough grace for today.

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever
    and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.

Psalm 61:1-4

Phases of Fasting

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:17-18

I never really understood fasting until I read some books on it and started to practice this spiritual discipline myself. As with all spiritual disciplines, you won’t fully understand their importance until you do them. Reading about them and learning about them is a good first step but it cannot replace experiential learning. Practicing spiritual disciplines opens up a world that is hard to describe with words. They must be experienced.

What I’ve noticed about fasting from food on a regular basis is that you go through certain phases. These phases can only be experienced if you are consistent with fasting. If you fast once and stop, you’ll likely only see the first or second of these phases. But if you choose to making fasting a regular part of your life, you’ll notice some transitions.

Phase 1: In the first phase of fasting, it is about the food. Your mind and body are so used to eating that when it is deprived of food, even for a short time, that will be all you can think about. If you only try fasting once, you’ll never move past this phase. Fasting will always be about the food. But fasting was never meant to be about the food.

Phase 2: In the second phase of fasting, it is about your discomfort. The more you fast the less it will be about the food, but you will start to be uncomfortable on a more regular basis. Fasting will become an attempt to “survive” and make it to when you can eat again. But the focus of fasting was never meant to be about us and our discomfort.

Phase 3: In the third phase of fasting, it is about your sacrifice. This phase turns the corner from fasting being a negative, hard thing to fasting being a good thing. You become mindful that you are sacrificing something for the Lord, something we rarely do. You become aware that God is pleased with your sacrifice and honored by it. And while this phase is a good one, it is still incomplete. Though fasting is a sacrifice, the focus on it being a sacrifice still has us at the center. Again, fasting was never meant to be about us.

Phase 4: In the fourth phase of fasting, it is about worshiping Jesus and drawing near to Him in intimacy. This phase takes time to get to. We must fast regularly enough that we move past the focus on the food, the discomfort, and even the sacrifice of fasting. When one enters this phase, it is all about worship. Fasting is a vehicle of worship. It is a tool to draw near to the Lord. And when we draw near to the Lord, His promise is that He will draw near to us (James 4:8).

Fasting carves out space for holy communion with the Lord. This is why people say “Fasting is feasting.” In this phase, there is a banquet of the Lord’s presence available. This is one of the many “rewards” that the Father gives us as mentioned in Matthew 6*.

Runners often get to a place where their consistency and diligence in running turns into moments of effortless joy that they call a “runner’s high.” But everyone who has ever gone jogging understands that you don’t get a “runner’s high” the first time you run. Nor does it come on the second run. One must create a regular pattern of exercise in order to experience a runner’s high. That is the paradox and the fruit of a disciplined life. This same principle is true of fasting. The joy of fasting comes after one has established a lifestyle of fasting.

I encourage you to talk to the Lord about what fasting from food would look like in your life. Could it be a regular 24 hour fast? Could it be a semi-regular 36 hour or 48 hour fast? If you stick to it, you may discover a connection to God that you’ve never experienced before.

*(Though we don’t fast to get rewards, there are also other rewards from fasting like an increase in power and authority in your prayer life as well as an increase in revelation and insight from the Lord. But the increased connection to the Lord is by far the best reward.)

The Gathered Church

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

We gathered together as a church on Sunday. There were about 20 of us who were there in the building experiencing worship live. The rest of us were at home experiencing the live streaming of the service. I was telling a pastor friend the other day that trying to plan a service like this (with all the CDC safety protocols, all the live streaming tech in place, and all the details of a regular service still there) is like trying to pull off a church service under water, scuba gear and all. It’s a lot of hard work.

But then I started to think about the global church, specifically the persecuted church. This is how they have had to gather for decades. They are used to gathering with no more than 20 to 50 folks in the same room. They can’t afford to gather in bigger groups because of the real threat of getting caught, imprisoned, and/or killed.

When we gather like this, we may be afraid that a virus could get us sick. When they gather, they are afraid someone will find out and put them to death. When we gather like this, we have the freedom to broadcast our service across the internet for all to see. When they gather like this, they can’t even hint at the existence of their gathering. Most of them have to pretend to be faithful Muslims or committed Communists.

We think that it would be easier for us just to stay home. And it would be. But imagine how much easier it would be for the persecuted church to give up meeting together, how much easier it would be for them just to stay home. And I was reminded on Sunday, in that small gathering of 20 worshipers, why the Church chooses to gather despite the dangers that come with gathering.

The experience of worshipping in person, preaching in person, hearing the word of God in person is incomparably different than doing each of those things through technology from the comfort of our homes. There is power when believers gather that can only be experienced in person. The Presence of God is tangible in a way that cannot be replicated at home in front of a screen.

Sometimes we legitimately can’t gather and shouldn’t gather. And for these times, technology is a gift from God. But when we can gather, even when there is risk, we should gather. Last Sunday Jesus’s words became very real to me: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them“(Matthew 18:20). And no doubt, He was.

Filled With His Presence

The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and overshadowed the ark and its carrying poles. 

When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.

1 Kings 8:6-7, 10-11

Solomon had just spent seven years building a magnificent temple for the Presence of the Lord. The whole thing was made of cut stone blocks and cedar. The entire inside of the temple, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, were covered in gold. Most of the objects in the outer courtyard were made of cast bronze.

Once the temple was completed, Solomon ordered the priests to bring in the ark of the covenant. First they gathered the people, and then they sacrificed so many sheep and cattle to the Lord that their number couldn’t be counted. Finally, the ark was placed into the Most Holy Place. When the priests left the Most Holy Place and the Holy Place, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

The Presence and power of the Lord came with such intensity that the priests couldn’t re-enter the Holy Place to perform their services. Here is how the writer of 2 Chronicles describes it:

…the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord…

2 Chronicles 7:1-3

Their natural response to the Presence of God coming in power was to drop to their knees, bow their faces to the ground, and worship the Lord. Sometimes God shows up gently and brings us peace and comfort. Yet, other times God shows up with ferocity, and when He does we might find ourselves on the ground. It’s probably best to stay there and worship Him in a posture of submission and humility.

Some Christians today have trouble with phrases like “God showed up in power” or “She was filled with the Spirit.” They tend to push back against this language saying things like, “Isn’t God always present?” Or, “How can you be filled with the Spirit if you already have the Spirit in you? Do you get more of the Spirit? Is He like a liquid?”

These responses reveal a misunderstanding about God’s Presence. We could ask the same questions about Solomon’s temple. Scripture says that “the glory of the Lord filled his temple.” Wasn’t God’s Presence already there in the temple? God is omnipresent after all. How could God fill the temple if He was already there? And why did the priests react so dramatically?

What this scene shows us is that, while God is always present, He can, at times, increase how much of His Presence is tangible or manifest. Theologians sometimes call this God’s “manifest presence.” This is sort of a measurement of how much of God’s Presence breaks through the veil between the spirit realm and the physical realm. The tangible Presence of God (or manifest Presence of God) can increase and decrease based on the environment. Because of this, our bodily reaction to God’s tangible Presence can change based on its intensity.

This is why Paul commanded the Christians in Ephesus to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). He wasn’t commanding them to become Christians again by accepting the Holy Spirit into their lives. He was commanding them to allow the Spirit to take over more of their lives. He was telling them to allow the Presence of God within them to become the tangible or manifest Presence of God within them. When we are filled with the Spirit there is naturally going to be an overflow, and this overflow will affect the people around us. Being filled with the Spirit will often, though not always, cause physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit in our body that are beyond our control.

As followers of Jesus we need to accept the fact that God’s tangible Presence, and the Holy Spirit’s tangible Presence, will increase and decrease based on the situation we are in. It doesn’t mean God wasn’t there in one moment and that He is there in the next. But it does mean that God will increase or decrease how much of His Presence we will tangibly experience at any given time. This is what James was trying to explain when he wrote:

Come near to God and he will come near to you.

James 4:8

We know, of course, that God is alway near. James is talking about the tangible Presence of God here. If we draw near to God with hearts and minds that are worshiping, we will often experience an increase in the tangible Presence of God drawing near to us.

Following the Presence

“When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before…”

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

Joshua 3:3-5

The people of God were directed to follow the ark into the Promised Land. The only way to enter into the promises that God has over our life is to follow His Presence. The ark represented the Presence of God. We follow His lead by watching to see where His Presence is and moving in that direction. We have to do this because we’ve never been where God is taking us. We’ve “never been this way before.”

If God seems to be moving in one area of our life, we go with it. We follow it. We pursue it. While they had the ark, we have the Holy Spirit. We have to grow in our ability to sense the movement of the Spirit. When He moves, we move. When He stops and stays, we stop and stay. This is what Paul was trying to describe when he told the Galatians, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit“(Galatians 5:25).

Consecrating our lives to the Lord is a big part of seeing God move in powerful ways. If we want to see God do amazing things among us, we must live lives of surrender, obedience, and holiness. The fire of God is a purifying fire.

I was talking to my oldest son the other day about the difference between following the law and following the Spirit. He asked me if there was a movie rating beyond “R.” I explained that there was NC-17 and pornography, both of which show things that no one should be watching.

He asked me if mommy and I watch rated R movies. I told him that sometimes we do but that, generally, we don’t. I told him that just because we are old enough to watch them doesn’t mean that we should watch them. We are allowed (the law) to watch but that doesn’t mean it would be spiritually or emotionally healthy to do so (the Spirit).

I went on to explain that sometimes following the Spirit means breaking the law (as Jesus did when He broke sabbath law to heal on the sabbath). And sometimes following the Spirit means not doing things that the law allows us to do (like watching movies that feed our mind harmful things).

I explained to my oldest son that sometimes mommy and I have started watching a show on Netflix only to realize that it was too violent or had too much graphic sexual content. So we stopped watching it. It’s not that we weren’t “allowed” to watch it but that it wasn’t feeding our mind and soul things that were helpful, holy, and healthy. Then I paraphrased Paul’s words to the Philippians:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

Philippians 4:8

Following the Spirit is about both consecration and direction. We follow the Spirit as He directs us into places in life we’ve never been before. We also follow the Spirit as He consecrates us and makes us holy. Both ways of following the Spirit are exercises in the submission of our will to His. The Christian life is more than a life of following religious principles. It is a life of following a Person.