Day 21

Colossians 3:15-17 NIV

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Devotion:
You did it! 21 days of fasting, 21 days of a daily devotion to God! Well done for beginning this new year with a focus on your spiritual health and your intimacy with Jesus. The fruit of this time will be felt in you for months ahead. Starting tomorrow you can break your fast, but our prayer for you is that you won’t break the habit you have now placed in your life. If you have been following this daily devotion regularly you are now used to taking some time in your day to read scripture, reflect, and pray. Don’t let that stop when you don’t receive these emails anymore! Keep the habit up and continue to open his word each day. If you need a suggestion on how to do this, start at the beginning of the book of Psalms and read one a day. That will get you through at least the next 150 days. Simple! Enjoy his word in your life – it is literally life-giving.

The passage today from Colossians is a great way for us to draw our 21-day devotion to a close. Paul mentions that two things are in us and working through us in our walk with Jesus – his peace, and his message. His peace gives us the assurance of his presence and the comfort of his love. His message dwells in us and brings rich fruit out of our lives, filling us with the wisdom we need to speak life into those around us, ministering to one another out of the revelation of his goodness to us. In both he reminds the church to do one thing – be thankful. He says it three times in these short verses – we are to be thankful, have gratitude in our hearts, and give thanks to the Father for all that Jesus has done. Thanksgiving is such an underrated spiritual discipline. Being thankful forces you to stop in the midst of your ‘doing’, reflect on the movements of God in your life, be conscious of them, and express your appreciation for them to God. Being thankful keeps you humble – it is a conscious acknowledgment that God has been at work, and that we need him. A thankful heart is a heart that is rooted in the reality of God’s goodness and presence. Thank him for your fast and your start to the year. And may the good work that God has started in you carry on until its full completion!

Reflection:
As you finish your fast today, what do you have to be thankful for in the last 21 days? What has God done in your heart, your life? Take a piece of paper and write out ten things you can be thankful for in the fast you have just done. Prayerfully read over the list, and celebrate the goodness of God in your life.

Prayer:
Father, thank you. Thank you for your involvement in my life. Thank you that you are God. Thank you that you care for me, know me by name, have formed me and shaped me, and that you love me. Thank you for your son Jesus, and thank you that you sustained me in my fast. Amen.

Day 20

Pslam 121

A song of ascents.

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Devotion:

The writer of Psalm 121 longs to be rescued. The psalm was written while Israel was in exile, the remnant of God’s people held in captivity in Babylon. Torn from their home in Jerusalem, the artisans of Israel gathered together and looked longingly towards the mountain ranges that would lead them back home. He lifts his eyes off of the reality of his current situation in captivity and looks towards hope. He makes assertions about God’s character, ones that were important his people remembered. Despite their current situation, God was always their deliverer. He was always the one who watched over them and protected them. He never sleeps or slumbers or is caught off guard – God is an ever-present help. As the psalmist exclaims these truths, God’s people are comforted and renewed.

Your future is going to be great. I know this not because I know what is going to happen to you, but because I know that regardless of what circumstances might transpire, God will be with you. He is your shade at your right hand. He will not leave you or forsake you. He does not sleep or slumber. He is your constant, dependable, ever-present source of help. And when you realize this and place your trust in him, you never look more beautiful.

Reflection:
Take a moment today to reflect on God’s goodness to you. When in your life have you experienced his deliverance, his care, his help? Write down a list of these encounters, and then take some time to be grateful for them.

Prayer:
Father, I lift up my eyes right now from the circumstances of my life and consciously look to you for your help, your love and your deliverance. You are my strength. Thank you for being an ever-present help. Amen.

Day 19

Romans 8:28 NIV

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Devotion: 

As our fast draws to a close, we have shifted our focus towards preparing our hearts and lives for the future. One of the big hinderances to feeling positive about what is ahead of us are the mistakes or failures we have had in the past. The thing that always speaks loudest to our future is the voice of our past. And when that past has been peppered with tough times, disappointments, or personal tragedy, it can strongly color our perception of what is ahead. Some of the big questions we can have is what God was doing through it all, where he was in the middle of it, and how it all fits into his purposes and plans for our lives. In many ways it can feel like a giant jigsaw puzzle, knowing that there is a picture God is creating in us, but struggling to see how all the past bits fit together. We are anxious to make something out of our lives, but it can feel overwhelming when we don't see how the pieces work towards God's best. When we are faced with this we often find ourselves giving up and walking away, or stubbornly trying to fit things together and feeling ashamed that we just can't do it. In both cases, we need someone to step in and help us out.

Paul reminds his church, and us, that God is always at work fitting together the complex jigsaw pieces of our lives. No matter what has happened in your past, the Scriptures encourage us that God works together through it all for his good and glory. There are no 'pieces' that are left out. Everything makes up the mosaic of our lives, even when we have no idea how. Your worst moment in your past is simply another piece of your life that God redeems and restores for his purposes, and then places lovingly into the beautiful tapestry of your life. If you take this passage to heart today, it will clear your thinking towards your future. There may well be more moments of struggle and disappointment ahead for you, but you can walk forward into your future with confidence, knowing that not only is God in control but he will take your mess and turn it into a message, your test into a testimony. It's what he does. It's his puzzle, after all.

Reflection: 
What are some 'pieces' of your life in the last year that seem to not fit into the picture you believe God is building through you? Maybe take a moment to write some of these down. These are the jigsaw pieces of your life that don't seem to fit. Now give them to God afresh, thanking him that he is in control and that he works all things together for his good. Ask him to complete the picture for you. 

Prayer:
Father, as I look into my future, I do so with hope and positive expectation because I know you work all things together for your glory and good. Take the things of my past and make them part of the fabric of glory I can give to you today. I love you. Amen.

Day 18

Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Devotion:

The writer of Hebrews understand the importance of encouragement. After a glorious chapter filled with examples of the greatest people of faith from Israel's history, he then turns to encourage the church in the race set before them. He says that because we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we run the race set before us with perseverance. In other words, the examples of the Greats from our past provide the fuel for our faith of the present and the future. We are able to persevere in our race because we are being cheered on by their example, by the lives they led. And also ultimately by Jesus. As the writer tells us, he is the author and perfector of our faith. Or to keep with the metaphor given to us - he is the designer and the owner of the path we run. He has mapped everything out for us, and it is him who ultimately helps us finish the race. He knows the path best because he designed it just for you. And because of this, we run with confidence.

As you end your fast with a focus on your future, be conscious of the great cloud of witnesses God has placed around your life. Your family, your friends, your Plus Group, your community at The Vine are all gifts to you to cheer you on in your faith. Faith should not be a lonely pursuit. It is a race that requires a team. As you look forward to this coming year reflect around the 'team' God has provided you, and be thankful for it. Likewise, know that Jesus has designed your year and that he knows every uphill climb, every vista, every corner, every straight. He places it before you and simply asks you to run the race well. 

Reflection:
Take a moment today to reflect around the great crowd of witnesses that God has placed in your life. These might be people in your past but most importantly consider the people who are in your life today. Thank God for each one of them, and commit yourself to developing these friendships afresh this year. Think about where you are getting community from this year, and commit yourself to journeying with others in their faith as you grow in yours.

Prayer:
Father, you have laid a race before me in this coming for which I am grateful. Thank you that you have not asked me to run this race alone. You are the author and perfecter of my faith, and for that I am so grateful. Amen.

Day 17

Daniel 7:13-14 NIV

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Devotion:
You are nearing the end of your fast. You only have five days to go, and hopefully your time over the past 16 days has been significant with the Lord. Our devotions have encouraged you to look back, reflect, quiet your heart before God, and hear his voice. Over the remaining days of the fast, we now want to encourage you to begin to look forward. We want us all to focus on what's ahead, and to be excited for the year God has prepared for each of us.

Daniel 7 is one of the most important chapters of the Old Testament. It's known as apocalyptic literature and has much in common with the language, style, and visions that are found in Revelation. This kind of literature contains prophetic announcements of what is going to happen in the future, and more specifically the end times when God acts again to redeem his world and his people. Daniel 7 introduces us to what became known amongst God's people as 'The Day of Yahweh' - the day when God sends one 'like a son of man' to establish his kingdom on earth, a kingdom that would be everlasting from generation to generation. While the language and imagery can be sensational, the theme and purpose is clear - God will act again to save his people, and that act, when it happens, will be final. In other words, God is sovereign, in control, and will have the final word. He started it all, he will finish it all. As Jesus echoes in the opening words of Revelation - he is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. 

Modern songwriter John Mark McMillan has a beautiful song called Future/Past where in the chorus he sings: "You are my first / You are my last / You are my future and my past". As we intentionally focus on looking forward over the remaining devotions of this fast, our starting point has to be knowing that God is our ending point. He will come again, and he will save his people. God is the full stop on all of our sentences, and that should give us real hope. Tangible hope. Hope to make today, this day, full of value, life and purpose. 

Listen to 'Future/Past' by John Mark McMillan

Reflection:
What does it mean for you to consider God as your beginning and your end? How does knowing God has the last say on all things in our world help you to change your perspective on your current circumstances? As you look forward to the year ahead, thank him for being your omega, for how this empowers you to trust him with everything.

Prayer:
Father, you began all things and you will end all things in your timing. Thank you for being sovereign and in control of the whole world, and therefore also my life. As I look forward to the coming year I do so in hope, and I commit my expectations and dreams once again to you. Amen.

Day 16

Psalm 19:12-14 NIV

12 But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. 14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Devotion:
In horse racing, trainers will often place blinders around the horses' eyes in order to narrow their field of vision. These blinders cut out peripheral vision and focus the animal's line of sight to a very narrow corridor of information immediately in front of them. The idea is that the horses will not be unduly influenced by anything going on around them, becoming solely focused on the direct path ahead and not distracted by their surroundings. 

We, too, can wear blinders at times, especially when it comes to our faults and our wrongdoings. We can block out our mistakes or our failures, and at times believe that they never happened in the first place. These 'blinders' can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from cultural influences to personality traits to habitual behaviours. Sometimes our blinders can simply be ignorance or misinformation. In whatever way they may form in our lives, the reality is that we all have them, and we all need the Holy Spirit to help us identify them and remove them in order for us to see as God would have us see – full, wide, and conscious to everything happening in our lives. 

Psalm 19 is known as a psalm of ascents, a poem sung as worshippers ascended up towards the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during various annual festivals. One of these would have been the New Year festival, and this psalm fits that setting well. It is about praising God for both his creation and the law, and then finishes with confession and some heart commitments for the new year ahead. The confessions in verses 12-13 are powerful – the psalmist asks God to forgive him for two things, for his 'hidden faults' and his 'wilful sins'. In other words, for his blind spots where he commits sin without realising it, and for the times when he commits sins knowingly. Both are sin, and both need confession, and the psalmist humbly asks for his blinders to be removed as God forgives him for his wrongdoings. But he then moves towards petition and commitment for what is ahead – he asks that the words from his mouth and the meditations from his heart would be pleasing to God. That everything external and internal within him would be acceptable to God. As your fast draws towards the end, use your remaining time to deal with any blind spots you might have in your life. We all have them, and because God is all-knowing, he can draw your attention to them and help you deal with them. 

Reflection
Take time today to quiet your heart before God and ask him to meet you in your 'hidden faults' and your 'wilful sins'. If he leads you towards confession, do so. Then, out of a place of confession, commit afresh your external and internal life to his service and glory.

Prayer
Father, I know that there are sins I commit that are conscious to me, but I ask you would also reveal my blind spots and those sins I commit that I am unaware of. For both, I ask your forgiveness and grace. Thank you for being so kind and so loving. I am you child, and you are so good to me. May my year be an honour to you. Amen.

Day 15

Numbers 27:1-7 NIV

1 The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah. They came forward 2 and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said, 3 “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the Lord, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. 4 Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.” 5 So Moses brought their case before the Lord, 6 and the Lord said to him, 7 “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them.

Devotion:
As we are taking time to focus on God over these next few weeks, the mountains that seem so huge in our lives suddenly become manageable rocks as we gain a deeper understanding of how amazing our God is. In this passage the sisters focused on a loving and just God, and not the huge obstacle that they had to face. They were about to lose their land and property according to the laws of inheritance. The law was the obstacle, set to deprive them of their identity, and would leave them impoverished. 

The five sisters however knew their law and they also knew their history. They understood their circumstances yet argued compellingly, highlighting their father’s loyalty to the Lord. For the women to approach not only Moses, but also the priest and leaders of the assembly took incredible courage. Despite being women with very few rights and no authority, they asked Moses to do something unprecedented: to change the law. They could have sat in their tents lamenting at the unfairness of their lives, no doubt struggling to reconcile the Yahweh they had been taught about and experienced throughout the desert – a God of love and fairness – with their impending displacement. Instead they chose to ask. Moses went to God, and God’s response demonstrated all that the sisters knew to be true of their Yahweh. When our prayers align to the character of God, history is made. Obstacles are removed. Change happens.

Reflection:
What obstacles are you facing in the year to come? How are you responding? Are your prayers aligned with God’s character? Do you believe that God can bring change?

Prayer:
Father, help me to have an even deeper understanding of who you are, and help me to trust you even more as I give you the mountains and obstacles in my life. Thank you that there are no obstacles too big for you, and that you do bring change. Amen.

Day 14

Genesis 39:20-23 NIV

20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined. But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

Genesis 40:1 NIV

1 Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt.

Devotion:
Joseph was one of the most effective leaders in the bible, yet his rise to influence took some amazing twists. As a boy, the Lord gave him a dream of ruling many, and his confidence in this dream coming to reality led his own brothers to sell him into slavery out of jealousy. As a slave, Joseph excelled and soon was in charge of all the other slaves. He was eventually framed by his master’s wife, which led him to be jailed. Yet incredibly Joseph once again applied himself so much as a prisoner that the jailer gave him full authority to run the jail. 

Verse 40 only mentions Joseph was in jail for ‘some time’, but scholars have estimated the time was approximately 7 years. For someone given a dream by God that he was going to rule, spending 7 years in a jail with no hope of being released must have been incredibly difficult. Yet we do not read of him complaining, but we do read of him applying himself fully both as a slave and as a prisoner. 

Reflection:
What promises and dreams do you have yet to come to pass? How does Joseph’s narrative encourage you? If you applied the commitment that Joseph had to be faithful no matter how difficult or how far his current situation was from the dream, how would your attitude toward your current situation change? 

Sometimes when we are called to wait for the Lord’s plans to come to pass, it is not a passive waiting he requires of us, but a very active one that leads to incredible personal growth.

Prayer:
Thank you God that your faithfulness far surpasses my ability to comprehend the full extent of your will, and that in your mercy and grace you will never leave me. Help me to be like Joseph and to apply myself fully in my struggles. Thank you Lord, amen.

Day 13

Judges 7:16 NIV

16 Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

Judges 7:19 NIV

19 Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands.

Judges 7:22 NIV

22 When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.

Devotion:
Gideon’s army of 300 men is a narrative that is actually more about God’s deliverance than about Gideon’s ability or leadership skills. The Midianites were constantly defeated the Israelites and ransacked them, but God selected Gideon to lead an army to defeat them. However, God’s ultimate goal was to ensure that the Israelites knew it was He who delivered them and not because of their own strength. Thus, God only allowed 300 men to battle against an estimated 130,000 Midianites, and remarkably the men only brought trumpets, torches, and jars to the battle. 

God sent an army of 300 men armed not with weapons, but seemingly random objects, and miraculously delivered them from overwhelming and impossible situation. God ordained this whole encounter in order to ensure that all glory was attributed to Him, and not to man.

Reflection:
What overwhelming and seemingly impossible situations lay ahead for you in this coming year? How does Gideon’s narrative impact your perception of these situations? Gideon’s story was peppered with moments where he lacked faith, yet God still used him for mighty deeds. How does that encourage you? If God can use ordinary items for a miraculous victory, how much more can he use your seemingly ordinary gifts and talents?

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank you for your mercy and grace that would not only saved me, but also enables me to partner with you in order that you receive the glory and honor that is due to you. Grant me faith to trust that you can use my gifts for your victory. Nothing is impossible for you. In the name of Christ, amen.

Day 12

Matthew 4:1-4 NIV

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Devotion:
Strangely, one of the big issues of fasting is food!! How to fast? What to eat? What not to eat? Then during the fast itself, how to observe and maintain the fast during ‘normal’ business, family and social life? This can be so distracting as to be a serious negative to the whole process.

Jesus was not concerned with the provision of food on this occasion - until the devil drew his attention to it! It was the devils attempt to distract him from the main issue. His focus was fully on the issue at hand, which in this case was dealing with the temptation to doubt his own identity. Our own 21 days of reflection needs a focus that is something other than fasting. The absence or restriction on food in itself is not a spiritual process and is of no benefit. It is meant to be a point of emphasis, an underlining of our spiritual intention, the removal of a distraction. The last thing it should become is a distraction in itself! Jesus dealt with the issue at hand using his major spiritual weapon – the word of God. We owe our existence to the very breath that proceeds from the mouth of God not to the food that we consume. Our time of reflection is an opportunity to allow this reality to take primary place in our lives for a brief period. Breathe in, breathe out. Allow the life breath of God to fill your spiritual lungs and maybe bring to life the thing that you have allowed to die because it was too difficult, too painful, too depressing. 

Reflection:
What focus is God laying on your heart for this time of reflection? Is there a scriptural word that he is leading you to? Are you allowing the distractions of the process to rob you of its purpose?

Prayer:
Jesus, thank you for this opportunity to breathe in your word for me. Thank you that you want to bring life to every part of my being. Help me not to be distracted by the physical circumstances of my life but allow your word to speak to me clearly. Amen.

Day 11

Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Devotion:
During the Temple period, descendants from the tribe of Aaron served as priests, and they alone would minister to The Lord on behalf of the Israelites. The temple had an inner room called the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, which was the physical dwelling place of the Presence of The Lord. The outer courts of the temple, the temple itself, the curtained off inner room, and the Holy of Holies containing the enclosed ark were an ordained, escalating way of security to ensure that sinful people would not be struck dead by the holiness of God. The Holy Of Holies was only accessed once a year by a priest who spent a prolonged period of cleansing to ensure his sin was addressed, yet he still had to carry a blood sacrifice with him just in case.

The death and resurrection of The Son of God meant that he was the ultimate sacrifice that serves as the one and only possible means of which the sins of all mankind were forgiven. Christ’s resurrection now becomes the fulfillment of the temple. Therefore, our confidence is that we have been qualified by the cross to be the very carrier and dwelling place of The Kingdom of God, who’s presence now resides within us! 

Reflection:
How can I re-align my thoughts and heart with Christ’s via the Holy Spirit? When considering any current struggles, how can “drawing near to the throne of grace in confidence” affect those situations? 

Prayer:
Jesus, thank you that because of your sacrifice, I am now a temple of the Holy Spirit, The Kingdom of God is within me and I can approach the throne of grace with confidence and expectation that I will receive all that I need, for every situation that occurs.

Day 10

Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 NIV

1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. 2 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

Devotion:

The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us to watch, or guard, how we enter into God's presence. He speaks specifically of the temple, but of course this applies to any of our time with God. The writer tell us that God is in heaven, and we are here on earth. In other words, he is God, we are not. It is a call to respect and to be in awe of God, giving him his rightful place as sovereign and mighty over all things. With this in mind, the writer tell us to keep our words few. When we draw near to his presence, we should humbly draw ourselves low, bringing our lives before him and keeping our communication short. One of our main roles in Gods presence is to listen.

As you fast, don't use your time to simply rattle off a list of things you need from God. Of course prayer and petition are central to fasting and have an important place. But the problem is that we often fill our time of being in Gods presence with our own problems, petitions, and pieties. The reality is God wants us to draw close so we can listen, so we can keep our words few, and open the ears of our hearts to hear from him. He wants to tell you so much, and your fast is a great chance for you to receive. 

Reflection:
Try this simple exercise today. In the time you set aside for your fast, grab a journal or an iPad or your phone and create a note you can write on. Find a quiet place and spend two minutes in prayer, talking to God about your heart, your day, your requests. But then stop and just open your heart and listen. Give yourself ten minutes if you can, and just listen. As you sense God speak, write it down. Then take a look at your notes, and use that as a thanksgiving and prayerful response.

Prayer:
Father, what a privilege it is for us to be able to draw near to you. Your word says as we draw near to you you draw near to us. Draw near to me today and speak, as I pause and spend some time listening to you. Amen.

Day 9

1 Samuel 17:40 NIV

40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

Devotion:
In the famous narrative of David fighting Goliath, David needed one single shot to Goliath’s forehead. So the question follows, why did David pick up five stones when he only needed one? Generally there are two camps of thought; one camp says that David lacked faith; and another says that it was because Goliath had 4 brothers. The first is refuted because David already had experience fighting “both lion and bear” (1 Sam. 17:36), and he openly declares faith prior to the battle declaring, “The LORD… will deliver me” (1 Sam. 17:37). Furthermore, while scriptures do mention the death of ‘the brother of Goliath’ (1 Chron. 20:5), there is no biblical evidence that David actually killed the others.

Perhaps another view of the five stones was that David was simply being adequately prepared for the fight ahead. Extensive planning, thorough preparation, and acquiring enough resources to complete a task are not the opposite of faith because the task still requires faith to complete. In fact, it was faith that led David to the battle, but David ensured that he had the tools to execute, and gave all honor to The Lord when he was victorious. It is commonly believed that preparation is the opposite of reliance on the Holy Spirit, yet we observe from this account that The Spirit works powerfully in our preparation as well.

Reflection:
Imagine yourself in the next coming year reflecting back on this year because it was the best year you have ever experienced. Allow your imagination a few moments to fully probe that possibility. Identify three major feelings or achievements that come to mind. Ask The Father/Holy Spirit: What do I need to overcome in order to achieve those possibilities? What needs to change in my life today? How can I best ensure those changes become a reality? 


Prayer:
Jesus, thank you that your Spirit empowers and prepares me to pursue the life you have created me to live. Thank you that you are currently interceding for me to not be held captive by fear or just simply ‘I am not a captive to fear, worry, anxiety or doubt, and thank you that whatever happens this year, you get all the glory. Thank you for supplying me the grace and strength to pursue you and all that you have for me. –Amen

Day 8

Luke 4:1-2 NIV

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

Luke 4:14 NIV

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.

Devotion:
In this famous passage it tells us that during Jesus’ fast he was hungry (note, not thirsty), therefore it is safe to conclude for 40 days that He only drank water. Jesus was filled with Holy Spirit before being driven into wilderness. We know the story: He withstood Satan's temptations. But how could He do it? He spent 40 days drinking just water. We should note the difference: between v1 Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit and v14 (after 40 days of fasting) - Operating in the power of the Holy Spirit

There is a clear difference in being filled with the Holy Spirit and operating in power of the Holy Spirit. Something transformed Jesus from being a spirit filled man to a man walking in the power of spirit. And, the secret of Jesus' power is the secret of our power.

For us, being filled with Spirit does not mean we are ready to move in fullness of our calling in power. We need to submit to the discipline of the Holy Spirit. During this time, God will disciple us in prayer, fasting and skillful use of His Word. The result: we are released in God's power to do His will. Fasting is (we believe) an important key to go beyond the infilling of the Spirit to tap into the power of the spirit for us as individuals and for us as a church.

Reflection:
What is your relationship like with the Holy Spirit? Do you feel you are connected to the spirit in all aspects of your life? What does it mean to submit to the discipline of the Spirit? How might you do this during your fast?

Prayer: 
Lord would you not only fill us with your Spirit, but release us in the power of your spirit, as we seek your face. Amen.

Day 7

Psalm 27:7-14 NIV

7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. 8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. 10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. 11 Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. 12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. 13 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Devotion:
In the DMV we always seem to be in a rush. We live in a fast paced city that never sleeps, and for many of us our lives are a flurry of activity. We are constantly on the go, whether commuting, working, connecting with friends, or spending time with our families. We can easily find ourselves rushing from one appointment to the next, and trying to cram as much as we can into a single 24 hour day.

The challenge is that we bring this fast paced lifestyle into our spirituality and faith. Where we naturally rush from one thing to the next in our working lives, we rush in and out of our moments with God, squeezing them into short bursts of time here and there. Where we expect people to reply to our emails or texts the instant we send them, so we expect our God to answer our prayers as soon as they leave our lips. We have taken our fast paced lifestyle and assumed that our faith needs to work in the same way. We want a "McD's" Christianity - instant, immediate, easy, now.

The issue is that our scriptures teach us something different. While God is ever attentive to our prayers, he is not at our beck and call, forced to fit into our demands and time frames. God is sovereign, and his sovereignty means he moves in his timing, which is always the right timing. Psalm 27 is a wonderful example of the need for the people of God to understand this, trust him, and embrace the wonder of waiting on the Lord. God teaches us so much in the waiting, and the spiritual discipline of quieting our hearts before him, slowing down, and allowing ourselves to wait on him is key for us in the city we live in. Don't make your fast fast! Allow it to slow you down. Your fast is a great opportunity to practice what Psalm 27:14 speaks of - waiting on God and trusting in his timing. 

Reflection:
Take a moment to think about your past week. At what speed do you live your life? Are you rushing too much? Where might you need to slow down, in order to make sure you faith is not a by-product of your busyness? Offer this to God today.

Prayer:
Father, I recognize that in the fast paced area of the DMV. my life can become too busy. Thank you that you teach us to wait on you, to pause and slow down and be with you. Help me to slow myself down so I can listen to your voice, and be with you. Amen. 

Day 6

James 3:11 NIV

11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

Matthew 5:21-26 NIV

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. 25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Devotion:
When we fast it is intended to give us space to reflect on our lives and not only pray that God would be revealed but also to be introspective, to think about what in our lives needs adapting. One of the things that is worthy of reflection is the way in which we interact with the ten commandments. Let's take a look at one of those now. 

Let’s take a wild stab in the dark, and assume that most of us haven’t killed anything bigger than a bug. Or maybe a nasty looking spider. (So, no actual stabbing in the dark. Good.) But maybe there’s more to this commandment than the simple instruction of not physically killing another human being. There’s something in the concept of killing that still exists in our everyday life, and it’s to do with our attitude towards others. In Matthew 5:21-22 (NLT) Jesus expands on the idea of killing: ‘You have heard that our ancestors were told, “You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.” But I say if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment. If you call someone an idiot you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.’ Thats some really serious stuff. God tells us that life is sacred (because he created it), but He's also telling us not to destroy someone by our words either. So when we go about our lives, when we engage in a bit of office gossip, when we cruelly label someone or make fun of them, God hears. So when we talk like that about a person we are violating God's commandment because to Him, it’s a form of killing. 

Reflection:
Read James 3:8-11 and Matthew 5:21-26. Reflect around the language you use with friends, family, and colleagues. Be in particular focused on the words you are using today. Which of your words bring ‘life’, and which do you need to stop before they bring ‘death’?

Prayer: 
Father, thank you for your guidance in my life, and for how you look over every aspect of me life. Help me with my words and my thoughts about people – I want to build people up, not tear them down. Help me to guard my tongue, and ultimately give you glory in all I do. Amen. 

Day 5

Luke 14:6-9 NIV

6 And they had nothing to say. 7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.

Devotion:
Times of reflection also require discernment. Sometimes when we set aside a specific period to wait on God we create a blank page to allow God to write whatever he wants – and we somehow find ourselves waiting expectantly for ‘Something’ – something dramatic. Something like a voice coming from the heavens to surprise us, or something like a life-changing word to radically alter the direction of our lives. But most of us do not live on blank pages. We are already part of an ongoing story. We may be waiting for a new chapter to begin but we are not waiting for the book to be opened and a new story to be written. 

Perhaps we are more like the fig tree in this parable, already planted in the vineyard for many years and growing healthily, producing new shoots and leaves, and yet wondering where the fruit is. Perhaps its not yet the season for figs; perhaps this is a time for resting; perhaps there just needs to be some aeration of the roots; perhaps there is a need for some fertilizer to be added. To cut down the tree and plant something new is drastic surgery and maybe, just maybe, that tree just needs a bit of extra care and attention for those figs to come bursting through. 

Ask the Lord to give you discernment as you wait and seek him. Let him show you his perspective on your life so that you can use this time purposefully.

Reflection:
What chapter are you on in the story of your life? How many threads are being woven together to produce the garment? What season of the year are you in? Are you expecting figs before the tree has fully grown? 

Prayer:
Jesus, thank you for taking me through my life stage by stage, step by step. Help me to use this time well and give me the insight to know where I am. Let your story continue to be written large in my life. Amen.

Day 4

Isaiah 58:6-9 NIV

6“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

Devotion:
You are now on day 4 of your fast, and it is likely that you are still in your ‘honeymoon’ period – excited to be dedicated to the task, expectant of what God is going to do, committed to seeing it through. But there are going to be days ahead, perhaps soon, where this fast is going to get difficult for you. It is not going to seem as easy as it might today, and you are going to be tempted to compromise or simply give up. In response, you will likely dig in your heels, and push through because of the commitment you made. The danger, however, is that you may end up making the fast the focus rather than the God who called you into it.

This passage from Isaiah should be an encouragement to us all as we look forward to the remainder of our fasts. The people in Isaiah’s day had turned their fasts into religious acts and prescribed ritual. What had always been a call of God to his people to open them further to God’s heart and character became tradition and religion. The people began to divorce their fast from their lifestyle, making the fast something they did in religious observance, but forgetting that it was suppose to draw them closer in relationship to God and one another. Their fast became a means to an end, a ‘tick the box’ in their religious obedience. Outwardly they looked the part, inwardly they had missed the point.

Don’t allow your fast to follow suit. Its not actually about the outward fast itself, its about what God is doing in your character and what he is speaking to your heart that counts. If all you do is not eat meat for 21 days but fail to draw closer to God through the experience, your fast was pointless (except maybe as a diet!). God lays out in this passage what true ‘fasting’ looks like – loosening the chains of injustice, setting the oppressed free, breaking yokes, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked. In other words – understanding God’s heart and living out that heart in your lifestyle. Learning about what breaks his heart, and opening your heart to be broken with his. Focus your 21 days around that journey, and I believe you will have no issues accomplishing your fast.

Reflection:
Reflect on the reasons why you started on this fast. Was it because the church leadership encouraged you to do so? Or did you think it would be a good detox? What are the reasons you are fasting, and if God shows you anything you need to confess to him do so. Then ask him for his heart, and open your heart to him.

Prayer:
Father, thank you for inviting me into this sacred journey of fasting before you. Help me not to make this fast a religious act, but a relational encounter with you. Open my heart to what is on your heart, and change me. Amen.

Day 3

Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Devotion:
At NEWLIFE, we believe that God is going to raise our faith levels across the board on what we expect him to do amongst us – what we expect him to do in you! God has been saying to us that this year he will work amongst us in such ways that only he could ever get the glory. In preparation for this, we believe we must ensure that testimony of his goodness and his miracles are ever-constant amongst us, in our Groups, our ministries, our services. 

As Paul writes into the church in Ephesus he is conscious of wanting to raise their expectations of what God can do, both in their church and in them. He provides what is known as a ‘doxology’ at the end of his glorious chapter on love and prayer – a statement that tells us something about the character of God. Paul tells us that God is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine. This tells us two important things. First, we have a role to play in the work of God in this world – we are to ask and to imagine. We are to pray and to vision. Your fast is right in line with this. It is a time to bring yourself before God in prayer, asking him for his leading, direction, and vision for the year ahead. You are to ask and imagine before God of the things he wants for you in your life. But the second aspect is even more important – Paul tells us that God is able to do immeasurably more than what you ask and imagine. In other words, the God we worship and serve will do even more than you pray or dream. His nature is to bless you beyond what you are able to ask for. That is the kind of God he is – a God that does way beyond our prayers. When we see this happen, we realize that we can’t get any of the glory. Only he can. That is why Paul states in this passage that when God does immeasurably more than we pray or dream for, he gets the glory in the church. The focus becomes on him, not us, and he gets glorified. This is the God that we long for, and we want to encourage you to join us in praying during your fast for God to move in this way, both in our church and in your life personally. 

Reflection:
What are some of the things you are ‘asking and imagining’ for during your 21 day fast? Lay these before God today, then ask him to do even more than this in our church and in your life.

Prayer:
Father, thank you for being a God who does immeasurably more than I could ever ask or imagine! I lay down my life before you afresh, and give you the glory for all that you are about to do in me over this year.

Day 2

Luke 14:28-30 NIV

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

Devotion:
One of the great impacts of fasting is its ability to help us focus on listening to the voice of God in our lives, and reflecting on our relationship with him. As you take this time over the coming 21 days to fast and pray, be expectant that God will honour your fasting and meet you in the midst of it. Fasting has significant spiritual impact, sharpening our dependency on God and opening our hearts that much more to his love and leading. 

As Jesus’ ministry begins to near towards Jerusalem and towards the events that would lead to his eventual arrest, trial, and death, he begins to speak very specifically to people about their commitment to him and their discipleship. In this passage from Luke, Jesus challenges the large crowds to consider the cost of their commitment before embarking on it. Jesus does not want luke-warm Christians, and he knows that following him is hard. It will take sacrifice, dedication, encouragement, and for some considerable persecution. Your own walk with Jesus will require the same – its not just professing belief, it is living those beliefs out in an often hostile culture and world. Jesus’ words challenge us to consider the cost of our discipleship, and ultimately our commitment to him. Our corporate fast together is a great opportunity for you to take stock of your walk with Jesus. How healthy is it? In this part of the year how connected do you feel to him? Are you ready to invest in your walk with Jesus this year? What might need to shift in your life in order to help you prioritize your faith this year? As Jesus says, we don’t want to be a church - a people - who start something we are not able to finish. Use your fast as an opportunity to give yourself a spiritual health check at the start of this year. 

Reflection:
How healthy is your relationship with Jesus this time of the year? Where do you recognize the need for a deeper walk with him, and what can you do over the coming year to invest in this? 

Prayer:
Jesus, thank you for challenging me to consider my commitment and walk with you. Thank you that you love me so much you are willing to sacrifice everything for my freedom. Help me to live a life that reflects that sacrifice and obedience. And give me the grace to live it out each day. Amen.