Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

February 13, 2011


“Daniel Fast” stimulates concern for more disciplined life


My church recently invited the congregation to participate in a 21-day “Daniel Fast. “ This particular fast, based on the example of Daniel in the Old Testament, is a fast from meats, sweets, bread, and any drink except water. So you can eat vegetables and fruits and drink water. 

Fasting is an ancient biblical discipline, voluntarily assumed, in which one gives up specific food for a specific time and for a specific purpose. At Saint James we were encouraged to pray for a clearer vision of God’s vision for ourselves and for our church. Many participated in the fast and were blessed by it.  

Most of us realize we need a more disciplined life. We know that we do not become authentic Christians by osmosis. Yet the serious practice of what the church calls “holy habits” remains more of a goal that a reality.   

Even a casual study of Daniel suggests that the basic spiritual discipline is prayer.  All the other disciplines flow out of this bedrock relationship to God.

In the biblical story Daniel’s critics could find nothing wrong with him except that he found time every day to pray. It was his prayer life that got Daniel in trouble. With most of us it is the lack of prayer that results in difficulty.

Daniel made the mistake of praying to the wrong God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. By doing so he violated the law of Persia (now Iran and Iraq) that prayer should be offered to no one but Darius, the king. The penalty for breaking this law was death.  

The officials of the king knew that Darius was a mortal man, not a god. But they were jealous of Daniel’s popularity with the king; they did not want to share their power with Daniel. So they deceived the king into passing the ordinance forbidding anyone to pray to any god other than King Darius.

The naïve king did not realize that the ordinance was treacherously designed to eliminate Daniel. So, caught praying, Daniel was hauled before the king and thrown to the lions. Even though he expressed to Daniel the hope that his God would save him, the king went on his way, assuming the worst for Daniel.

The next morning Daniel was still alive. God had closed the mouths of the lions. King Darius was “exceedingly glad” and immediately decreed that all the people of Persia “should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever.”

Daniel’s trust in God was so strong that he did not panic in the face of death. Centuries later the Apostle Paul had the same confidence in God. He kept the faith despite persecution and threats of death. Both Daniel and Paul were disciplined in prayer. Their examples inspire us to pray.  

Most of us know someone whose example motivates us to seek a more disciplined life. For me Richard J. Foster has been that shining example. It was he who inspired me to take more seriously the holy habits. Foster is the most highly respected Quaker author of our time.

I met Foster before his books made him the best known Quaker in the world. When I arrived in Wichita, Kansas, to speak to the student body at Friends University, Foster met me at the airport. Then a professor of theology at the university, he had volunteered to serve as my host for the week. We loaded my luggage into his rundown station wagon and headed to the campus.

His casual dress, and his warm and unassuming manner, made me feel welcome. His gracious hospitality made me feel comfortable in a town I had never visited before. I told him how much I had enjoyed his book, Celebration of Discipline. The book had been published about two years before and was becoming quite popular. Neither of us had any idea that his book would sell more than a million copies and be named one of the top ten books of the 2oth Century.

Only later did I realize what a beautiful thing had happened to me. Foster made no effort to impress me. He put aside his own work and took time be my host. Later it dawned on me that the most famous man ever to serve as my chauffeur was simply practicing the simplicity that he describes in his books as one of the basic spiritual disciplines. His book, Freedom of Simplicity, has helped me so much. And I know the man practices what he preaches!

Foster divides the holy habits into three groups: the inward disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, and study; the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service; and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.

When I read Foster’s Celebration of Discipline I try not to heap shame upon myself for my lack of discipline. Shame seldom propels us into growth. When we examine our spiritual life most of us feel guilty.  But guilt will hinder our spiritual progress if we allow it to whip us down. So the best use of guilt is to let it motivate us to forgive ourselves for past failures and make a fresh start.   

The best way to do this is to set aside some time and get into them one day at a time. We should have the right motive – not to become more pious than others but to become more useful to God. The great reward of spiritual growth is a deeper friendship with God.

I know a man who runs a hundred miles a week. He wants to become stronger so he can compete well in his next marathon run. He is disciplined for a purpose. If he can practice discipline to run well, surely I can practice holy habits to deepen my relationship to God.

Where shall I begin? These days I feel the Lord nudging me to improve the simplicity of my life. Freedom from the tyranny of things is a reward that will bless me – and make me a blessing.

If you feel the need to be more disciplined, just begin. Don’t wait for someone to join you. Be a self-starter. For most of us the room for improvement is the biggest room in our spiritual house. The time to get started is now.  + + +