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Every year in January, my church participates in a 21-day corporate fast. And every year when it is announced in December, I groan under my breath.
In my mind, I go through all of the reasons why that is not necessary. All of the reasons I don’t want to participate this year. And then I usually decide to participate even though I don’t expect to get anything from it. After all, I don’t want to look unspiritual or weak.
So I decide to go through the motions.
Now before you stop reading, this article is not about fasting. I am not going to try to explain any spiritual basis for it. I am not going to make any recommendations that you should give it a try. If you want any guidance on the topic, I suggest that you do some reading or find a pastor or other spiritual leader and explore the subject through them.
This article is not in support of nor in opposition to fasting.
I am only talking about fasting as an example of a powerful principle that affects many areas of our lives. A powerful principle that each of us can use and leverage to our benefit.
And a principle that is at the very core of our faith.
I call it the Principle of Substitution.
A PERSONAL EXAMPLE
Our church calls this season of fasting “Withhold to Behold”. We each are asked to identify one thing that we will intentionally withhold during this 21 days in order to intentionally focus our attention on seeking to behold God in our lives.
So basically, we take away some part of our normal daily activity and substitute some element of seeking God in its place.
Did you catch the key word?
We SUBSTITUTE some element of seeking God in place of an ordinary part of our daily routine.
We try not to focus on it as a sacrifice but as a benefit.
We try not to depend on raw willpower to abstain from something. Instead, we intentionally focus on that which we substitute in its place.
There’s that word again- SUBSTITUTE.
Let me give you my example for this year.
In deciding what to fast this year, I felt that God was leading me to abstain from my evening dinner. Actually, my decision was not really that spiritual. I wanted to lose a few of the quarantine-induced pounds that I gained last year. Particularly since we have a vacation planned in a few weeks and I typically lose all discipline in regard to food while on vacation.
And since my wife is a fantastic cook, dinner is my weak spot!
But abstaining from dinner for three weeks is an impossibility for me. I do not have that kind of willpower. They say that through God all things are possible. But they never enjoyed my wife’s cooking!
So the only hope for me was to find a substitute that would take my mind off dinner during the time that we normally eat.
There’s that word once again- SUBSTITUTE.
I really wanted to do this from both a health benefits standpoint and a spiritual standpoint, but how? I had struggled (and prayed) about it a couple of days when unexpectedly to me the church announced that they were holding a Praise and Prayer service each evening during the fast at the exact time that we normally eat our dinner.
There was my answer. There was my way to refocus that hour of my time. There was my SUBSTITUTE!
And it has worked beautifully. I have indeed lost a few pounds. I have had a tremendous time each evening feeling the presence of God through a time of praise music and prayer. I have seen the unmistakable working of God in my life and the lives of others during this time. And miraculously I have not suffered with undue hunger or feelings of being deprived.
The Principle of Substitution has worked powerfully for me!
And I think it can be of help to you too.
LEVERAGING THE PRINCIPLE
The Bible speaks of this principle numerous times. There are lots of places where it uses the word instead to show us appropriate substitutes for undesirable things in our lives. I am not a Bible scholar, but I believe that the Bible can give us practical guidance on suitable substitutes for every negative feeling and emotion that we experience.
And right now, there are plenty of negative feelings and emotions to go around.
To be honest, I believe the Principle of Substitution works in our lives whether we ever pick up a Bible or not. I believe it works whether we are a believer or follower of Christ or not. That’s why I call it a principle. It just works.
But I also believe that we cannot always find, harness, and access those needed substitutes without the help of God himself.And I know that He is ready, willing, and able to give us that help if we seek it.
Before we go, let me get back to my earlier statement that The Principle of Substitution is at the very core of our faith.
THE CORE OF OUR FAITH
Our entire Christian faith centers on the greatest substitution in history.
God provided Jesus as the only substitute to accept the punishment for our inevitable sin and disobedience. He sent Jesus to die in our place.
God sent Jesus as our substitute to accomplish what we could never accomplish on our own.
And if we truly believe in that substitute, God provides help, hope and heaven as an eternal substitute for our feeble efforts, our hopelessness, and our ultimate destruction.
But the choice is ours.
At this very moment, each of us is facing something in our lives where I believe the Principle of Substitution can have an impact. Whether it be an undesirable habit, an addiction, anxiety, worry, fear, or whatever; you will likely not overcome that issue without leveraging, in some way, a substitute.
I think embracing and using the Principle of Substitution can give you a chance to overcome some challenges that you might not otherwise overcome.
And you can try it on your own or with God’s help.
But I hope you will seek God’s help.
After all, there really is no substitute for that.