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The Nativity Fast : our need for faith

Reading:

  • Luke 2: 25 – 38

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” And Joseph and His mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

 

Introduction

The redemptive work of Christ includes five main acts; namely, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the pouring of the Holy Spirit.

Before each of the seasons of salvation that transfers to us the work of Christ’s redemption, the Church arranged a fast. This is because the fast is the best and most suitable atmosphere of receiving the divine grace, as fasting energises and revives our spirit.

Our spirit can become weak due to the effect of the flesh and the mind. On the one hand, the human fallen soul has various fleshly desires and is often full of unrest and tension. On the other hand, the mind is full of its own ideas and is dominated by intellectualism. These two elements weaken the spirit; and as we know, any grace is deposited in our spirit by the Holy Spirit who transfers it to us from the work of Christ’s redemption. Therefore, we need our spirit to be active and fervent, and not weak.

During this season of Nativity, we are meant to receive a grace that comes from the divine incarnation. In order to benefit from this season of incarnation, the church arranged the Nativity fast; so that, during this time of fasting our spirit may become awakened and active. Hence, we become ready and prepared to receive the specific divine grace related to this season.

There are manifold graces that well from Christ’s incarnation. We previously spoke about some of these graces; this year, I want to speak about ‘faith’.

 

Faith as one of the graces related to the season of incarnation:

We are in great need to learn to live by faith; especially that one of the plans of the evil one in the end times, as clear in the word of God, is that the mind and the intellect would become a god and people would live according to logic.

The enemy does this purposefully. This is because if one lives according to logic and the intellect, he inevitably becomes imprisoned in the things that are seen, the logical things that the mind can perceive, and the things that are tangible. If we then speak about transcendental and unseen matters that are beyond the logical and intellectual human mind, the person would either reject them because they are not logical; or, he would need to have something higher than the intellect ready to receive and accept these matters.

The bible tells us that this thing which is higher than the intellect and which is able to deal with unseen and transcendental matters, is ‘faith’.

We have been created in such a way that we would not be imprisoned in the material world. The human being is not only a flesh and/or a mind that is limited by a material world; but, has an eternal spirit whose purpose and direction moves towards infinity and the unlimited, towards eternity.

Therefore, it is impossible for this part is us, the spirit, to continue its journey towards its final destination, which is eternity, without the fuel of faith.

Faith is the fuel and the driving power that carries us through, until we reach our final destination, which is eternity.

If faith is absent or lacking, this means that our spirits will be imprisoned within us and will not be able to be released or move forward. There will be nothing that would lift it upwards, because it did not receive its nourishment and fuel during its sojourning on earth.

In the very same way that we nourish our minds with science and knowledge so that it would move towards its purpose of knowledge and scientific matters; and nourish our bodies with food so that it would be strong and carry us to be able to work and move about in the material life; and nourish the soul of a child with love and the sense of security so that he would grow up emotionally healthy, we also need to offer our spirits the food and nourishment it needs, its specific food that carries it through –towards its destination.

If we do not offer the spirit its nourishment, we would be neglecting our spirit; and hence, causing it to become imprisoned and constrained inside the mind and the flesh. And then; finally, when life ends, the flesh ends, and the spirit starts to go up, where will it get the power that would drive it upwards?! It will have no power.

This is similar to a human body that abstains from food for a very long time. At the beginning, it will lose weight; then, lose more weight; then, the person will become weak and eventually unable to get up and move. If he tries to stand up, he may fall or faint because he has no energy. He will be pale, weak, and void of any energy. The energy is what allows the person to move. If there is no food or nourishment, there will be no energy; and hence, the body will cease to move until it dies as a result of food deprivation.

Similarly, if the mind has not learned a certain foreign language, for example; and then, this person goes to the country that speaks this language, his mind will not have the substance or the knowledge that would enable him to operate in this linguistic field.

The very same thing applies to our spirit. We may not be aware that our spirit needs a specific kind of energy that would carry it in its journey. This is the energy of faith. For the spirit, faith is exactly equivalent to the food that we give to the body or the knowledge that we give to the mind.

If we deprive a person from knowledge and never teach him anything, he will grow up illiterate and ignorant, unable to intellectually communicate with others because he did not receive the substance or the energy needed to make the mind operate, which is knowledge. Similarly, food is the energy for the body.

In exactly the same way, faith is the energy for the spirit! Without this energy, the spirit becomes weak and unable to move towards its purposes.

One of the purposes of the spirit is to connect and communicate with God. It also reminds the person of his eternity.

Then, after the flesh is taken off, the spirit departs and journeys through the heavenly spheres towards the place where it will be with the spirits of the righteous awaiting the final resurrection.

If this spirit is weak and feeble because it has not been nourished with its special food, it will try to move, to pray for example, yet one will find that he is saying mere words from his mind. If this person faces a temptation or the confrontations of faith, he will find that he is full of fear, weakness, perplexity, or doubt. In times of need and during difficulties, the spirit was meant to be the part of the person that gets energised and becomes fervent, connecting the person with God and filling him with assurance; as Isaiah said:

‘Who are you that you should be afraid of a man who will die, and of the son of a man who will be made like grass? And you forget the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth; you have feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, when he has prepared to destroy’ (Isaiah 51: 12, 13).

Despite these clear biblical words, one feels afraid because he is unable to see the Lord who laid the foundations of the earth. He may have some knowledge in his mind about Him; yet, this does not help. When one cannot see God by faith, he will only see the man who will be made like grass because this is what he has learned to see.

When the true God is absent for us and we become cut off Him, people become a god for us.

This happens when our spirit becomes weak and ceases to connect us with God. Meanwhile, our mind is active. It connects us to other human beings and it communicates with us about them, telling us that these people can dominate and control our life; and so, these people become gods. The mind may also highlight to us any difficult circumstances that we are going through, telling us that if we do not do such and such a thing, we may not have any money, for example. This becomes another god.

We will then have several gods in our life, like the idols that people used to worship. Even if these are not actual material idols, they are still gods that we worship because we only fear and consider people and circumstances; but, not the Lord who laid the foundations of the earth.

Where is the fear of God in our hearts?

Where is the time we set aside to worship Him a true worship?

Sometimes we do not even give Him the tithes of the day!

If this happens, it means that our true God is absent and our spirit which connects with Him has become weak and cut off. If the spirit is weak and not connecting us with God, the natural result will be that the Lord will be absent or hidden for us.

This actually happened at a certain time and it made Isaiah cry out saying: ‘Truly You are God, who hide Yourself, O God of Israel’ (Isaiah 45: 15).

Man is created on a higher image. Therefore, he naturally searches for God and cannot live in absence from Him. This is what made people in every place in the world find a god to worship.

Therefore, when the true God becomes absent, the human being automatically, without even noticing, becomes a worshiper of something else –whatever is higher for him. If these were people whom he thinks can control his future, he secretly and quietly worships them one way or another. In certain situations, one may find himself submissive or even enslaved to these people. The same can happen regarding certain circumstances where one finds that he has to do such and such thing and cannot be free from that at all.

If we fail to see God and be filled by His presence, there is no alternative but to be enslaved!

Apostle Paul tells the Galatians: ‘how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?’ (Galatians 4: 9). He also tells them: ‘Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?’ (Galatians 3: 3).

Here, apostle Paul was wondering how the Galatians were going back to the weak and worthless elements to become enslaved to them once more; and he was drawing their attention that this indicates that God has become absent for them.

We never think of things in that way and it is difficult for us to accept or acknowledge that the true God may be absent in our life. Yet, we need to know and understand these biblical principles.

We can thus sum up this point as follows:

The spirit needs to become  active, energised, and cling to God.

The person needs to be filled with the presence of God and see God, not by senses, but by faith.

There is no other means to see God except by faith.

He is a God who can only be seen by the spirit, by faith.

He is worshipped by the spirit, by faith.

He can only be present by the spirit, by faith.

Therefore, if my spirit becomes weak and my faith fades away, my God will also become hidden and absent for me. As a result, I will find myself obliged to be enslaved to any power that is higher than me. In this case, no matter how much I try to say that I worship God, this worship will be mere words and ideas, only through having a mental image of God. I will thus be replacing the spirit and the faith with intellect and words. As a result, in real challenges and difficult situations, we will find that we are utterly weak and perplexed because our God is hidden, not near, not present, and not seen because of the problem we have regarding our spirit and our faith.

Therefore, we need to set before ourselves that the spirit is the eternal part of the human being which connects with God; its special energy and nourishment is faith.

This is clearly highlighted in Hebrews 11 where it is written:

‘But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him’ (Hebrews 11: 6).

Without faith, the spirit becomes weak, feeble, and cut off God. Hence, all the above outcomes occur.

Based on this background, we can now go back to our discussion about the Nativity fast to understand its meaning and value.

The Church arranged this fast, knowing the multiple needs of the people and knowing that the manifold redemptive work of Christ is able to fill these needs. The only condition is that people would learn how to receive the gifts and graces of this redemptive work; and learn how to receive them continually and draw from the manifold and unlimited depths of this divine work, one year after the other.

The Holy Spirit is the One who opens for us the manifold depths of the redemptive gifts, according to each one’s need from one year to the other.

One year, He may tell me that my need is to receive help and strength to overcome the old man inside me and build the new man. Another year, He may tell me that I need faith in the midst of a world that is full of intellectualism. A third year, He may tell me that I need to learn to wait upon the divine promises. Another year, He may tell me that I need to learn to praise and receive the spiritual joy because if this is absent, it causes one to be defeated and filled with frustration and despair. The next year, He may tell me that I need to learn spiritual watchfulness. These are just some examples of the manifold and various redemptive gifts of the season of incarnation; namely: the new humanity, praise, watchfulness, the joy of the spirit, and waiting for the divine promises. There are of course more and more gifts related to this season.

Each year, the Holy Spirit draws near the people of God to guide them to the divine gifts that He desires to transfer to them in that particular year.

This year, He comes to say that we need to grow in faith and learn more about faith.

How can we receive this faith?

We receive it from Christ’s incarnation. The Nativity fast is a period of time where there is a lot of inner preparation.

When the Holy Spirit draws our attention to such matter to focus on, the people of God should then start to be preoccupied with it, read the biblical passages about it, and seek it in the atmosphere of the fast. Hence, they would receive it as a grace and a gift that would be added to whatever measure of faith they had before. Even if their faith had faded away or had become weak, the divine gift of this season renews their faith and grants them the gift of faith which they need as a fuel and nourishment for their spirit.

Therefore, one of the main purposes that we can set before ourselves during this fast is to be filled with faith, to learn the language of faith, and to understand the matters that are related to faith.

We can put this matter as a prayer request that we continually seek during that time; as a result, we receive the gift of faith.

Faith can start as a small measure; and then, it continues to increase and increase.

This leads us to talk about some principles that help in the growth of faith.

We need to set this purpose before ourselves; read about it in the bible; and seek it throughout this fast. At the end of the fast, when we receive this fruit of faith, our fast would have indeed been fruitful.

One of the things that has caused superficiality and scarcity in the spiritual life is that people do not understand the mystery of the fasts and there are no purposes set for them. Hence, the fast is often practiced as an outer and superficial practice. As a result, the season of the fast passes by and some fail to receive the main spiritual gift and purpose of it. It thus becomes a barren fast and the people end up being spiritually weak and feeble. They would have fasted; yet, they would have not received the spiritual gift of the fast.

However, if we have such a purpose, faith, set before us during the fast and we continue to be preoccupied with it, our fast would bear fruit.

The purpose of the fast is not something that we make up. You may have noticed that as we were talking in the sharing at the beginning, we realised our dire need for faith.

If we receive the spirit of faith, the anointing of faith, the power of faith, our ministry will reflect this faith with its power and anointing. It will cause people to be deeply touched and desire to live and receive this faith.

Let us remember that as Christians, we are called to walk by faith not by sight, as written in 2 Corinthians 5: 7: ‘For we walk by faith, not by sight’.

One of our main distinctive features as the people of God is walking by faith, not by sight. Therefore, walking by sight means being estranged from our Christian calling and our heavenly home town because if we walk by sight, we will lose the insight that makes us see the invisible things, as written in Hebrews 11: 1: ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’. These biblical words indicate that we need to see the ‘things not seen’; and this can only be seen by the eyes of faith.

Faith is like a telescope that allows us to see things not seen and be assured of them. As a result, we would be estranged from material things and dwell in heavenly matters. By this, we would be truly Christians.

The main feature that distinguishes a Christian is that he is a heavenly being and his calling is in the heavenly places. The phrase that is often repeated in the epistles of apostle Paul, especially in the epistle to the Ephesians (which is called by scholars, the epistle of the Church), is that the believer dwells in the heavenly places.

How can man live in the heavenly places? Will he take off the flesh?

No, this is not what is meant here. This actually means that the believer would live on earth by his flesh; yet, his spirit would dwell in the heavenly places. His spirit would be in communion and fellowship with God; his mind and thoughts would be preoccupied with heavenly matters; and his faith would be a living and dynamic faith that is full of assurance. Every part of him would tell him that his life on earth is not eternal; it is a sojourning that will end. During this life, God will surely care for him because it is written that God makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and He sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5: 45).

The important question is: where will he go after that and where is his treasure stored? Is it stored where moth and rust destroy, or, where neither moth nor rust destroys (in the heavenly treasure)?

This is what distinguishes the Christian.

If one lives a mere earthly life, then, he is not a Christian! The verse is clear; it says: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6: 21).

Therefore, if my heart is tied to things on the earth, this means my Christ has not been resurrected, for it is written:

‘If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth’ (Colossians 3: 1, 2).

And ‘if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty’ (1Corinthians 15: 14).

These are biblical principles and foundations.

Therefore, if I do not seek those things which are above, it means I have not been resurrected. If I have no resurrection, this means that I have no faith.

In other words:

Faith is an absolute necessity so that Christianity would be restored to its life and real form. This necessity of faith is needed in a multiplied way in the end times. The enemy wants to make people forget about the life of faith so that he would take hold of them. He does not want them to live in the heavenly sphere and dimension because he cannot reach them in these spheres. The serpent can only access the level of the ground, the dust. If the people of God live in the heavenly sphere, this means that they have come out of the earthly sphere; and thus, the old serpent, the devil, cannot reach them. Yet, if they live for the material world, which is the sphere of the serpent, the devil, he can easily get hold of them. They would be under his authority and he can poison them.

If one is poisoned by a snake, he would suffer from loss of appetite, dizziness, vomiting, fainting; and finally he may go into a comma. If he is not rescued in due time, he may die.

Similarly, if I am bitten by the serpent, the devil, I will lose my spiritual appetite; and even if I eat any food, I may throw up. For example, I may listen to a spiritual message and then throw it up immediately after. Practically, this means that as soon as I come out of the meeting, I start thinking of a long list of things that I want to do; and my mind immediately shifts from heavenly matters into being preoccupied with material and earthly things. Then, when I go home after the meeting, I try to pray before going to bed; yet, I find that I have no appetite. I want to ponder on heavenly matters and read the bible, but I feel tired and sleepy. It is important to note that at that time, if I start thinking about a certain problem or an earthly matter, I can stay awake all night and the sleepiness disappears.

This is an illustration of the effect of the poison of the serpent on one’s spiritual life.

On the other hand, there can be a person who goes to church after a long tiresome day of work; and so, he may go into the church feeling tired. Yet, as soon as the praises and prayer start, all tiredness disappears, and he starts to feel energetic and his spirit is kindled.

When the spirit is kindled and set aflame, it restores and washes the body. It is written: ‘by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body’ (Romans 8: 13). It is also written: ‘will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you’ (Romans 8: 11). Therefore, as soon as the praise and prayer start, all the tiredness and sleepiness disappear, the spirit is ignited, and the person’s love for God becomes fervent; and so, he desires to spend such nights in prayer and worship.

Therefore, the spirit can either be energetic or weak. If the spirit is energetic, there will be spiritual appetite and there will be no tiredness or sleepiness. If the spirit is weak, whenever one starts to pray, tiredness comes; whenever he tries to read the bible, sleepiness comes; whenever he tries to ponder on spiritual matters, he finds his mind distracted.  Note here that this distraction does not occur if he tries to think of other things apart from spiritual matters; he can, for example, focus on his work for successive hours without any distraction. This makes us wonder why the distraction occurs specifically when thinking of spiritual matters. Being able to focus on other things like work indicates that the mind can think without being distracted; so, it is not a problem related to one’s mental ability to concentrate. We need to be honest with ourselves; it is a problem in the spiritual life; it is some kind of spiritual weakness because the spirit is weak. If the spirit was strong, this distraction would have been resolved because the spirit would have recollected the mind.

We are often able to be totally absorbed in our work and be preoccupied with it without any distraction; yet, the same does not happen with spiritual matters because we are not at this level of preoccupation with the spiritual life or the responsibility of the Kingdom of God. We do not have the desire for worship nor the sense of responsibility towards the Kingdom of God. The natural result would be spiritual weakness and withering.

However, when there is faith and a kindled spirit, the situation is different.

Therefore, it is important during the fast to set such a purpose before ourselves; especially that this is a dire need as I have just been explaining.

I explained earlier that faith is a need because the main feature that distinguishes Christians is to live as sojourners on earth, dwelling in the heavens through being preoccupied with holy matters, seeking those things which are above, and setting their mind on things above.

The other main reason is that the old serpent, the devil, wants to make faith become absent because faith allows people to be in the place where the serpent cannot reach, in the heavenly dimension. However, if faith fades away, we fall in the hand of the serpent. If we remain in the earthy and material sphere –the field of the devil’s work and authority, the devil can imprison and captivate us.

It is written that God: ‘called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace’ (2Timothy 1: 9). It is also written: ‘walk worthy of the calling with which you were called’ (Ephesians 4: 1); and we also read that this calling is: ‘the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3: 14).

This holy and upward calling is that Christ has seated us with Him in the heavenly places.

Yet, unfortunately, we sometimes leave our upward calling and descend downwards; and hence, enter in the home town of the kingdom of the enemy.

There is a kingdom, which is this world, whose ruler is the devil (John 12, 31; 14: 30). It is written that ‘the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one’ (1John 5: 19). The biblical terms are clear that there is a kingdom of darkness and it has its ruler.

On the other hand, there is the Kingdom of God and Jesus is its Lord.

By descending downwards, one would be crossing the borders and entering the kingdom of the enemies.

What would be waiting for him there? What would his destiny be?

The enemy considers the children of God to be his enemies because Christ –who dwells in them –has bruised the head of the serpent. The enemy looks at them in anger desiring to bruise their head; yet, he cannot reach their head; and so, he tries to bite their heel. His bite is deadly because it brings the poison of death –since the devil is the prince of death.

Therefore, if we leave our safe hometown and our heavenly sphere and enter this kingdom whose ruler is our enemy, we may fall into his hands.

It is written about Satan that ‘he was a murderer from the beginning… there is no truth in him…for he is a liar and the father of it’ (John 8: 44).

How does he bite?

He actually blows, into people, lies and vain matters; as the bible says: ‘there is no truth in him’.

Yet, he has various kinds of lies and vain matters which he uses with each person in a different way, according to the thing he manages to hook each one with.

For example, if he sees a person who can easily get worried, he blows into him responsibilities, telling him: ‘you are responsible for your kids; and so, you have to work hard to put food in their mouth. Not only this, you also have to save money for them; otherwise, they will want and beg’.

All these are lies, for God cares for everyone. He even cares for the evil people, won’t he care for the righteous?

It is written:

‘I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread’ (Psalm 37: 25).

This is what the word of God states in a very clear way.

Why do we sometimes fail to live according to what is written in the word of God?

This is because we do not have faith!

Faith and the word of God go side by side.

It is written:

‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (Romans 10: 17).

The word of God requires faith. When we believe it, it fills us. The word of God is the truth: ‘but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (John 1: 17).

We need to be filled with the truth; and this happens by being filled with the word of God and living according to it.

Some people look at the word of God and say that there are things that are illogical. They say things like: ‘Will God open the heaven and pour blessing?’

Yes, indeed; it is written:

‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’ (Malachi 3: 10).

This is what the word of God clearly states!

Jesus overcame the enemy by the word of God.

Jesus lived on earth as the example that teaches us how to live our human life on earth. He lived by the word of God.

The enemy came to Him telling Him that He must be hungry after fasting 40 days, suggesting to Him that if He does not eat, He will die. He told Him to quickly change the rock into bread to sustain Himself. The devil went on telling lies and vain matters. But Jesus refused to listen to these lies. The enemy must have kept trying to tempt Him with his lies, but Jesus refused to accept the bread that comes from the rock, but only desired the bread of His Father.

Thus, Jesus ‘answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4: 4).

By this the first temptation in relation to material things was defeated.

There are some who worry about material things and needs; and the enemy brings to them lies and vain matters in this area.

Yet, there are others who do not worry about tomorrow. If the enemy tries to trouble them with worries in relation to saving money in case they get ill or to save for their children, they will not fall in this trap. These kinds of lies do not work with them. Thus, the enemy tries another type of lies and deceptive matters with these people. He attacks them in relation to their social status and prestige. There are some people who care much about their status; and so, the enemy goes to them through that door. He makes them see how people in higher positions crush those in lower positions in order to make them enter into this struggle and conflict.

This was the second temptation where the devil asked Jesus to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, telling Him that the angels will bear Him up in their hands.

The enemy tempts ministers and men of religion with the same temptation, telling them that they should maintain their status and prestige by performing miracles and wonders so that people would notice them and listen to them.

The devil went to Jesus with this temptation; but Jesus told him: It is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’ (Matthew 4: 7).

The enemy might have continued to argue saying: ‘If You do not do this, You will not be able to carry out Your mission’.

Yet, things do not work this way; it is not by earthly wisdom nor by the number of people who listen to us.

Jesus did not accept the temptation. In His intercessory prayer, Jesus said:

‘The men whom You have given Me out of the world…I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me’ (John 17: 6 – 8).

There were some who did not believe; but Jesus knew that He was sent by the Father and the Father would give Him those who would listen to Him. He did not want to show off nor receive any earthly honour or prestige.

This was the second temptation which the enemy uses to attack a category of people who can easily get taken in by temptations in relation to their status, whether in human or spiritual contexts.

There is a third category to whom the enemy shows all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, telling them that he will give them all these if they bow down and worship him.

He tells these people that there can be many interpretations for the messages that they hear in Church and things can be done in different ways, trying to mislead and deceive those kinds of people who are ready to go around the principles.

Yet, there are others who will not accept this temptation as they do not go along with these crooked ways; they only know uprightness. God is righteous and upright; and there are people who desire to live in uprightness. They worship God alone, even if they cannot reach or achieve what they wish except by going through the path of the cross.

The enemy may argue saying:

Isn’t it written: The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ’ (Revelation 11: 15).

He may then continue to argue saying:

‘I will give them all to you, but in my way. I will give you all that you want. If you do not accept it my way, you will have a long and difficult road ahead of you. There will be the cross. If you want an easier way, there is one; but, it has to be through me. If you do not choose my way, I will set people against you; I will make you suffer.’

Some may reason with themselves that it is illogical that God would want them to go through all this trouble. They may say: ‘Who said that one should go through all this suffering to live a Christian life?

They are mistaken, for it is indeed written:

‘For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake’ (Philippians 1: 29).

It is also written:

‘Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution’ (2 Timothy 3: 12).

Also, Jesus said:

‘And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple’ (Luke 14: 27).

It is also written:

‘Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life’ (Matthew 7: 14).

After all this, how can we continue to question and say things like: ‘Who said that things should be as such?’

If God gives me broadness at times, I receive it from Him; yet, I should always be ready for the narrow way. I should never accept to live in any kind of lack of uprightness.

Yet, how can I live as such?

Faith alone can allow me and help me to do so. Faith would give me the strength to proclaim and believe that God said that the gate is narrow, and the way is difficult; but, it leads to life. However, the wide gate and the broad way lead to destruction.

‘Destruction’ means that there is fire that is not quenched and worm that does not die; one cannot breathe and desires someone to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue. It is great narrowness. It started wide but it ended narrow.

On the other hand, the narrow way leads to the Kingdom of God which is full of peace, joy, righteousness; and broadness. Yet, at the beginning, it was a narrow path.

Faith helps me believe all this.

If one lives by faith, the word of God becomes his Constitution and one will have full assurance that if he is walking in the narrow path, it will surely end in broadness.

In our human weakness we may find it difficult to trust that the narrow road will end in broadness. Yet, faith makes us believe and trust this.

It is written about Jesus: ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame’ (Hebrews 12: 2).

What was this joy that was set before Him?

He saw the Church being established on the day of Pentecost. He saw the holy people of the Church enjoying His redemption and mercy; they are joyful that they have been saved from the enemy; they live in righteousness; and then, they would finally be crowned with the heavenly crowns. He saw the labour of His soul and was satisfied; and so, He endured the Cross and despised the shame so that the creation of God would not perish; but be filled with life, be crowned with the heavenly crowns, and be with Him in heaven.

What can help us endure our crosses?

The joy that is set before us and which awaits us can help us endure our crosses.

It is written: ‘because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven’ (Colossians 1: 5).

It is also written: ‘to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you’ (1 Peter 1: 4).

If I do not have faith, I will read these words and they will be mere ideas that enter in and then go out again. When I face any challenge, I will not find any verses in my heart or mind.

Where is the living hope which should be in us and by which we live as Christians?!

It is written about this hope that it is laid in heaven; it is an inheritance and an assured salvation; and we are kept by the power of God. This is what motivates and encourages us to go through suffering and temptations and endure for the sake of what awaits us.

If one has this living hope, he will be able to say that it is written: ‘who has this hope in Him purifies himself’ (1John 3: 3). He will also say, it is written: ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2: 11 – 13).

How wonderful these words and promises are! They truly bring joy and sweetness in the spirit.

In one understands this living and blessed hope, whenever he faces a difficulty or a tribulation, he will not cry out asking for solutions or seeking that the difficulty would end. Instead, he will say that this difficulty will bring him hope. In the epistle to the Romans, it is written that: ‘tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint’ (Romans 5: 3 – 5).

According to the original language, the word ‘perseverance’ indicates a surface that has been polished until it became like a mirror. Then, when you look at that person, you will find that he is very upright and pure like a mirror. This has happened through the much hammering and polishing caused by the tribulations, where the person sought the strengthening of God until the tribulations did their work in him, making him straight and full of light and uprightness.

This ‘perseverance’ leads to ‘hope’ where one becomes filled with true assurance that not one day will be added to the tribulation unless this was for his good and was allowed by God. He will be filled with assurance that no matter how long the tribulation lasts and no matter how much the enemy or people try, the tribulation will end and will not continue any minute past its time because God will give the order that it would end[1]: ‘Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it?’ (Lamentations 3: 37).

This is the kind of faith that we have and receive when we live according to the word of God.

We need to be honest with ourselves and ask ourselves: Where is the place of the word of God in our life?

We sometimes do not read it; we sometimes read one day and miss many days; or, we sometimes just read it by our minds. Then, in times of difficulties, we search for the strength of the word of God and we do not find it inside us. We feel we need to search for the verses in books. This indicates that the word of God is not in our spirit; and this in turn indicates that we have no faith.

The word of God should be a rock that we lean on and it strengthens us. The word of God should be a medicine that heals.

It is written: ‘He sent His word and healed them’ (Psalm 107: 20).

It is also written: ‘Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart’ (Jeremiah 15: 16).

Where is the place of this word of God in our life?

It is written: ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119: 105).

We fail to experience this because of our lack of faith.

What makes the word of God become as such for us?

This happens when we read it by faith.

The fathers of the Church call the word of God: ‘the breath of God’[2]. The breath of God touches our spirit and revives us. It is like resuscitating someone where you blow air into his lungs. Similarly, I may be numbed because of the poison of the serpent and the cares of the world; and thus I need the breath of God which revives and brings life. When I receive it, I find myself having peace, being healed, and revived. Indeed, this is very true, for it is written: ‘the words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life’ (John 6: 63). His words bring life and revive my spirit.

We can thus see that we are in great need for faith. Therefore, let us be vigilant and ask God to help us not lose any day of this season of the Nativity fast.

The practical application is to read the word of God a lot during the fast. As we read, we should pray asking Him to pour out faith in us. We should continue to read and pray.

It is also well known that one of the means that help in receiving faith is worship.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of faith.

Another channel that can help is reading the biographies of the men of faith in the bible, like the life of Abraham, Elijah, David, and Samuel; or, the biographies of recent and contemporary men of God who waited upon the Lord, held unto Him, and experienced His faithfulness.

Reading the word of God, worship, the work of the Holy Spirit, and reading the life experiences of the men of God within the atmosphere of the Nativity fast are some of the things that can help us receive the grace of faith.

May God grant us that this would be a fast of faith.

As we read in the biblical reference at the very beginning, there were men of God who waited for the Messiah; and then, the promise was actually fulfilled, and they saw that He was born. It was a dark era. For 400 years, there were no prophets. The people might have thought that this meant that God had forgotten them and is angry with them. But this was not the case. The Messiah was finally born! There were men of faith, like Simeon and Anna; and there were others, ‘all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem’.

We need to wait upon the Lord; read the word of God; and ask for the gift and grace of faith in order to live a life of faith and minister a ministry of faith in a generation that is in great need of this faith.

Amen

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[1] Isaiah 28: 24 – 26; Romans.8: 28

[2] Taken from 2 Timothy 3: 16

Reading:

  • Luke 2: 25 – 38

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” And Joseph and His mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

 

Introduction

The redemptive work of Christ includes five main acts; namely, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the pouring of the Holy Spirit.

Before each of the seasons of salvation that transfers to us the work of Christ’s redemption, the Church arranged a fast. This is because the fast is the best and most suitable atmosphere of receiving the divine grace, as fasting energises and revives our spirit.

Our spirit can become weak due to the effect of the flesh and the mind. On the one hand, the human fallen soul has various fleshly desires and is often full of unrest and tension. On the other hand, the mind is full of its own ideas and is dominated by intellectualism. These two elements weaken the spirit; and as we know, any grace is deposited in our spirit by the Holy Spirit who transfers it to us from the work of Christ’s redemption. Therefore, we need our spirit to be active and fervent, and not weak.

During this season of Nativity, we are meant to receive a grace that comes from the divine incarnation. In order to benefit from this season of incarnation, the church arranged the Nativity fast; so that, during this time of fasting our spirit may become awakened and active. Hence, we become ready and prepared to receive the specific divine grace related to this season.

There are manifold graces that well from Christ’s incarnation. We previously spoke about some of these graces; this year, I want to speak about ‘faith’.

 

Faith as one of the graces related to the season of incarnation:

We are in great need to learn to live by faith; especially that one of the plans of the evil one in the end times, as clear in the word of God, is that the mind and the intellect would become a god and people would live according to logic.

The enemy does this purposefully. This is because if one lives according to logic and the intellect, he inevitably becomes imprisoned in the things that are seen, the logical things that the mind can perceive, and the things that are tangible. If we then speak about transcendental and unseen matters that are beyond the logical and intellectual human mind, the person would either reject them because they are not logical; or, he would need to have something higher than the intellect ready to receive and accept these matters.

The bible tells us that this thing which is higher than the intellect and which is able to deal with unseen and transcendental matters, is ‘faith’.

We have been created in such a way that we would not be imprisoned in the material world. The human being is not only a flesh and/or a mind that is limited by a material world; but, has an eternal spirit whose purpose and direction moves towards infinity and the unlimited, towards eternity.

Therefore, it is impossible for this part is us, the spirit, to continue its journey towards its final destination, which is eternity, without the fuel of faith.

Faith is the fuel and the driving power that carries us through, until we reach our final destination, which is eternity.

If faith is absent or lacking, this means that our spirits will be imprisoned within us and will not be able to be released or move forward. There will be nothing that would lift it upwards, because it did not receive its nourishment and fuel during its sojourning on earth.

In the very same way that we nourish our minds with science and knowledge so that it would move towards its purpose of knowledge and scientific matters; and nourish our bodies with food so that it would be strong and carry us to be able to work and move about in the material life; and nourish the soul of a child with love and the sense of security so that he would grow up emotionally healthy, we also need to offer our spirits the food and nourishment it needs, its specific food that carries it through –towards its destination.

If we do not offer the spirit its nourishment, we would be neglecting our spirit; and hence, causing it to become imprisoned and constrained inside the mind and the flesh. And then; finally, when life ends, the flesh ends, and the spirit starts to go up, where will it get the power that would drive it upwards?! It will have no power.

This is similar to a human body that abstains from food for a very long time. At the beginning, it will lose weight; then, lose more weight; then, the person will become weak and eventually unable to get up and move. If he tries to stand up, he may fall or faint because he has no energy. He will be pale, weak, and void of any energy. The energy is what allows the person to move. If there is no food or nourishment, there will be no energy; and hence, the body will cease to move until it dies as a result of food deprivation.

Similarly, if the mind has not learned a certain foreign language, for example; and then, this person goes to the country that speaks this language, his mind will not have the substance or the knowledge that would enable him to operate in this linguistic field.

The very same thing applies to our spirit. We may not be aware that our spirit needs a specific kind of energy that would carry it in its journey. This is the energy of faith. For the spirit, faith is exactly equivalent to the food that we give to the body or the knowledge that we give to the mind.

If we deprive a person from knowledge and never teach him anything, he will grow up illiterate and ignorant, unable to intellectually communicate with others because he did not receive the substance or the energy needed to make the mind operate, which is knowledge. Similarly, food is the energy for the body.

In exactly the same way, faith is the energy for the spirit! Without this energy, the spirit becomes weak and unable to move towards its purposes.

One of the purposes of the spirit is to connect and communicate with God. It also reminds the person of his eternity.

Then, after the flesh is taken off, the spirit departs and journeys through the heavenly spheres towards the place where it will be with the spirits of the righteous awaiting the final resurrection.

If this spirit is weak and feeble because it has not been nourished with its special food, it will try to move, to pray for example, yet one will find that he is saying mere words from his mind. If this person faces a temptation or the confrontations of faith, he will find that he is full of fear, weakness, perplexity, or doubt. In times of need and during difficulties, the spirit was meant to be the part of the person that gets energised and becomes fervent, connecting the person with God and filling him with assurance; as Isaiah said:

‘Who are you that you should be afraid of a man who will die, and of the son of a man who will be made like grass? And you forget the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth; you have feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, when he has prepared to destroy’ (Isaiah 51: 12, 13).

Despite these clear biblical words, one feels afraid because he is unable to see the Lord who laid the foundations of the earth. He may have some knowledge in his mind about Him; yet, this does not help. When one cannot see God by faith, he will only see the man who will be made like grass because this is what he has learned to see.

When the true God is absent for us and we become cut off Him, people become a god for us.

This happens when our spirit becomes weak and ceases to connect us with God. Meanwhile, our mind is active. It connects us to other human beings and it communicates with us about them, telling us that these people can dominate and control our life; and so, these people become gods. The mind may also highlight to us any difficult circumstances that we are going through, telling us that if we do not do such and such a thing, we may not have any money, for example. This becomes another god.

We will then have several gods in our life, like the idols that people used to worship. Even if these are not actual material idols, they are still gods that we worship because we only fear and consider people and circumstances; but, not the Lord who laid the foundations of the earth.

Where is the fear of God in our hearts?

Where is the time we set aside to worship Him a true worship?

Sometimes we do not even give Him the tithes of the day!

If this happens, it means that our true God is absent and our spirit which connects with Him has become weak and cut off. If the spirit is weak and not connecting us with God, the natural result will be that the Lord will be absent or hidden for us.

This actually happened at a certain time and it made Isaiah cry out saying: ‘Truly You are God, who hide Yourself, O God of Israel’ (Isaiah 45: 15).

Man is created on a higher image. Therefore, he naturally searches for God and cannot live in absence from Him. This is what made people in every place in the world find a god to worship.

Therefore, when the true God becomes absent, the human being automatically, without even noticing, becomes a worshiper of something else –whatever is higher for him. If these were people whom he thinks can control his future, he secretly and quietly worships them one way or another. In certain situations, one may find himself submissive or even enslaved to these people. The same can happen regarding certain circumstances where one finds that he has to do such and such thing and cannot be free from that at all.

If we fail to see God and be filled by His presence, there is no alternative but to be enslaved!

Apostle Paul tells the Galatians: ‘how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?’ (Galatians 4: 9). He also tells them: ‘Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?’ (Galatians 3: 3).

Here, apostle Paul was wondering how the Galatians were going back to the weak and worthless elements to become enslaved to them once more; and he was drawing their attention that this indicates that God has become absent for them.

We never think of things in that way and it is difficult for us to accept or acknowledge that the true God may be absent in our life. Yet, we need to know and understand these biblical principles.

We can thus sum up this point as follows:

The spirit needs to become  active, energised, and cling to God.

The person needs to be filled with the presence of God and see God, not by senses, but by faith.

There is no other means to see God except by faith.

He is a God who can only be seen by the spirit, by faith.

He is worshipped by the spirit, by faith.

He can only be present by the spirit, by faith.

Therefore, if my spirit becomes weak and my faith fades away, my God will also become hidden and absent for me. As a result, I will find myself obliged to be enslaved to any power that is higher than me. In this case, no matter how much I try to say that I worship God, this worship will be mere words and ideas, only through having a mental image of God. I will thus be replacing the spirit and the faith with intellect and words. As a result, in real challenges and difficult situations, we will find that we are utterly weak and perplexed because our God is hidden, not near, not present, and not seen because of the problem we have regarding our spirit and our faith.

Therefore, we need to set before ourselves that the spirit is the eternal part of the human being which connects with God; its special energy and nourishment is faith.

This is clearly highlighted in Hebrews 11 where it is written:

‘But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him’ (Hebrews 11: 6).

Without faith, the spirit becomes weak, feeble, and cut off God. Hence, all the above outcomes occur.

Based on this background, we can now go back to our discussion about the Nativity fast to understand its meaning and value.

The Church arranged this fast, knowing the multiple needs of the people and knowing that the manifold redemptive work of Christ is able to fill these needs. The only condition is that people would learn how to receive the gifts and graces of this redemptive work; and learn how to receive them continually and draw from the manifold and unlimited depths of this divine work, one year after the other.

The Holy Spirit is the One who opens for us the manifold depths of the redemptive gifts, according to each one’s need from one year to the other.

One year, He may tell me that my need is to receive help and strength to overcome the old man inside me and build the new man. Another year, He may tell me that I need faith in the midst of a world that is full of intellectualism. A third year, He may tell me that I need to learn to wait upon the divine promises. Another year, He may tell me that I need to learn to praise and receive the spiritual joy because if this is absent, it causes one to be defeated and filled with frustration and despair. The next year, He may tell me that I need to learn spiritual watchfulness. These are just some examples of the manifold and various redemptive gifts of the season of incarnation; namely: the new humanity, praise, watchfulness, the joy of the spirit, and waiting for the divine promises. There are of course more and more gifts related to this season.

Each year, the Holy Spirit draws near the people of God to guide them to the divine gifts that He desires to transfer to them in that particular year.

This year, He comes to say that we need to grow in faith and learn more about faith.

How can we receive this faith?

We receive it from Christ’s incarnation. The Nativity fast is a period of time where there is a lot of inner preparation.

When the Holy Spirit draws our attention to such matter to focus on, the people of God should then start to be preoccupied with it, read the biblical passages about it, and seek it in the atmosphere of the fast. Hence, they would receive it as a grace and a gift that would be added to whatever measure of faith they had before. Even if their faith had faded away or had become weak, the divine gift of this season renews their faith and grants them the gift of faith which they need as a fuel and nourishment for their spirit.

Therefore, one of the main purposes that we can set before ourselves during this fast is to be filled with faith, to learn the language of faith, and to understand the matters that are related to faith.

We can put this matter as a prayer request that we continually seek during that time; as a result, we receive the gift of faith.

Faith can start as a small measure; and then, it continues to increase and increase.

This leads us to talk about some principles that help in the growth of faith.

We need to set this purpose before ourselves; read about it in the bible; and seek it throughout this fast. At the end of the fast, when we receive this fruit of faith, our fast would have indeed been fruitful.

One of the things that has caused superficiality and scarcity in the spiritual life is that people do not understand the mystery of the fasts and there are no purposes set for them. Hence, the fast is often practiced as an outer and superficial practice. As a result, the season of the fast passes by and some fail to receive the main spiritual gift and purpose of it. It thus becomes a barren fast and the people end up being spiritually weak and feeble. They would have fasted; yet, they would have not received the spiritual gift of the fast.

However, if we have such a purpose, faith, set before us during the fast and we continue to be preoccupied with it, our fast would bear fruit.

The purpose of the fast is not something that we make up. You may have noticed that as we were talking in the sharing at the beginning, we realised our dire need for faith.

If we receive the spirit of faith, the anointing of faith, the power of faith, our ministry will reflect this faith with its power and anointing. It will cause people to be deeply touched and desire to live and receive this faith.

Let us remember that as Christians, we are called to walk by faith not by sight, as written in 2 Corinthians 5: 7: ‘For we walk by faith, not by sight’.

One of our main distinctive features as the people of God is walking by faith, not by sight. Therefore, walking by sight means being estranged from our Christian calling and our heavenly home town because if we walk by sight, we will lose the insight that makes us see the invisible things, as written in Hebrews 11: 1: ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’. These biblical words indicate that we need to see the ‘things not seen’; and this can only be seen by the eyes of faith.

Faith is like a telescope that allows us to see things not seen and be assured of them. As a result, we would be estranged from material things and dwell in heavenly matters. By this, we would be truly Christians.

The main feature that distinguishes a Christian is that he is a heavenly being and his calling is in the heavenly places. The phrase that is often repeated in the epistles of apostle Paul, especially in the epistle to the Ephesians (which is called by scholars, the epistle of the Church), is that the believer dwells in the heavenly places.

How can man live in the heavenly places? Will he take off the flesh?

No, this is not what is meant here. This actually means that the believer would live on earth by his flesh; yet, his spirit would dwell in the heavenly places. His spirit would be in communion and fellowship with God; his mind and thoughts would be preoccupied with heavenly matters; and his faith would be a living and dynamic faith that is full of assurance. Every part of him would tell him that his life on earth is not eternal; it is a sojourning that will end. During this life, God will surely care for him because it is written that God makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and He sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5: 45).

The important question is: where will he go after that and where is his treasure stored? Is it stored where moth and rust destroy, or, where neither moth nor rust destroys (in the heavenly treasure)?

This is what distinguishes the Christian.

If one lives a mere earthly life, then, he is not a Christian! The verse is clear; it says: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6: 21).

Therefore, if my heart is tied to things on the earth, this means my Christ has not been resurrected, for it is written:

‘If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth’ (Colossians 3: 1, 2).

And ‘if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty’ (1Corinthians 15: 14).

These are biblical principles and foundations.

Therefore, if I do not seek those things which are above, it means I have not been resurrected. If I have no resurrection, this means that I have no faith.

In other words:

Faith is an absolute necessity so that Christianity would be restored to its life and real form. This necessity of faith is needed in a multiplied way in the end times. The enemy wants to make people forget about the life of faith so that he would take hold of them. He does not want them to live in the heavenly sphere and dimension because he cannot reach them in these spheres. The serpent can only access the level of the ground, the dust. If the people of God live in the heavenly sphere, this means that they have come out of the earthly sphere; and thus, the old serpent, the devil, cannot reach them. Yet, if they live for the material world, which is the sphere of the serpent, the devil, he can easily get hold of them. They would be under his authority and he can poison them.

If one is poisoned by a snake, he would suffer from loss of appetite, dizziness, vomiting, fainting; and finally he may go into a comma. If he is not rescued in due time, he may die.

Similarly, if I am bitten by the serpent, the devil, I will lose my spiritual appetite; and even if I eat any food, I may throw up. For example, I may listen to a spiritual message and then throw it up immediately after. Practically, this means that as soon as I come out of the meeting, I start thinking of a long list of things that I want to do; and my mind immediately shifts from heavenly matters into being preoccupied with material and earthly things. Then, when I go home after the meeting, I try to pray before going to bed; yet, I find that I have no appetite. I want to ponder on heavenly matters and read the bible, but I feel tired and sleepy. It is important to note that at that time, if I start thinking about a certain problem or an earthly matter, I can stay awake all night and the sleepiness disappears.

This is an illustration of the effect of the poison of the serpent on one’s spiritual life.

On the other hand, there can be a person who goes to church after a long tiresome day of work; and so, he may go into the church feeling tired. Yet, as soon as the praises and prayer start, all tiredness disappears, and he starts to feel energetic and his spirit is kindled.

When the spirit is kindled and set aflame, it restores and washes the body. It is written: ‘by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body’ (Romans 8: 13). It is also written: ‘will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you’ (Romans 8: 11). Therefore, as soon as the praise and prayer start, all the tiredness and sleepiness disappear, the spirit is ignited, and the person’s love for God becomes fervent; and so, he desires to spend such nights in prayer and worship.

Therefore, the spirit can either be energetic or weak. If the spirit is energetic, there will be spiritual appetite and there will be no tiredness or sleepiness. If the spirit is weak, whenever one starts to pray, tiredness comes; whenever he tries to read the bible, sleepiness comes; whenever he tries to ponder on spiritual matters, he finds his mind distracted.  Note here that this distraction does not occur if he tries to think of other things apart from spiritual matters; he can, for example, focus on his work for successive hours without any distraction. This makes us wonder why the distraction occurs specifically when thinking of spiritual matters. Being able to focus on other things like work indicates that the mind can think without being distracted; so, it is not a problem related to one’s mental ability to concentrate. We need to be honest with ourselves; it is a problem in the spiritual life; it is some kind of spiritual weakness because the spirit is weak. If the spirit was strong, this distraction would have been resolved because the spirit would have recollected the mind.

We are often able to be totally absorbed in our work and be preoccupied with it without any distraction; yet, the same does not happen with spiritual matters because we are not at this level of preoccupation with the spiritual life or the responsibility of the Kingdom of God. We do not have the desire for worship nor the sense of responsibility towards the Kingdom of God. The natural result would be spiritual weakness and withering.

However, when there is faith and a kindled spirit, the situation is different.

Therefore, it is important during the fast to set such a purpose before ourselves; especially that this is a dire need as I have just been explaining.

I explained earlier that faith is a need because the main feature that distinguishes Christians is to live as sojourners on earth, dwelling in the heavens through being preoccupied with holy matters, seeking those things which are above, and setting their mind on things above.

The other main reason is that the old serpent, the devil, wants to make faith become absent because faith allows people to be in the place where the serpent cannot reach, in the heavenly dimension. However, if faith fades away, we fall in the hand of the serpent. If we remain in the earthy and material sphere –the field of the devil’s work and authority, the devil can imprison and captivate us.

It is written that God: ‘called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace’ (2Timothy 1: 9). It is also written: ‘walk worthy of the calling with which you were called’ (Ephesians 4: 1); and we also read that this calling is: ‘the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3: 14).

This holy and upward calling is that Christ has seated us with Him in the heavenly places.

Yet, unfortunately, we sometimes leave our upward calling and descend downwards; and hence, enter in the home town of the kingdom of the enemy.

There is a kingdom, which is this world, whose ruler is the devil (John 12, 31; 14: 30). It is written that ‘the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one’ (1John 5: 19). The biblical terms are clear that there is a kingdom of darkness and it has its ruler.

On the other hand, there is the Kingdom of God and Jesus is its Lord.

By descending downwards, one would be crossing the borders and entering the kingdom of the enemies.

What would be waiting for him there? What would his destiny be?

The enemy considers the children of God to be his enemies because Christ –who dwells in them –has bruised the head of the serpent. The enemy looks at them in anger desiring to bruise their head; yet, he cannot reach their head; and so, he tries to bite their heel. His bite is deadly because it brings the poison of death –since the devil is the prince of death.

Therefore, if we leave our safe hometown and our heavenly sphere and enter this kingdom whose ruler is our enemy, we may fall into his hands.

It is written about Satan that ‘he was a murderer from the beginning… there is no truth in him…for he is a liar and the father of it’ (John 8: 44).

How does he bite?

He actually blows, into people, lies and vain matters; as the bible says: ‘there is no truth in him’.

Yet, he has various kinds of lies and vain matters which he uses with each person in a different way, according to the thing he manages to hook each one with.

For example, if he sees a person who can easily get worried, he blows into him responsibilities, telling him: ‘you are responsible for your kids; and so, you have to work hard to put food in their mouth. Not only this, you also have to save money for them; otherwise, they will want and beg’.

All these are lies, for God cares for everyone. He even cares for the evil people, won’t he care for the righteous?

It is written:

‘I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread’ (Psalm 37: 25).

This is what the word of God states in a very clear way.

Why do we sometimes fail to live according to what is written in the word of God?

This is because we do not have faith!

Faith and the word of God go side by side.

It is written:

‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (Romans 10: 17).

The word of God requires faith. When we believe it, it fills us. The word of God is the truth: ‘but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (John 1: 17).

We need to be filled with the truth; and this happens by being filled with the word of God and living according to it.

Some people look at the word of God and say that there are things that are illogical. They say things like: ‘Will God open the heaven and pour blessing?’

Yes, indeed; it is written:

‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’ (Malachi 3: 10).

This is what the word of God clearly states!

Jesus overcame the enemy by the word of God.

Jesus lived on earth as the example that teaches us how to live our human life on earth. He lived by the word of God.

The enemy came to Him telling Him that He must be hungry after fasting 40 days, suggesting to Him that if He does not eat, He will die. He told Him to quickly change the rock into bread to sustain Himself. The devil went on telling lies and vain matters. But Jesus refused to listen to these lies. The enemy must have kept trying to tempt Him with his lies, but Jesus refused to accept the bread that comes from the rock, but only desired the bread of His Father.

Thus, Jesus ‘answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4: 4).

By this the first temptation in relation to material things was defeated.

There are some who worry about material things and needs; and the enemy brings to them lies and vain matters in this area.

Yet, there are others who do not worry about tomorrow. If the enemy tries to trouble them with worries in relation to saving money in case they get ill or to save for their children, they will not fall in this trap. These kinds of lies do not work with them. Thus, the enemy tries another type of lies and deceptive matters with these people. He attacks them in relation to their social status and prestige. There are some people who care much about their status; and so, the enemy goes to them through that door. He makes them see how people in higher positions crush those in lower positions in order to make them enter into this struggle and conflict.

This was the second temptation where the devil asked Jesus to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, telling Him that the angels will bear Him up in their hands.

The enemy tempts ministers and men of religion with the same temptation, telling them that they should maintain their status and prestige by performing miracles and wonders so that people would notice them and listen to them.

The devil went to Jesus with this temptation; but Jesus told him: It is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’ (Matthew 4: 7).

The enemy might have continued to argue saying: ‘If You do not do this, You will not be able to carry out Your mission’.

Yet, things do not work this way; it is not by earthly wisdom nor by the number of people who listen to us.

Jesus did not accept the temptation. In His intercessory prayer, Jesus said:

‘The men whom You have given Me out of the world…I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me’ (John 17: 6 – 8).

There were some who did not believe; but Jesus knew that He was sent by the Father and the Father would give Him those who would listen to Him. He did not want to show off nor receive any earthly honour or prestige.

This was the second temptation which the enemy uses to attack a category of people who can easily get taken in by temptations in relation to their status, whether in human or spiritual contexts.

There is a third category to whom the enemy shows all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, telling them that he will give them all these if they bow down and worship him.

He tells these people that there can be many interpretations for the messages that they hear in Church and things can be done in different ways, trying to mislead and deceive those kinds of people who are ready to go around the principles.

Yet, there are others who will not accept this temptation as they do not go along with these crooked ways; they only know uprightness. God is righteous and upright; and there are people who desire to live in uprightness. They worship God alone, even if they cannot reach or achieve what they wish except by going through the path of the cross.

The enemy may argue saying:

Isn’t it written: The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ’ (Revelation 11: 15).

He may then continue to argue saying:

‘I will give them all to you, but in my way. I will give you all that you want. If you do not accept it my way, you will have a long and difficult road ahead of you. There will be the cross. If you want an easier way, there is one; but, it has to be through me. If you do not choose my way, I will set people against you; I will make you suffer.’

Some may reason with themselves that it is illogical that God would want them to go through all this trouble. They may say: ‘Who said that one should go through all this suffering to live a Christian life?

They are mistaken, for it is indeed written:

‘For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake’ (Philippians 1: 29).

It is also written:

‘Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution’ (2 Timothy 3: 12).

Also, Jesus said:

‘And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple’ (Luke 14: 27).

It is also written:

‘Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life’ (Matthew 7: 14).

After all this, how can we continue to question and say things like: ‘Who said that things should be as such?’

If God gives me broadness at times, I receive it from Him; yet, I should always be ready for the narrow way. I should never accept to live in any kind of lack of uprightness.

Yet, how can I live as such?

Faith alone can allow me and help me to do so. Faith would give me the strength to proclaim and believe that God said that the gate is narrow, and the way is difficult; but, it leads to life. However, the wide gate and the broad way lead to destruction.

‘Destruction’ means that there is fire that is not quenched and worm that does not die; one cannot breathe and desires someone to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue. It is great narrowness. It started wide but it ended narrow.

On the other hand, the narrow way leads to the Kingdom of God which is full of peace, joy, righteousness; and broadness. Yet, at the beginning, it was a narrow path.

Faith helps me believe all this.

If one lives by faith, the word of God becomes his Constitution and one will have full assurance that if he is walking in the narrow path, it will surely end in broadness.

In our human weakness we may find it difficult to trust that the narrow road will end in broadness. Yet, faith makes us believe and trust this.

It is written about Jesus: ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame’ (Hebrews 12: 2).

What was this joy that was set before Him?

He saw the Church being established on the day of Pentecost. He saw the holy people of the Church enjoying His redemption and mercy; they are joyful that they have been saved from the enemy; they live in righteousness; and then, they would finally be crowned with the heavenly crowns. He saw the labour of His soul and was satisfied; and so, He endured the Cross and despised the shame so that the creation of God would not perish; but be filled with life, be crowned with the heavenly crowns, and be with Him in heaven.

What can help us endure our crosses?

The joy that is set before us and which awaits us can help us endure our crosses.

It is written: ‘because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven’ (Colossians 1: 5).

It is also written: ‘to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you’ (1 Peter 1: 4).

If I do not have faith, I will read these words and they will be mere ideas that enter in and then go out again. When I face any challenge, I will not find any verses in my heart or mind.

Where is the living hope which should be in us and by which we live as Christians?!

It is written about this hope that it is laid in heaven; it is an inheritance and an assured salvation; and we are kept by the power of God. This is what motivates and encourages us to go through suffering and temptations and endure for the sake of what awaits us.

If one has this living hope, he will be able to say that it is written: ‘who has this hope in Him purifies himself’ (1John 3: 3). He will also say, it is written: ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2: 11 – 13).

How wonderful these words and promises are! They truly bring joy and sweetness in the spirit.

In one understands this living and blessed hope, whenever he faces a difficulty or a tribulation, he will not cry out asking for solutions or seeking that the difficulty would end. Instead, he will say that this difficulty will bring him hope. In the epistle to the Romans, it is written that: ‘tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint’ (Romans 5: 3 – 5).

According to the original language, the word ‘perseverance’ indicates a surface that has been polished until it became like a mirror. Then, when you look at that person, you will find that he is very upright and pure like a mirror. This has happened through the much hammering and polishing caused by the tribulations, where the person sought the strengthening of God until the tribulations did their work in him, making him straight and full of light and uprightness.

This ‘perseverance’ leads to ‘hope’ where one becomes filled with true assurance that not one day will be added to the tribulation unless this was for his good and was allowed by God. He will be filled with assurance that no matter how long the tribulation lasts and no matter how much the enemy or people try, the tribulation will end and will not continue any minute past its time because God will give the order that it would end[1]: ‘Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it?’ (Lamentations 3: 37).

This is the kind of faith that we have and receive when we live according to the word of God.

We need to be honest with ourselves and ask ourselves: Where is the place of the word of God in our life?

We sometimes do not read it; we sometimes read one day and miss many days; or, we sometimes just read it by our minds. Then, in times of difficulties, we search for the strength of the word of God and we do not find it inside us. We feel we need to search for the verses in books. This indicates that the word of God is not in our spirit; and this in turn indicates that we have no faith.

The word of God should be a rock that we lean on and it strengthens us. The word of God should be a medicine that heals.

It is written: ‘He sent His word and healed them’ (Psalm 107: 20).

It is also written: ‘Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart’ (Jeremiah 15: 16).

Where is the place of this word of God in our life?

It is written: ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119: 105).

We fail to experience this because of our lack of faith.

What makes the word of God become as such for us?

This happens when we read it by faith.

The fathers of the Church call the word of God: ‘the breath of God’[2]. The breath of God touches our spirit and revives us. It is like resuscitating someone where you blow air into his lungs. Similarly, I may be numbed because of the poison of the serpent and the cares of the world; and thus I need the breath of God which revives and brings life. When I receive it, I find myself having peace, being healed, and revived. Indeed, this is very true, for it is written: ‘the words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life’ (John 6: 63). His words bring life and revive my spirit.

We can thus see that we are in great need for faith. Therefore, let us be vigilant and ask God to help us not lose any day of this season of the Nativity fast.

The practical application is to read the word of God a lot during the fast. As we read, we should pray asking Him to pour out faith in us. We should continue to read and pray.

It is also well known that one of the means that help in receiving faith is worship.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of faith.

Another channel that can help is reading the biographies of the men of faith in the bible, like the life of Abraham, Elijah, David, and Samuel; or, the biographies of recent and contemporary men of God who waited upon the Lord, held unto Him, and experienced His faithfulness.

Reading the word of God, worship, the work of the Holy Spirit, and reading the life experiences of the men of God within the atmosphere of the Nativity fast are some of the things that can help us receive the grace of faith.

May God grant us that this would be a fast of faith.

As we read in the biblical reference at the very beginning, there were men of God who waited for the Messiah; and then, the promise was actually fulfilled, and they saw that He was born. It was a dark era. For 400 years, there were no prophets. The people might have thought that this meant that God had forgotten them and is angry with them. But this was not the case. The Messiah was finally born! There were men of faith, like Simeon and Anna; and there were others, ‘all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem’.

We need to wait upon the Lord; read the word of God; and ask for the gift and grace of faith in order to live a life of faith and minister a ministry of faith in a generation that is in great need of this faith.

Amen

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[1] Isaiah 28: 24 – 26; Romans.8: 28

[2] Taken from 2 Timothy 3: 16

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