Sometimes, it takes a crisis to force us to think deeply about life, what matters most, what deserves our best efforts.
Alicia Britt Chole (pronounced SHOW-lee) opens her new book with a personal health scare. “A high fever, a few scans, multiple masses, possibly a lethal abcess…the specialists convened, conferred, counseled me to cancel all engagements and began cutting.” Doctors released her from the hospital eight days after surgery. One specialist said, point blank, “At this point, I give you a fifty-fifty chance that the organs will come back online.”
For a woman in the prime of life, with a thriving ministry, a loving husband, and a young family, this crisis wasn’t good news. Looking back, however, Chole wouldn’t trade it for the world. “Little did I know,” she writes, “that the pain was under assignment: it was making room in my life for another operation well beyond the reach of any surgeon’s scalpel.” The Divine Surgeon was operating on her soul.
Christians are rightly concerned with the state of their souls. “We all guard against sins of commission and we are vigilant toward sins of omission,” Chole writes. “But achievements—even in small doses—can make us vulnerable to sins of addition: adding niceties and luxuries to our list of basic needs, adding imaginations onto the strong back of vision, adding self-satisfaction to the purity of peace.”
40 Days of Decrease was written to help us fast such sins of addition in order to see the way of Jesus Christ more clearly. It is an exercise in decluttering the soul. Rather than fasting physical necessities or material luxuries, however, it leads readers in a fast of spiritual and emotional add-ons, such as stinginess, spectatorship, accumulation, revisionism, and escapism.
After a brief Prologue and Introduction, Chole devotes a brief chapter to each of the forty days of the fast. Each chapter contains a devotional based on Jesus’ life, a reflection question, a suggested fast for the day, a sidebar about Lent, a Scripture reading, and a blank page for journaling your thoughts. Chole recommends using the book with a group for better outcomes.
40 Days of Decrease was designed to be used during Lent, the traditional forty days of fasting leading up to Easter observed by Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant churches. As a Pentecostal, I don’t think Lent is obligatory. (Chole also is Pentecostal, and like me, an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God.) I do think, however, that concentrated periods of prayer and fasting are a good idea with ample biblical precedent. Jesus Christ himself observed a forty-day fast at the outset of His ministry (Luke 4:1–2), after all, and we are not better than Him.
Whether you use 40 Days of Decrease at Lent or some other time of year, it is nonetheless a book worth reading and an exercise in fasting worth making.
P.S. This article first appeared at VitalMagazine.com.
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