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Prayer and Fasting

This spring, I started reading through "The First Nations Version" of the New Testament. The translators for the text have translated with North American First Nations people in mind, and that has helped me bring new eyes to old words. Part of writing for this audience has been simply using relevant words, like canoe instead of boat. Some of it has been written in a style that is easily spoken because of the oral tradition of many First Nations people. Other parts that have really caught my attention are the way study helps are added into the text. Rather than footnotes and explanations below, they are indented and written to be read as part of the text. They are distinct and easily identified as additional context, but they are part of the reading experience. This easy story reading, oddly enough, has me following more of the footnotes as well, which led me to read a footnote about Mark 9:29, which in the NIV reads, “He replied, ’This kind can come out only by prayer.’” However, in the KJV, the footnote observes Mark 9:29 reads, “And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” I had never noticed this fasting phrase before.

There is a significant difference for modern North American educators between these two translations. And much of it has to do with what, in my Christian Deeper Learning tradition, Teaching for Transformation, we call Deep Hope. The process of an educator trying to define their deep hope connects them with who God made them to be and why their school exists. Within these two contexts, we create a deep hope, a statement of classroom mission that allows the teacher to flourish and simultaneously meet the mission of the school. One key aspect of deep hope is sharing it with students, parents, administrators, and the community so that they know what makes your class peculiar. Deep hope also tunes your senses to the movement of the Holy Spirit in your classroom. As you invite your students to reflect on the progress towards deep hope, you will see more and more how it is becoming real. This is where the simple phrase “and fasting.” struck me as vital.

I have heard throughout my life the basic sentiment of Jesus in this verse, that only prayer will work. And our modern selves think, so accustomed to having what we want when we want it, that if the disciples had prayed harder or better, they could have driven out the spirit. And one could be forgiven for thinking this because Jesus says only prayer works, but he did not specify what kind of prayer. Fasting gives us a clue about the kind of prayer the disciples were lacking, and it was not a matter of saying different words or saying them better right in that moment. It was a matter of their whole lives. You see, we can imagine praying harder right now, but we cannot imagine quick fasting better. Fasting is something that you have to have done all along that creates a heart with a bend towards obedience to God and loving God and others before yourself. A regular habit of prayer that connects our spirit towards God and others before self was what the disciples were missing.

A classroom that wants truly Christian Deeper Learning has to have regular practices of looking for God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Rhythms to help us stop, look, listen, feel, even smell for the Spirit moving and working in our lives. Without this regular practice, we might see it now and again, but we are leaving it up to chance and, in fact, giving up our opportunity to regularly see and announce the Kingdom of God. As with the First Nations Version, approaching God intentionally reveals fruit that was perhaps always there but now stands out as a gift on the Good Road of Jesus.


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