Monday, February 19, 2018

Lent Words Day 5: Fast

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"
Isaiah 58:6-7

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, 
for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. 
Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 
But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 
so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, 
but only to your Father, who is unseen; 
and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, 
will reward you."
Matthew 6:16-18

I have this thing. I don't exactly know what to call it. An issue, a pet-peeve, baggage - I don't know. Anyway, here it is: I don't like to do things just because other people are doing them. My husband and I don't observe days like Sweetest Day or Valentine's Day. I don't want a gift or a sentiment simply because some holiday (or card company) said to do so. I want something that expresses love from my husband on a random Tuesday simply because he was thinking about me. That speaks volumes of love to me!

So, as a result of this "thing" I'm a bit adverse to traditions. I'm also ambivalent about the times in our church services when we are asked to respond in some way that is visual or verbal. I'm afraid of doing something that might not be true, because we are being asked to. I struggle with the possibility that people are not participating out of authenticity. So, I feel a kind of rebellion stir up in me about corporate responses, traditions, even some holidays.

This has also been true for me in the past about Lenten fasting. I don't want to do it simply because everyone else is. I don't want to fast from something convenient, like sweets.  Because, quite honestly, I need to loose some weight and sweets are a big barrier and combining this with Lenten fasting would kill two birds with one stone. I'm just afraid that action may end up being selfish and hollow and not honor God. Please, please, please don't take offense if you are fasting from sweets! What I'm trying to get at here is motive and heart.

Today's passage in Matthew 6 is a part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus took many of the traditional religious practices of his day (and ours) and turned them upside-down. Where people were following laws that they thought were making them holy, Jesus now points them to examine their motive and heart. Throughout the Gospels Jesus comes up against the Pharisees, the religious leaders and teachers of the day. They regulated keeping the over 600 laws that the Jewish people had established as the guidelines for holy living. The problem, Jesus would point out time and time again, is that often following laws or rules can lead to hypocrisy - actions without meaning. Jesus addressed this issue with the Pharisees in Matthew 23, often called the Seven Woes. Matthew 23:23 for example,
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."
There's a Pharisee hiding in each one of us. We too, face the danger of having good practices, such as tithing, fasting, Bible study and prayer, becoming meaningless practices that have lost their purpose in shaping us for holiness. We need to continually examine our heart and motive and place ourselves before God for His examination of our heart and our actions (Psalm 139:23-24), so that we do not become cups that are clean and shiny on the outside, yet full of dirt on the inside. See Matthew 23:25-26.

I have to say that this is not where I intended to go when I first thought of writing this post. But it's where I've landed as I've read the above verses and have thought about fasting. I spent time in prayer prior to the start of the Lent season seeking God on what to fast from. My desire was to practice both of the disciplines known as the disciplines of abstinence and engagement - both removing something and adding something. And they had to be something that would position myself for further work of the Spirit in areas where God is calling me to have a change of heart. The reality is that I cannot change my heart, only God can do that. But I can position myself through spiritual disciplines and decisive actions, so that I open myself in obedience to God changing my heart and shaping me into Christ-likeness.

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