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Archive for March 8th, 2011

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7b

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent – the period before Easter when many Christians choose to participate in the sufferings of Christ by fasting/giving up something until Easter.  Some people choose to give up sugar, caffeine, TV watching, or other favorite activities as a spiritual discipline.  Some continue to fast on Sundays, while others (depending on your church’s tradition) view Sundays as a day of celebration when fasting is not appropriate.  Whatever your background or tradition concerning Lent, I’d like to throw out a few thoughts.

Why fast?
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).  Let’s face it, most of us in North America do not tend to deny ourselves a whole lot.  If we feel like vegging out, we turn on the TV.  If we’re hungry for a snack, we grab some chips from the pantry.  All day long we feed our desires.  Sure, we may do some work and justify an hour zoning out in front of the computer after being productive for several hours, or feel like we’re disciplined when we buy the $20 shoes instead of the $50 shoes (to go with the 15 other pairs in our closet).  But most of us – me included – probably don’t have a clue what it means to really sacrifice.

Fasting takes my focus off of my selfish desires and forces me to say, “No!” to the flesh. When we practice this kind of daily discipline, it can open our eyes to how much of our lives are actually spent trying to save our lives  – or to put it another way, to save OUR WAY OF LIFE.  Jesus said if I want to save my life I will lose it.  To me, that means if I’m constantly focused on meeting my own needs, I’m going to lose out on the kind of relationships and experiences God has planned for me.  But if I surrender my “right” to do whatever I feel is in my best interest, and stop acting like the world revolves around me, I will finally find the life God ordained for me, which is way better than anything I could have planned.  Fasting – whatever it is we choose to fast – can be the first step toward acting on the knowledge that I’m not here on this earth to do whatever pleases me.

Outward vs. Inward
I put the verse from 1 Samuel at the top of this post as a reminder for myself that appearing “spiritual” on the outside doesn’t matter because God looks at the heart.  Maybe instead of giving up chocolate or Starbucks, what God really wants is for me to give up bitterness and envy.  What if instead of fasting from food, we gave up nagging or gossiping by disciplining ourselves to pray before we speak?  We may not look as pious on the outside, but Jesus promises that “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

Giving Up vs. Exchanging
Many of us view fasting in a negative light, and envision pious monks forgoing the pleasures of this life.  But it seems to me that when God asks us to give something, it is so he can bless us with something of greater value in return.  There are many “If…then” statements in scripture that promise what God will do if we will obey his commands: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you” (here comes the “then” promise), “ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7).  Fasting is not just about letting go of something, but about gaining a deeper connection to God so we can fully receive every spiritual blessing.

In order to gain from the experience of fasting, I think it’s important to replace whatever is being given up with prayer or some other spiritual discipline.  This is a great time to develop the habit of prayer or scripture reading, since research shows that anything you repeat daily for 6 weeks becomes a habit.  So if you choose to fast your morning coffee, try spending the time you would have spent drinking it in prayer.  If you’re fasting TV watching in the evening, replace some of it with time spent in the Bible or another Christian book.  (A few years ago I read Max Lucado’s, “And The Angels Were Silent,” which is a book about the last week of Jesus’ life.  I highly recommend it for the Lenten season.)   Daily scripture readings from the New Testament and Proverbs are always available on the Faith tab above, and are included below for your convenience.  This week we’re reading in Matthew about the week leading up to the crucifixion, and being reminded of all Christ suffered for us.

There’s no sacrifice we can make that is greater than Christ’s sacrifice for us. Ultimately, the Lenten season is not about what I’m giving up for Christ.  It’s about humbling myself so I can better comprehend and appreciate all Christ sacrificed for me.

Daily Bible Reading Schedule for March 8 – 14:

  • Tuesday – Matthew 26:17-35; 1 Corinthians 6:13b-20; Proverbs 10:31-32
  • Wednesday – Matthew 26:36-56; 1 Corinthians 7:1-9; Proverbs 11:1-3
  • Thursday – Matthew 26:57-75; 1 Corinthians 7:10-17; Proverbs 11:4
  • Friday – Matthew 27:1-10; 1 Corinthians 7:18-24; Proverbs 11:5-6
  • Saturday – Matthew 27:11-30; 1 Corinthians 7:25-31 Proverbs 11:7
  • Sunday – Matthew 27:31-56; 1 Corinthians 7:32-40; Proverbs 11:8
  • Monday – Matthew 27:57-66; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Proverbs 11:9-11

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