Pretty dresses, fancy shoes, and baskets filled with candy. As a child, I looked forward to this big day in my big family. After going to church, there was always a feast prepared by Mom, filled with foods created just for Easter.
In the days leading up to this celebration, our church encouraged us to attend special services and to give up something for Lent. Lent is the time period of six and a half weeks leading up to Easter where Christians prepare for this festival of Christ’s death and resurrection by reflecting on their lives, focusing on repentance and forgiveness for our sins. Imitating Jesus’s fasting in the wilderness before he began his public ministry, Lent provides a 40-day fast before the day of celebration. For some, this fast includes abstaining from certain foods or certain activities during this set-aside time.
I have to admit. As a child, and even as an adult, the concept of fasting and why we fast had been a bit fuzzy to me, so I have been studying God’s word to learn more.
In Matthew 6, Jesus is bringing His followers clarity as to what our lives should look like. Here He gives instructions for when we are praying and when we are fasting. When, or at what time, implies it is not if we pray and fast, but when we pray and fast.
My research then leads me to Isaiah 58:6-7. God says, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7 ESV).
One thing struck me: I had always seen fasting as abstaining from something, yet clearly, God is calling us to do something in connection to fasting. As His people, He calls us, you and I who name ourselves Jesus’ followers, to get involved in breaking the chains of injustice that surround us, get rid of the exploitation in the lives of people in our communities, to participate in bringing freedom to those burdened with dealing in unjust and merciless situations – the oppressed. Jesus is calling us to cancel debts, share our food with the hungry, invite the homeless poor into our homes, clothe those in need as well as invest in our own families.
This passage is messing with me in a beautiful way. I’m seeing that my definition of serving God and practicing my religion as it pertains to fasting and the Lenten session, as it pertains to me loving my God, has been short-sighted. Yes, fasting always involves a sort of stopping. These verses challenge me to stop living my days wrapped up in my needs and desires – a fasting from my own selfishness. I also see in these verses God’s definition of fasting; not just stopping but also a mandate for starting. For doing. I’m asking the Lord as I head into this holy season, to open my eyes and empower me to move my hands and feet to do the things that tell of my devotion to Him.
Oh, Jesus, this list is big and overwhelming. Help me today, to not do something because it is all so much. Help me instead to see the one and do for that one as you would have me to do. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
More on Caring for Others:
“I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:36-40 (ESV)
Living it Out:
Looking for some practical ideas on how you can live out Isaiah 58:6-7 during this Lenten season? Stop by Lynn’s website!
Here on the first day of Lent, what is one thing, even something small, that you can do to live out the gospel as described in Isaiah 58:6-7?