When I shut off the light I was angry at myself for being distracted, for being unable to wrangle a lack of self-control in order to keep my commitment to put words on a page each day for thirty-one days, a goal I set for myself at the beginning of the month. I was frustrated, opened a blank Word page; closed it. No beginning sentence was good enough. I jumped back to the Internet, distracted myself by reading news, blogs, and scrolling Facebook.
I shutdown the computer at midnight, crawled in the flannel sheets, and slept until the dog woke me at 8:00. I let her out, felt the chill of the morning and crawled back in the bed for another couple of hours of fitful dreaming. I got up at 10:00, a ridiculously late time for me. Mid-morning, I put on a pot of coffee to begin the day.
It was Saturday. The day I take for rest. Jeff and Luke were working. Maggie and I had the house for the morning, or what was left of it.
I opened the computer, then an email, let my undisciplined finger click on an advertisement for Tablet Hotels. The photographs of exotic places drew me in and soon I found myself pining for Malaysia, for London, for Tuscany---places I have never been. How can I pine for what I have never experienced?
I read about a few of the places, the amenities, the reviews of those who have stayed in the places I have not seen. I was about to stumble away from a day of rest into a day of discontent. There is always the opportunity for a re-boot.
It may have been mid-morning but it wasn’t too late to meet with God. Redirecting my mind toward my Saturday rest, I soon found myself in the book of Isaiah, reading again the words of Isaiah 57-58. At the end of Chapter 58 the Lord reveals the kind of fast that He has chosen. It’s a familiar passage but its powerful message still falls fresh on me. Will I ever learn to live what stirs me?
“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 yourself from your own flesh?...
…And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.” (Is. 58:6-12 ESV for complete passage)
I have never really fasted. It’s one of those spiritual practices that has never seemed relevant to me as a New Testament believer. I think the attitude is similar to how I once felt about keeping the Sabbath. Fasting and practicing the Sabbath were in the past tense for me as a believer this side of the Cross.
Jesus observed the Sabbath. Jesus fasted.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Jesus came and “dwelt among us.” When we see Jesus on the pages of Scripture, we are looking at God in the flesh. What Jesus did, we are to do. We are to observe the life of Christ, look at how He lived to know how we are to live. He “gave himself up…”
We aren’t powerless to live this way. In fact, to live the Christ-life in the flesh is impossible. Through the life of the Holy Spirit, Jesus lives his life through us. We are the image-bearers of God. We give God glory.
One of the very first things Jesus did when he began his public ministry was to enter into a time of fasting. But Jesus also lived the fast that his Father had chosen as described in Isaiah 58. He gave to the poor. He fasted from glory and became the God-Man; yet, He gave out of the vast riches of his Life to all who would receive, both to the physically and the spiritually poor.
Those who fasted in days when Jesus walked the earth, the Sabbath-keepers who Jesus taught in the Synagogue, the givers and obvious prayer-sayers he observed from his vantage point in the temple, the religious elite checking off their holy-to-do lists weren’t on the best terms with Jesus. Still Jesus continued to worship with them, teach them, and eat with them. He wanted them to connect their religious practice to their hearts. Most of them preferred to hold tightly to their outward appearances and their positions of influence, to their identities they guarded so zealously.
It wasn’t the religious who approached Jesus in faith, who noticed the Light and came for the Water. It was the needy that came to Him, who sought Him out, who ate the Bread that filled. The approachable Jesus made a way for all who would to come near the Holy God.
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them…. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…
The needy flung the risk of rejection onto the back of jackass slapped it on the hind side and sent it packing. A need for a sure outcome was not important. They were in a mess, sinful, broken, outcast, the wrong race or gender, or both. Their need compelled them to go to Jesus whether it was because of sickness, blindness, hunger, mental torment, even death. The desperate and humble came. Jesus met them where they were. They came with nothing to give and nothing to lose, with everything to gain. They weren’t disappointed.
God made Himself approachable in the person of Jesus. But often pride holds back many who are needy from going to Jesus because they are unwilling to risk the uncertainty of God’s will. They are afraid they’ll lose ground; they don’t trust his heart.
We want to approach Jesus on our terms. We want certainty. We aren’t looking for miracles unless they are guaranteed. I know I have lived this way, but God won’t buy in to that kind of living. It’s not his way.
It grieves me when my life displays the manifestations of devotion without the transformation. Whether in worship, in prayer, in the study of God’s word, in keeping the Sabbath and or in fasting (or not fasting), I can enter into religiosity without any anticipation of God working in my life. I live the rituals of God-living and I lose my passion, disconnect from the heart.
I need to wake up! None of what I do is relevant apart from God’s transforming work in my life. What is the point of going through the motions? Every day I am needy. As long as I live in this flesh, my greatest source of strength comes in identifying my need to live in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.
With humility, I must find the lowly place of surrender, the bed of ashes to enter into grief, to fast the way that God has chosen, to give up self, daily take up my cross and follow Him.
This life is a journey, the way narrows and I walk on… not to Malaysia or London or Tuscany. My life is here. I am growing where I am planted in a well “watered garden.”
All of life’s uncertainty is swallowed up in in life’s greatest hope---the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I live the miracle of the resurrected life…all because God came near, the revelation of God in approachable Presence, the person of Jesus Christ.
God took me from distraction to direction in the course of twenty-four hours. When we are needy, He is waiting.
If you read this far in this long post, I feel like I need to tell you I stayed in my pajamas all day! God bless you this day. Praying that you take time to today to take your every need to Jesus...Linking with Jennifer at #TellHisStory and Emily at Imperfect Prose