Monday, November 18, 2013

Fasting & Social Justice

When I think of a day of fasting, I often equate it with doing nothing but sitting home and praying.  Praying is important (and I get that it goes hand in hand with fasting), but when I just pray, my mind goes straight to the food in my cupboards, and I want to go eat something.  When my mind starts thinking food, my stomach is alerted to wanting something substantial, and it starts growling.  The Lord NEVER MEANT for us to sit around and do nothing.  In Matthew 6:16-18, when Jesus talked about fasting, he assumed we’d still be with people, so he instructed us not to put on a gloomy face (in order to be seen by others as fasting).  Not only did Jesus assume we’d fast, and pray, but he assumed we’d be doing something significant on the day of our fast…  What?

I went back and read Isaiah 58, focusing on verses 6-12.  God leaves nothing to the imagination, and certainly, no reason to wonder or be confused.  In verse 6, he starts off with a question, “Is this not the fast which I choose…?”  Then, he explains.  The next six verses are all about what we would call “social justice.”  Our God is a God of one-anothering.  When we fast, we aren’t supposed to turn inward, sit idly around, and do nothing.  When we fast, we are supposed to be about other people.  We are to practice righteousness, by being service oriented, and loving on others. 

I’ll be honest here.  When I think of social justice, I think enablement.  Too often I go to that place of skepticism where doing for others means taking care of them in such a way that I shoulder responsibility for them instead of giving the kind of care that helps them do better, be better, and own their own responsibility.  It’s just MY opinion that sometimes we, as a nation, and, yes, as believers have mixed up the difference between taking care and giving care.  There is a difference!  One makes me feel responsible "to fix"someone's life, and will wear me out.  The other gives encouragement and direction that provides enough care to help someone move forward of their own accord, and no one wears out.  I don’t think attempting to fix anything for someone else is pleasing to the Lord, especially if it leads to exhaustion.  We need to maintain enough energy to keep-on-keeping-on for Kingdom’s sake.

Yet, I have so moved to one extreme that I’ve forgotten the call of the Lord to reach out in love and Christ-like service.  The Lord is not happy with that either.  So he tells us the kinds of things he’d like to see on our fasting days.  I’ll summarize, but be sure to read Isaiah 58.  Ways to serve:
  • Do something to work against injustice (unfair practices)
  • Find a ministry that helps others who are being exploited
  • Share your food with the hungry
  • Clothe those who are ill-clad
  • Be available to your own families
  • Quit blaming victims/others (offer forgiveness)
  • Be generous to one in need
  • Look for someone who is in an “empty place” and find a way to “fill their plate”
  • Bring sunlight to one who is in darkness
  • Quit gossiping about other people’s sins  (ouch)
  • Ask the Lord for direction…bow the knee, for the Lord will continually guide you (verse 11).

In every spiritual practice of righteousness-training that Jesus mentions in Matthew 6, he talks about a reward.  If we practice for righteousness in the way he has lined out, we are rewarded.  He never tells us how.  The prophet Isaiah, writing the words of the Lord-God, does.  I love what he says to us:

If you give yourself… then, your healing will come speedily, and your righteousness will go before you; …then your gloom will become like midday, the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (8, 11)

Do you, like me, ever find yourself dried up, emotionally spent, wallowing in unfulfilled desires, and wondering about the next steps of your journey?  God clearly has directed me this morning to get out of myself, go to another (particularly one who is worse off), and do something that looks quite like Jesus’ hands and feet.  I have a few ideas of where to start…

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