Today we begin a new series for the season of Lent. Each week we will be publishing a devotional that ties into Lenten reflections while demonstrating that there are holistic connections between spiritual disciplines and social action. Neither of these are ends in themselves. They fit together as part of a lifestyle of holiness.
The seasons of Lent and Advent help us prepare. During these seasons we fall back into silence. We focus on the disciplines of prayer and fasting. We slow down. We reflect on suffering and our need for a savior. We prepare. But Lent and Advent are seasons we pass through. The reflections and preparation of Lent are catalytic for the explosion of worship and joy of the resurrection and we live in the power of the resurrection:
. . . know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. . .” — Ephesians 1:18-20
Isaiah 58 is a good place to focus.
The prophet challenges his community to go beyond the motions. Seeking God while oppressing others is unacceptable (vs. 2,3). Fasting is not only about going without food. Exhibiting humility is not enough (v. 5). In our modern context church attendance, tithing, and serving on committees are not enough.
Isaiah turns fasting on its head:
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?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
— Isaiah 58:6-9
Yes, fasting is about going without. It’s good to break bad habits tied to over-consuming. Isaiah is challenging us to go beyond appearances and to have the heart of God. Going without food, chocolate, television, [insert here what you are fasting] is good but not enough. Seeking God in humility is the beginning to living for God in humility. Remember what another prophet wrote:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
— Micah 6:8
Don’t miss the context of these verses. Micah, like Isaiah, is challenging the people to not just go through the motions. It’s not just about sacrifices. It’s not just about obeying the law. It’s about holistically worshiping and acting.
This Lenten season let us think about these things:
How do we move beyond the motions to embrace the heart of Jesus?
And a Lenten challenge:
Is there a place in your community where you can serve while praying and fasting? Can you volunteer to serve the homeless? Feed the hungry?