Facing My Inner Pharisee

 

In centuries past it was common for Christ followers to fast.

They fasted for many reasons:  to consecrate themselves for a task; to seek answers to prayer; observance of seasons on the church calendar; or for strength to overcome besetting sin.

Today, fasting has fallen out of favor in most western churches-deemed unnecessary or an attempt to gain favor with God by “works”.

That’s unfortunate.  

Because fasting has never been about making points with God, it’s been about removing self-reliance from our spiritual vocabulary.

It’s not about demonstrating personal fortitude or displaying self-righteousness, it’s about recognizing my weakness and desperate dependence on Christ.  

Perhaps the greatest hindrance to our work is our own imagined strength; and in fasting we learn what poor, weak creatures we are – dependent on a meal of meat for the little strength which we are so apt to lean upon.

~Hudson Taylor

Like the Pharisees, though, I am apt to make much of my “sacrifice” and little of Christ’s sufficiency.  I want to bargain with God and rise in the ranks of His favor because I’m so “good”.

It doesn’t work like that.  

I was almost to the end of a 40 day fast when Dominic was killed.

I am physically unable to fast 40 days consecutively so, for several years, I had done an every-other-day fast so that it equaled 40 days.

At some point in the first week after Dom ran ahead to heaven I remember crying out to God, “What exactly do You want from me??? I’ve done all that I know to do in an attempt to live up to Your expectations, and yet it is never enough!”

And (not then, certainly!) but at some point in the nearly 3 years since, He answered, “Your righteous acts are as filthy rags. The only sufficient sacrifice is My own Son’s blood.”

THAT was humbling.

Because even though I would have given the same answer to anyone else who thought they could “work” their way into God’s good graces, obviously the truth of it had not seeped into the fabric of my being.

I WAS trying to make points with God.  And I was angry He hadn’t taken that into consideration and spared me the pain of burying my son.

We often mock the Pharisees for thinking that “getting it right” means “being righteous”, but I understand the temptation to substitute acts of righteousness for relying on relationship through Jesus Christ.

The one means I am in control, the other means I have to follow and give up control.

If there is one thing I’ve learned through child loss that I cannot forget for even a millisecond is: I am NOT in control.

I am utterly dependent on Him for life, for breath, for saving AND sustaining grace.  

For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.

Ephesians 2:8-9 VOICE

Fasting from food is relatively easy.  Fasting from my tendency toward self-righteousness is much harder.  

This year, as I observe Lent,

as I fast,

as I add in holy habits,

I am asking God to help me remember that I am not trying to win His favor,

I am making room to hear His heart.

be-still-760x760.jpg

 

Repost: Life at the Intersection of Desire and Self-Control

Maybe you can relate:  It is easier to do without if what I want isn’t close enough to tempt me. 

I don’t shop if I don’t want to spend.  I don’t get donuts if I don’t want to eat sugar.  I don’t have soda in the house if I don’t want to drink carbonated soft drinks.

It’s much harder to deny my desires when what I long for is within reach.

Read the rest here:  Life at the Intersection of Desire and Self-Control

Appropriate Response

Tears of great grief have clarified my vision.

I don’t think clever arguments are the best way to effect change and I’m unconvinced that gathering the right group of people can guarantee an outcome.

But I know that God’s people, repentant and responsive to His will can do battle in the heavenlies.

donald-trump-vs-hillary-clinton

I am writing this BEFORE tonight’s scheduled presidential debate-I won’t be watching itnothing the candidates have to say and no media spin can undo the knot in my stomach.  

I am not surprised to find us here. But I am surprised that so many of my fellow believers are surprised.

Like captive Israel, we seem astonished that God does exactly what He says He will do.

Daniel understood his times.  Daniel knew that the blame lay not on those “out there” but on us “in here”.  

Pagans will be pagans.

They have no reason nor the power to act in accordance with biblical teaching.

But those of us called by grace and covered by Jesus’ blood-that’s an entirely different story.

So instead of lobbing political arguments across the aisle or pounding one another with snarky social media posts, I think we should follow Daniel’s example and storm the gates of heaven.

daniel-praying

An appropriate response to our current political predicament starts with prayer.

And that prayer starts with repentance.  

Not a general, “We’ve been so bad, God.  Sorry.”

But genuine, gut-wrenching, heart breaking acknowledgement of the degree to which the people of God-me, you, ushave turned from truth and pursued our own pleasure.

For generations, we have put our faith in a political party instead of a Holy God.  We have been happy to accept leaders of questionable integrity as long as our pocketbooks didn’t suffer.

We have sinned.  And we are reaping the fruit of the seed we sowed.

Our only hope is the mercy of God.  

I am going to be fasting and praying and begging for that mercy, like Daniel.

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:

“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

“Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame…The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him;…The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.

“Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath…We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.

Daniel 9:1-19 selected NIV

Life at the Intersection of Desire and Self-Control

Maybe you can relate:  It is easier to do without if what I want isn’t close enough to tempt me. 

I don’t shop if I don’t want to spend.  I don’t get donuts if I don’t want to eat sugar.  I don’t have soda in the house if I don’t want to drink carbonated soft drinks.

It’s much harder to deny my desires when what I long for is within reach.

I have practiced the spiritual discipline of fasting on and off for over a decade.  And I have learned a great deal about myself, about desire and about how very weak I am, in my own strength, to continue long on a path of self-denial.  Who can resist chocolate when it’s right there in front of you???

When I perceive that God is calling me to give up food or something else for a span of time to focus on Him and on spiritual growth, I can prepare myself.

I can pick a date.  I can arrange my home and schedule and commitments to accommodate what I know will be the challenges associated with the battle that is to ensue.

But there is a difference between choosing to fast and being forced to starve.

For those who live in parts of the world overrun by famine, choice has been removed. They don’t go without food because they desire to exercise personal or spiritual discipline–it has been decided for them. And many times, there is not one thing they can do about it except to hang on and try to survive.

Grieving my son feels like an odd and uncomfortable mix of both scenarios.

I certainly had no choice in the matter–I was not consulted, prepared or given any warning.  And he is gone. Gone, gone, gone.

Yet I am surrounded by memories, physical connections and constant reminders of the one I miss.

I must live everyday at precisely the intersection of desire and self-control.

No, I cannot “have” him back.  When I am thinking correctly, I don’t want him back here in this broken world with broken people.  If what Scripture says is true (and I preach to myself that it is) then he is experiencing joy and beauty that fills his heart so full there’s no room for missing me.

But the heart wants what the heart wants.

And my heart wants my family circle whole again.  My heart wants to see how Dominic would use his gifts and talents to impact the world.  My heart wants my surviving children and my husband and my extended family not to have to carry this heavy grief load and to be free to live life without the intimate knowledge of the darkness of death and loss.

Every day I am forced to acknowledge my heart’s desire and then exert the self-control necessary to get out of bed and participate in daily life.

It takes so much energy.  I am often tempted to give up and give in.

This fast is the most strenous ever thrust upon me.

I know in my head my desires will never be fulfilled this side of heaven.  This passionate longing won’t end until I am reunited with Dominic and ultimately, all my loved ones in the Presence of Jesus.  And I have no idea when that might be.

So I must focus my thoughts and fix my heart’s affection on the promise of God in Christ: that He will redeem every broken thing, that He will restore every lost treasure and that resurrection will rule.

Energize the limp hands,
    strengthen the rubbery knees.
Tell fearful souls,
    “Courage! Take heart!
God is here, right here,
    on his way to put things right
And redress all wrongs.
    He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”

 Blind eyes will be opened,
    deaf ears unstopped,
Lame men and women will leap like deer,
    the voiceless break into song.
Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness,
    streams flow in the desert.
Hot sands will become a cool oasis,
    thirsty ground a splashing fountain.
Even lowly jackals will have water to drink,
    and barren grasslands flourish richly.

Isaiah 35:1-7 MSG