Today’s post is from another feisty ginger, my friend and colleague, Calia Rodriguez. I’m so excited to share this awesome post with you! (The photo is just silly. Because she talks about cookies and I immediately imagined Cookie Monster hearing about someone giving up cookies for Lent.) Have an excellent day everyone!
Fasting is not supposed to be 100% miserable, all the time.
There are definitely times and places where we can grow from experiencing the struggling and suffering that comes with self-denial and self-discipline. But we’re supposed to recognize and delight in the blessings from fasting, and we cannot do that if our only focus is metaphorical self-flagellation.
In Isaiah 58, which is one of the Scriptures often used during Lent, we are told exactly what God prefers when God’s people fast. The list only includes things that have to do with relieving people’s burdens, fighting oppression and standing up against injustices. None of these things exist in a strictly vertical “Me + Jesus” bubble. No, instead they are all horizontal—every single one of them has to do with others and how we are treating them. Our fasting is meant to make a difference in other’s lives.
And yet, our fasting IS between ourselves and God. We can find plenty of Bible verses about that—Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing… Don’t be like the hypocrites who make their fasting public, who disfigure their faces to make it obvious they are fasting, who are very vocal about what they are doing and how they are “suffering”.
So while our fasting is private, in Isaiah 58 the prophet makes it clear that God expects the outcome of our fasting should be seen in the world. And also if our fasting only serves our own interests, we should not expect our voices to be heard by God on high. In the message version of this Scripture it says “The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground”. Ouch.
This passage in Isaiah is a good reminder that God wants to see our Lenten practices become kingdom work. I think there is a very good reason Isaiah is called a prophet. Speaking God’s truth to God’s people, whether or not God’s people wanted to acknowledge it. I imagine if I were the one conversing with God for this passage in Isaiah… God’s end of that conversation could go something like this: “You’re giving up cookies for Lent? Good for you, you eat far too many of them! Now show me how you are fighting oppression, feeding the hungry, caring for the least of these with your decision.” If I were giving up cookies for Lent, there is nothing that distinguishes that Lenten sacrifice from a New Year’s resolution. But Lent is not just a second chance at New Year’s resolutions for Christians, because our practices are not solely for ourselves.
John Wesley fasted once a week, and the money he saved went to feeding the hungry. Kingdom work.
Shane Claiborne and his colleagues at the Simple Way have a motto that goes something like this: they “Live simply so that others may simply live”. Kingdom work.
Whatever your fast, whatever your choices for observing Lent, they are supposed to impact others beyond yourself. Caring for others is Kingdom work. So here’s a question…Does your Lenten practice echo the joy of Kingdom work?