People pay good money for therapists to help weed out the junk in their lives. That’s great. Or, you can simply raise a teenager. You will spend less time and money to discover your spiritual, physical, and emotional limitations. In the last few days I’ve asked one son to quit coloring on the dog with his Sharpie, and another to quit calling out the spirit of fear in me because I want him to pack long johns for his snowski trip. I think one of their prime jobs at this stage is to help me understand how important it is to not be one way in public, at church specifically, and another way behind the closed doors of our home. With their hard work and commitment, I’m safe from deluding myself into thinking I’m a spiritual giant. The gift behind having my messes exposed is the understanding that real, broken people who die to self are used by God. In fact, it’s when I try real hard to be real religious that I get it all wrong.
There are two types of “fasts” (denying something to draw close to God) contrasted in Isaiah 58, only one leading to intimacy with God. Verse 3 states “Why do we fast, but you (God) do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” These people were fasting, but with disobedient hearts.(Vs.1-2) On the outside, they looked as if they were following God’s commands, but a deeper look reveals the true motive: (3b, 4) “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day…you fast only to quarrel and fight.” This fast was for show, motivated by personal agenda–I fast, and God gives me what I need. It creates a mindset that God can be controlled, bossed around by our religious going through the motions– and a god which can be controlled or fits inside our demands is not God at all.
The real fast which attracts God is illustrated in vs 6-9. If you really want God’s Presence, then spend yourself on the world.
Fast from self. Open your home, your food, your gifts, your talents, to those who are poor and marginalized. Love your family, stand up for breaking off any type of unjust structure. Let your life be known as one active in freeing others from bondage. This fast flows from a heart genuinely desiring to obey God.
When you die to self, you can count on a few things.
The unique light of dawn is thrown on the darkness in your life. (8a) The darkness of bondage is overcome by light. When we forget self and calibrate our lives to serve God, perspective switches from oppression to liberation, from dark to light. With that in place, the broken and sick parts of your life receive healing quickly.(8a)It’s no coincidence that when darkness is dealt with, healing flows.
When you die to self, God vindicates you, or as some versions say, your righteousness will go before you. God’s glory guards against attack from behind.(8b) Such a beautiful picture–true dying to self leads to being encapsulated in the Presence, the wisdom, and protection of God.
An intriguing paradox. When we deny our self–not just of food, but of personal agendas and heartless obedience –we receive everything we will ever need.(9) God becomes close, with His ear tilted your way. “You shall cry for help and he will say “Here I am”. The great I am shows up when you call!
Oh, how I want this. I want to be humble. I want to deny my self. I just keep messing up repeatedly. And just like the Sharpie on our Boston Terrier, it is so hard to get out. Thank God for Jesus who led the way, who left his place in heaven to take on the life of a servant. If I forget what it means to deny the self, I only need to follow Jesus’ lead, remembering it’s not about me and my ability to even give up self. If I can’t completely deny myself (as my sons remind), I can at least quit being religious. Let go of one fast, so I can fold into the other.
The world doesn’t need religious people. Our families, our countries don’t need people who pretend to do what God wants, but whose hearts are turned to self. May 2019 bring about change in our lives personally, and in the people of God together, which draws the heart of God, and therefore freedom for all people into reality.