What did you give up for Lent?

Last week I wrote about how my church is going through a 35 day Spiritual Journey together (Post, PDF guide). Part of that journey includes a lifestyle fast which  has made me reflect more on my previous experience in life with fasting.

Growing up I  can remember the question coming up at this time of the year, “What did you give up for Lent?”  It was expected, we were Catholic, and it was a given ritual. I can only recall giving up silly things like candy which I don’t think I stuck to all that much. Most of the people I new including my family choose things a little more difficult like soda or beer only to count the days so they can get loaded on Easter Sunday.  In addition, to what we gave up we could not meat on Fridays, so I new with certainty we had to eat fish every Friday no matter what.  Now I know what your thinking , fish is meat, what gives. Well the Catholic church created a rule that you should abstain from meat on Fridays during the Lenten season, the exception is fish because it is not viewed as unclean.

Now to my Catholic Christian Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I am not trying to offend. I grew up Catholic, did all the sacraments, and was even an altar boy. Sadly, from my experience it was just something you were supposed to do with no real spiritual meaning. It did not help that apart from our church activities their was no evidence of Christ in our lives. But, since I was apart from Christ how could there be? Now that I have a relationship with Jesus I turn to Scripture. When you can’t eat or do something to improve your standing with God because the church says it so outside of Scripture that folks is both religious activity, and legalism. Jesus hated both. Jesus wanted us to know that the problem was not what we ate, said or did, but the spiritual condition of our hearts.

‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 9 ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ ” (Matthew 15:8-9

“Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated ? 18 “But fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 “These are the things which defile the man ; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” (Matthew 15:17-20)

Whether you are Catholic or maybe like me a Christian who has chosen to fast from something during this season I would encourage you to reflect on the motive for your actions or decisions.

  • Does you look at your fast and say you can’t do/eat or you choose not to?
  • How does this fast draw you closer God?
  • By abstaining do you feel that you have helped earn your way into Heaven, become less sinful or pleased God?
  • Most importantly, do you know Jesus?

The reality is that we can never earn our salvation (Acts 4:12, Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-9), and we cannot make ourselves more holier. Fasting is also not  a way to show others how religious, holy or disciplined we are (Matthew 6:16-18). Fasting should be used as a way for us to draw our focus away from ourselves, and live in utter dependence on God. So if you are you giving something, do you know why you are doing it? Ultimately, the goal to should be to see a greater of view of God’s Holiness, and realize our broken this before Him Isaiah 6:1-7. Our fast should have a greater meaning, and outcome than abstaining from things as trite as Earthly things. Simply because it is not about us, it is about Jesus! (Philippians 2:9-11) These are things we have to see in our hearts by faith (Isaiah 6:5, John 20:29, Hebrews 11:1.

Now you will be tempted, but through the power of the Holy Spirit we can resist  (John 14:16-17, 1 Corinthians 10:13).  Even if we give in to temptation it is not the end of the world. God is still Holy, on the throne, and in control (Revelation 15:4, Isaiah 6:1-7) . His grace is still greater than our sin (Romans 5:20). We just have to have humble hearts before Him (Chronicles 7:14), and be centered in Christ. Jesus was tempted by Satan after fasting 40 days and nights but did not give in to temptation. He fought the enemy with Scripture to show the truth, and His dependence on God the Father (Matthew 4:1-11). We can meditate on God’s Word (Jeremiah 36:6, Joshua 1:8), stay in prayer (Daniel 9:3), and know that we have a Savior that we can depend on (John 16:33) that was able to live a perfect, sinless life. Jesus was then able to finish the work of paying for our sins by going to the cross so that by faith we could gain a righteous standing before God (1 Peter 1:18-19Romans 3:21-28, Colossians 2:13-14.

Observances of Fasts (Isaiah 58)

1 “Cry loudly, do not hold back ; Raise your voice like a trumpet, And declare to My people their transgression And to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 “Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways, As a nation that has done righteousness And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions, They delight in the nearness of God. 3 ‘Why have we fasted and You do not see ? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice ?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, And drive hard all your workers. 4 “Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. 5 “Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself ? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD ? 6 “Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke ? 7 “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house ; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh ? 8 “Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth ; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. 9 “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer ; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, 10 And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. 11 “And 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. 12 “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins ; You will raise up the age-old foundations ; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.

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What is Prayer? – The Attitude of Prayer

As I stated in a previous blog, I am reading Christian Beliefs: 20 Basics every Christian Should know by Wayne and Elliot Grudem. Here of are some of main points of  Chapter 5 titled “What is Prayer.”

The Attitude of Prayer

Not only does God hear us, but in whatever we have asked we mus pray according to His will. This requires humility, and to pray for God’s desires over ours.

  • This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. (1 John 5:14-15)
  • “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 5:14)

We are encouraged to have God’s word’s within us as we pray, and to follow where Scripture is clear. When Scripture is not clear of God’s will we should pray in line with general principles of Scripture, and with a humble attitude. Jesus encourages us to pray in a way that we believe we have received what we have asked.  We should also pray by faith.

  • “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. (Mark 11:24)
  • Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
  • And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.(Hebrews 11:6)

We must keep in mind anything that displeases God will hinder out prayers. However, we don’t need to be completely free from sin in order for God to hear our prayers. It is because of the work of Jesus on our behalf that God hears our prayers. When we do sin, we should use God’s gift of prayer to ask for forgiveness. When we confess sin it restores our day to day relationship with Him.

  • If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear ; (Psalm 66:18)
  • The LORD is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous. (Proverbs 15:29)
  • “FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.” (1 Peter 3:12)
  • If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

We should also ask that He declare us innocent, and at times confess to one another. We should also ask for things with a humble attitude in light of God’s work on our behalf.

  • Who can discern his errors ? Acquit me of hidden faults. (Psalm 19:12)
  • Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 5:16)
  • But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” (James 4:6)

We may not always receive what we ask for in prayer. In these times we look to Scripture, and model Christ.

  • (Jesus) saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
  • Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
  • And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
  • Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have ; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” 6 so that we confidently say, “THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME ?” (Hebews 13:5-6)