Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lent for Dummies [and Presbyterians] part 3 of 3: Putting On

The Right Kind of Putting On

Of course, formal fasting is not always necessary for Lenten observance.  Remember, giving up is never the point of fasting.  Positive tasks can be done for God’s glory and our good without picking something to “give up” [James 1.27].  So I encourage you to think as much of "Lenten resolutions" as you do of Lenten fastings.

How about buying 40 stamps for letters of encouragement to missionaries or people in our congregation or long-deserved Thank you cards.  Since the middle ages, Lent has been associated with Spring cleaning. Perhaps you need a season of house cleaning and organizing; regaining a handle on stuff, time, and life; culling your wardrobe and giving away 40 of your possessions to others; 40 days without missing my time of devotional prayer and Scripture reading; 40 days of family Scripture reading and singing before bed; 40 days of being on time [or early] for every appointment or engagement [see the point about being overly-busy below]; 40 new verses memorized; 40 days of reading that Christian classic you’ve always wanted to read; learning 40 new things about your spouse; 40 days of re-evaluating your financial stewardship, giving, updating your budget and will; 40 days of doing the dishes for your wife or helping mom with the cooking and cleaning; 40 days of tucking your children in every night.
Is 40 too many?  Why not 7?  One a week [rounding up].  7 weeks of attending the men’s prayer breakfast or our midweek services; 7 passages of Scripture memorized;  7 weeks to knock out that ministry project or Evangelistic Bible Study; 7 weeks of praying outside the Abortion "clinic"/mill or making hospital or nursing home visits; 7 weeks of Saturday mornings working to help your elderly neighbors or fix up that broken, shoddy, unpainted, part of the church building that's bothered you for so long; 7 weeks of inviting the fatherless kids you know to join in your fun activities and outings; 7 weeks of helping out young families that are struggling, providing childcare; 7 weeks of focusing on discipline in the home and re-establishing first-time obedience; 7 weeks of demonstrating your love to your wife by knocking out those lingering honey-do list items or a wife her husband by cleaning out the attic or garage.  Does this seem too mundane?  We need not be hyper-spiritual about things.  God certainly doesn't ask us to be [see Peter Jones here].

While I normally exhort Christians to be "busy with good things", maybe what you really need to put off is the busyness of a crammed schedule and focus on 40 days of rest.  I'm convinced many Christians would benefit more from 40 days of forced post-lunch naps than just about anything else we might prescribe.  Quit your frenetic living [so called] for 40 days of not being double-booked and being on time for every engagement; 40 days of the kind of quiet time that even makes prayer possible in the first place.

Finally, and quite importantly, God has given us wonderful insight into the type of "fasts" He wants to see in His people's lives.  Read Isaiah 58.6-7. A wonderfully appropriate Lenten "fast" could be nothing more than 7 weeks of hospitality or meals delivered to the sick or weary [I would relish ten families who never dreamed of giving something up for Lent but decided to invite one of our widows or singles or needy families over for a lavish meal once a week throughout the next 7 weeks more than a whole congregation of depressed vegetarians! Mt 9.13].
How about this - can you give me the names of your 7 closest neighbors?  How about baking cookies and dropping off a plate of them 7 times to each of your neighbors?  Who knows what gospel fruit may come of reconnecting with those people who live closest to you geographically.

If you find yourself thinking: "7 weeks of hospitality!  I could never afford to do that!" or "When would I find the time for that?!"  This is really where Lenten fasting is supposed to function.  You're not supposed to find the time.  You're right.  It's probably not there.  You are supposed to make the time by giving up something else.It was not uncommon for Christians in the early Church to have to fast for a day or two during the week in order to be able to afford the extra food required for a shared meal on Sunday.  That is the idea here.  Forgo your morning Starbucks coffee and spend those thousands of dollars on a good roast or soup or hamburgers and break bread with one another, especially those who could use the food and fellowship the most.
If you find yourself thinking: "I wish I read Scripture and prayed ever day, but I'm just to busy to get to it consistently."  This is where Lenten fasting is supposed to help!  While food preparation took much more time in Antiquity, there is still value in skipping a meal in order to spend those few minutes in Scripture and prayer.

Sometimes those most hungering to share a meal with you are the members of your own too-often neglected family.  [Biblical charity focuses on those close by rather than those who are exotically and conveniently far off - Is 58.7c; Mt 23.15].  What about 40 days of eating a family meal together or 40 days of breakfast with your spouse; or 40 days of playing catch or wrestling with the boys; 7 special dinner dates with your spouse and children;  7 weeks of no missed Little League games; and so on.

Whatever you resolve to "put on", if you do, I encourage you to resist the self-absorption that so easily besets us.  Don't think of this as a "personal project" or a "me-thing".  However you are able make others your focus, especially those in need and especially those of the Household of Faith.  Think of the widows.  Think of the fatherless.  Could you name seven such people?  Make them your focus this season.  And in all things, work to maintain a trajectory that points toward the face of God.  Whatever you do, be mindful of your walk with God.  Feast on His Word.  Pray without ceasing.


1 comment:

Tea Lady said...

Thank you for your sermon on "a positive theology of fasting" this past Sunday. The putting off can grant greater freedom for the putting on, as I experienced this week. I had been wanting to get from point A to point B and had been hitting some roadblocks. Your words were timely. I saw the opportunity to follow through, and I and my household have been blessed as a result.