With weak prayers and little faith,
with a broken and divided heart,
I draw near to you,
knowing that you, though gentle and kind,
will not suffer sin to persist
in your presence.
Fasting seems like a great idea until you feel hungry.
I’ve tried to fast more regularly over the last year or so. Jesus seems to expect it of his followers (Matthew 6:16-18), and I’ve heard many speak of it as a key part of their spiritual journey. And yet, while I’ve always understood fasting to be a spiritual discipline, I’ve tended to see it as lesser in importance than other disciplines. If I don’t devote daily time to Bible reading and prayer, I feel off. If I miss a few days of journaling, I can sometimes detect a shift in my perspective. But fasting? Sometimes fasting doesn’t even cross my mind.
So I followed a buddy’s recommendation and tried to set a time each week to practice this discipline. I placed a reminder on my phone’s calendar so I wouldn’t forget, making a choice to form a habit. And initially, I felt great.
Then I would get hungry. Or I would be invited to grab lunch with someone. Or I’d be given food of some kind. Often, the first challenge to my resolve would result in me eating, in a break of the fast. The plan that seemed so simple in theory became increasingly difficult to fulfill in practice.
Ultimately, this is to be expected. Fasting is a clear denial of the self, a deliberate choice to abstain from food in order to seek the Lord, to lay your requests before him, to abide in Christ. When you fast, you embrace temporary discomfort to press into eternal comfort, experiencing the emptiness of your stomach as you open your hands before the Lord. It’s an act of faith, of hope, and of love. And such acts aren’t always comfortable, nor should we expect them to be. Self-denial, even in small measure, may be deeply felt.
But the discomfort of self-denial teaches us. When I see how quickly I break a fast to be filled with food, I realize how deeply I depend upon what is seen and felt and how little I depend upon him who is not so immediately perceived. My failures in fasting reveal my misplaced priorities. But they also provide opportunities for growth. When I see my weakness, I learn to pray for deeper dependence upon the Lord, deeper faith in his provision, deeper love for him. I learn to seek contentment in Christ rather than in my circumstances. I learn to wait on the Lord rather than seeking the speedy fulfilment of my desires.
I’m still not good at fasting, but I want to develop the habit. I want to see more clearly my dependence on the Lord and better understand his provision. I want to grow in faith and hope and love, denying myself a meal to be more deeply satisfied in the Maker. And I pray the Lord would sanctify me in the process.
God gave Moses specific instructions regarding sacrifices, priests, relationships, rest, and a number of other subjects, and his instructions are recorded in the book of Leviticus. As you read through the book, you begin to realize something: the Lord requires the best, not merely the comfortable or the convenient.
Take sacrifices, for example. Only specific types of animals are accepted, and acceptable animals often must be without blemish and of a certain age. The people couldn’t simply give God the wounded or small of the flock, the weak or the unwanted; they had to give their best. The same goes for the priesthood. The holiness of the role of priest seems to be illustrated in the high standards God set forth for those who could hold such a role. God’s servants couldn’t behave any way they chose; they were to be, in a way, the best of the people, the model of obedience and holiness.
God’s standards haven’t changed. He still requires the best of us. “You therefore must be perfect,” Jesus said, “as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). He wills our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), and he remains “the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 22:32).
Such sanctification is not always convenient or comfortable. Paul chose his words well when he called us to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). We heed the call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23), a worthy yet difficult calling. Discipline and correction factor regularly into the process (Hebrews 12), as does grace for our failures (1 John 2:1-2). He refines us, molds us, and purifies us, and the process is often painful. He requires the fullness of our hearts, minds, and spirits. He requires the best of us.
It’s encouraging, then, to remember that God not only requires the best from us, but he also does what is best for us. He causes all things to work together for good, holding us in his unfailing love (Romans 8). He knows us intimately (Psalm 139), cares for us deeply (1 Peter 5:7), and gives wisdom for the journey (James 1:5-8). He doesn’t merely do what is convenient or comfortable in our lives. Indeed, his work may feel at times like a wound (consider Paul’s wrestling with the thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12). But because the Lord is good, we can trust him in all circumstances, all seasons, all stations of life. He will always do what is best. Indeed, he has already done what is best for us by giving us the perfect, spotless lamb to save us, meeting our greatest need and ensuring he will not fail us in our lesser needs (Romans 8, James 1).
So let us offer our best to the Lord, withholding nothing as we learn to love and serve him better. Let us understand that he is worthy of our best, worthy of our very lives. And let us rest in the truth that God loves us and will always do what is best, trusting that “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.Proverbs 3:5-8
What is God doing in my life? And why?
Fear is a funny thing. People seem to be afraid of everything: heights, spiders, clowns, public speaking, being without cell phone coverage. While our fears may vary, we each likely struggle with fear of some kind. We fear what we can’t control, what threatens our safety, what is beyond us. And while we might think of fear as a bad thing, it’s actually healthy. Fear warns us of danger, highlights what might affect us, and reminds us that we are not as powerful as we might assume. We may fear silly things sometimes, but fear itself is not necessarily bad.
Scripture speaks of a particularly desirable fear: the fear of the LORD. This fear is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), an aspect of the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13), and the manner in which Christians are to work out their salvation (Philippians 2:12-13). The Psalms even tie it to joy at times, calling out, “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). If we accept the Bible as the Word of God and recognize its authority in our lives, we can’t ignore its emphasis on the importance and the goodness of the fear of the LORD.
But what is the fear of the LORD? While Scripture doesn’t explicitly define it, it does give us glimpses of this fear in practice, Exodus 20 standing as one particularly helpful example. There, the people of Israel have just seen God descend on Mt. Sinai in power and glory and have heard him speak the ten words concerning the moral code by which they were to live. They witnessed his self-revelation and beheld his glory. And they seemed initially terrified.
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”
They saw the signs, heard his voice, and felt the mountain tremble at his coming, and they were terrified. They stood far off and asked Moses to be their intermediary. And they weren’t wrong. They recognized the danger of a sinful people’s proximity to a holy God, understanding that they could not stand in his presence in their current state.
Moses, however, responded to the situation differently.
Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
He saw the sights, heard the voice, felt the mountain shake. He, perhaps more than anyone else that day, understood the power and holiness of God. Yet he told the people not to fear. As they stood back, he drew near, approaching the thick darkness.
What’s the difference between the two parties? What makes one group fear for their lives as another boldly steps forward? The difference, I believe, lies in each party’s relationship with God. In spite of all the people had seen of God, from his power over Egypt to his provision in the wilderness, they seemed uncertain of their standing before him. Even in the face of his declaration to make them a kingdom of priests and a treasured possession (Exodus 19:5-6), God’s people were terrified at his appearing. Moses understood that feeling. He felt it too when he heard the voice speak from the burning bush (Exodus 3:6). But he continued to grow in his relationship with God, watching God fulfill promises and act for the good of his people. As he stood with Israel before the mountain in Exodus 19 and 20, he was witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promise that Moses would worship the LORD with the people on the very mountain where God revealed himself to Moses initially (Exodus 3:12). So he drew near in spite of the awesome sights and sounds because he knew who dwelt therein. Moses saw what the people saw, heard what they heard, and may have even felt what they felt. But he drew near because he knew the God of the thunder and lightning was his God.
While fear is a major theme in this passage, maybe fear itself isn’t the heart of the passage. Maybe the lesson isn’t about trying to grow in fear but rather seeking to know the LORD better. Maybe our fear, fear that draws us near to God in reverence and in worship, will naturally and healthily grow as we increase in knowledge of God and grow in relationship with him. This week, consider your relationship with God. Imagine that you stood with Israel before the mountain and ask yourself if you would stand far off in terror or draw near in faith. Because of Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid of God; we can keep the fear of him before us and walk in obedience. And may we walk in the fear of the LORD wherever he leads us.
I’ve been painfully aware of my weaknesses lately. Continue reading
I don’t particularly enjoy discipline. In fact, I’m not sure anyone really enjoys discipline. But I’m incredibly thankful for God’s discipline in the lives of his people.
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy for I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:14-16
Have you ever noticed how often the New Testament authors addressed divisions within the church?
The hearts of men may not detect
Distinctions ‘twixt a noble trait
And meaner ones. They thus effect
No proper fight against the state
Of their impurity. But God
Knows well what yet resides within
The cage of bone and flesh. His rod
Gives direction and discipline
To wayward men that they may be
Saved from their state of sinfulness.
Corruption, at his word, must flee
(Proximity of holiness).
So fear not God’s refining fire,
Let go the inexcusable,
Follow the path out from the mire,
And trust the holy crucible.