Thursday, July 31, 2008

fasting & keeping a Sabbath

OK, so I admit . . . this is mine, but if you also read my writing on the Alive Ministries webpage, then this will not be a new post. It is a post that put up there today as well.

Do you fast? Have you ever even thought of it being something that you should do? How about keeping the Sabbath – taking a day to rest from work? What images come to mind when you think of these things? Do you see them as having value in our lives today? Or as something that was just required for the Israelites in the Old Testament?
I was reading in Isaiah recently, and those were some thoughts that came to mind as I read chapter 58. I am going to quote a large portion of it here, so that you know what I am talking about:
“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the captives free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –
when you see the naked to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
The your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call upon the Lord, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here I am.
. . .
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honourable,
and if you honour it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord”
Isaiah 58:6-9 & 13-14 (NIV)

The two spiritual practices that are spoken of in these verses were hugely important to the life of the Israelites, and to the early church, but are rarely practiced today in most churches. Fasting and keeping the Sabbath were obviously important in the history of our faith, so why do we not place the same importance on them now?
I have heard many people argue that these are Old Testament Law requirements and that, as New Testament Christians, we are no longer bound by these requirements. That is true, but I think that argument misses a lot, not only that Jesus assumed that His followers did these things, but also the intent behind them both. The New Testament has many occasions where Jesus and the apostle’s letters speak about these spiritual practices being important to the life of the believer.
These were not designed as just something more to do. Really, both of these practices force us to slow down and actually allow room for God to speak and to work in our lives. At the frantic pace that most of live our lives at there is really no way that we can hear from God. We do not allow time for that with our go, go, go schedules – always running to the next thing on our calendar. Fasting and keeping a Sabbath force us to slow down. Both of them require specific planning and ceasing of activity on our part the will not just happen.
Think about it for a moment: When was the last time that you stopped all the busy activity you do and just allowed God room to move? And I do not mean in a church service or for your devotions crammed somewhere into your day. I mean really stopped – for a longer period of time – and allowed God to speak to you and to move in your life?
Isaiah 58 talks not only about the importance of doing these things, but also about the rewards of doing these things. Take, for now, what it says can happen when we take time to fast and to pray (the two usually go hand in hand): Isaiah 58:6 says that it has the power to loose the chains of injustice, to break chains of bandage, and set the oppressed free from what oppresses them. That’s pretty amazing! And that is the kind of thing that can come from us taking the time to fast and to pray and come before God.
And, not only that, there are promises of what can happen when we take fasting seriously as a spiritual practice that we make part of our lives. Isaiah 58:8-11 outline some of these things: God will be with us as we go into the world, God will answer our cries when we bring them to His feet, and God will guide us in our lives. That, to me, is exactly what I am looking for in my life.
Or take the whole idea of keeping a Sabbath. Yes, God should be a part of every aspect of our lives, all the time, but there is something to be said for taking some time out of the busy-ness of our normal lives to just be in God’s presence. Keeping the Sabbath is not just a rule to follow; it benefits us both spiritually and physically. Our bodies were not designed for this frantic pace at which we so often live – we were not made to go non-stop for days on end – so, physically, we benefit greatly from taking time out regularly to rest from the busy-ness of our lives. Spiritually, it also offers us a chance to be refreshed. It allows us that time to just stay in the Word and in God’s presence for longer than our schedule normally allows. God also makes a promise that comes with keeping the Sabbath as well. Isaiah 58:14 says that when we do this is when we find our joy in the Lord. Since the only place to find true joy is in God anyways, this seems to me to be a good reason to practice keeping a Sabbath.
While it is true that fasting and keeping the Sabbath are requirements of the Old Testament law, which we are no longer bound by, there are many things about both of these spiritual practices that make them beneficial to us today. Although much of Christian culture does not seem to put a huge value on them, they are incredibly important and valuable tools to help us hear from God and allow Him to work in our lives. We need them!
If you are still with me know, think about your own life for a bit: How are you doing at making these spiritual practices a part of your life? When was the last time that you spent time fasting and praying? When was the last time you kept any form of a Sabbath?
With your schedule keeping every Sunday as God’s day or having a regular day that you spend fating and praying is probably not possible. And we do not want these to become legalistic and things that we do just because “we’re supposed to.” Maybe your Sabbath will be the one evening in your week and that you have free and you will make that a time where you stop with busy-ness and noise of life and allow God to speak. Or maybe fasting will be giving up TV or computer games for a time and spending the time you would have spent doing those things with God. Whatever the case, do not be concerned if you do not follow what some would consider a “normal” schedule for these spiritual practices. But, also do not allow your schedule to be your excuse for not doing these things at all.
Do not stop here with just reading about it and looking at your own life. Make a commitment now of when and how you will put these into practice. Write it down. Share it with a friend who can learn to make these things a part of life with you.

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