Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What Jesus Did Not Like About Prayer and Fasting

Jesus was always telling religious people to stop it!  If people who claimed to love God made a public show of their faith, Jesus saw it as a real turn-off.  I imagine he felt this way because he knew irreligious people felt that way too.  They were tired of the religious crowd always behaving in ways that communicated 1) we are really good, and 2) you non-religious people are not.  Even fasting and praying had become a kind of public show to prove the holiness of the faithful.

It's an odd thing, but the Christian season of Lent, designed to help us draw near to God, can in a way actually become something that takes us further from the heart of God if we let it.  Because we are a people who are trying to become Christ-like, and trying to set ourselves apart for God's purposes, we can begin to think of the effort we put into spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting as kind of heroic.  And in turn we can look at others who are going about their typical lives, and for a lot of us the judgment begins to flow very easily, almost effortlessly.  

So Jesus offered a strategy to his disciples to help keep them from this kind of folly.  Keep your practices to yourself.  This does not mean we keep our faith to ourselves.  But don't turn your private disciplines into public ones.  Keep them low-key, and let people see the outward workings of your faith take the form of offering grace, encouragement, compassion and service.

May you draw near to God as you practice spiritual disciplines over the season of Lent.  May your practices of prayer, fasting, solitude, meditation, study, or whatever you chose to do help you to walk more faithfully and courageously in the way of Jesus.  And may the things you do in private, when seen by God, pay off for you in ways beyond imagination, just as Jesus has promised.

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