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Lenten “Sacrifice” in the 21st Century–What’s Missing?

By Watchman | March 8, 2011

“For Janis Galvin, fasting for Lent has long meant saying no to candy for the 40 days before Easter.  But when the season begins this year on March 9, it’s apt to mean something more:  walking when she’d rather drive…or turning the thermostat way down.  Galvin, an Episcopalian, will join with about 1,000 others who’ve signed up for the 2011 Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast, a daily regimen for reducing energy consumption and fighting global warming. … The carbon fast is one of several initiatives aimed at reinvigorating Lent by linking themes of fasting and abstention to wider social causes.  … In the UK, the Christian Vegetarian Association is aiming to revive the ancient Christian practice of foregoing meat during Lent.  It’s self-denial for a purpose, organizers say, noting how vegetarian diets improve health, enhance animal welfare and reduce strain on the environment. … But as a spiritual practice…personal sacrifice can be a key driver in advancing larger movements…’We’re trying to deal with the mingling of individual Lenten disciplines with social change…’ ”

—-From Religion Today Persecution News

     Wow!  This sounds really promising, doesn’t it?  Huge groups of Christians “fasting” from their profligate use of energy and meats in order to save the earth!  So much more exciting than giving up chocolate or coffee or our favorite TV program.  However, something (or Someone) appears to me to be missing from this movement–could that possibly be God?  Have we forgotten the reasons behind fasting in Scripture and replaced it with what to all intents and purposes constitutes a spiritual hunger strike?

     I wrote last year about the inadequacy of giving up something of little importance during the Lenten season unless that act of sacrifice is symbolic of a heart yielding itself to the will of our Lord.   I repeat here:  I am NOT against fasting.  Fasting has a great deal of scriptural precedence, and plays an important role in the spiritual life and health of many Christians.  But before we decide on a fast or sacrifice of any sort, we need to be clear about our own motives and objectives.

     There is certainly nothing wrong with churches calling for corporate fasts.  The Bible provides us with many instances in which corporate fasts were called both in the Old and New Testaments.  In the OT, fasts were proclaimed in order to express repentance for sin and to avert the wrath of God, for deliverance in battle from enemies, and to obtain His blessings.  In the New Testament, Jesus Himself sets the example of fasting in order to approach God more closely.  Traditionally, churches have called fasts in order to prepare hearts for repentence and service, and as an aid to prayers for the nations and peoples of the world to become the nations and people of our God.  In fact, the true purpose of the fast is to bring glory to God and to His Son, Jesus our Christ.  Fasting was to empty our emotional and physical blockages so that we could focus on the One to Whom we owe our very existance; that we might show our contrition for our rebelliousness and declare our desire to bend ourselves to His will.  Unfortunately, it has too often become a show of personal endurance and will-power that has little to do with the glorification of our Lord and a great deal to do with our self-righteous satisfaction of ourselves as “sacrificers”.   Sacrifice without showing mercy to the less fortunate is worthless in the sight of God.  Fasting without obedience to the will and commandments of the Father is useless.  Fasting with prayer, thanksgiving and the study of Scripture can draw us closer to God.  So can feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, helping the homeless and encouraging the weary.  Only when God Himself is glorified in our hearts and in our lives will a fast become a feast!

     What about some sort of sacrifice for social causes?  Fine.  Use less gas when you travel around your city or turn down the air conditioning–I’m sure God has no objection to the conservation of natural resources.  But save your worship and your praise for Him and for Him alone.    God, to be sure, has given us the job of caretakers of the earth–but He will not accept our attempts to save the gas reserves while we accede, either by design or by turning a blind eye, to the slaughter of babies in the womb, to the propagation of indecent and unnatural life-styles, to the advancement of false gods in ours nations.  He will not give us brownie points for our advocacy of the spotted owl while we eject Him from our schools, our homes and our government.  

     We may have little time left in which to worship the Father openly.  Fast, pray, and glorify His holy Name!  Remember that this Lenten season belongs to Him.

Maranatha!

Topics: Special Seasons of Worship | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Lenten “Sacrifice” in the 21st Century–What’s Missing?”

  1. Shirley Says:
    March 10th, 2011 at 11:56 am

    While reading your very interesting post, I remembered something from Isaiah 58 and took a look at those words in the Holy Scriptures:
    “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
    to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
    to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
    7 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 them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
    You’re right on target, Watchman! Thank you!

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