I wasn’t going to write about this because of the whole “shout it from the rooftops” thing related to fasting, but I’ve changed my mind because I know I’m not the only one who needs encouragement for the journey. Along with my home church, I’ve been fasting this week for “Seven”. It’s been hard and I’m not even sure if I can honestly call it ‘good’ just yet. I’m beginning day five and I’m already planning what to have for breakfast on Thursday (and lunch and dinner).
The first three days of my fast were terrible. Day one: excruciating migraine. Day two: uneventful. (Not so bad, I guess, but not great either.) Day three: No Freaking Energy. (Caps necessary.)
For those first three days I was very much focused on getting through it and so I was hyper aware and fixated on the physical aspect of being hungry and what I was going without. In truth, it didn’t leave much energy or brain space to think about ‘spiritual’ things or what it means to get ‘hungry for God’ or to become more ‘attuned to the Spirit’ or any of the other beautiful things that can come as a result of fasting.
Pretty much I was just plain old hungry for food and trying my best not to act too grumpy around the people that I love.
But instead of lamenting that the fast “isn’t working!” because I’m not feeling super spiritual, I’m realizing that this flesh-battling is maybe not such a bad thing – the difficult nature of pushing through and denying the flesh – because if I can break through the wall of me-me-me there’s something amazing waiting on the other side. I’m just beginning to catch a glimpse of it today.
The poor among us.
In my bible reading this morning I landed in Deuteronomy 14-16 and I’m floored by what I read there. (I’m currently using the Daily Message – love it.) There’s a lot that I don’t understand and is so far removed from the culture we live in today – taking the seventh year to cancel debt and free slaves, how to work your fields and what gets tithed (and how), choosing suitable animals for ritual worship – but what did strike me was the instruction in there about how to care for the poor among us.
Here’s what I read: There will always be poor among us, so never stop being generous.
I think often we can be fatalistic about the fact that there will always be people living in poverty (among us and on the other side of the world). We dissect poverty, analyze it, explain it, and then strategize a way to “combat it”… but then use the magnitude of it as fuel to unintentionally embrace a “what will be, will be” attitude while perhaps signing a small check to “do our part” and appease our conscience and hope it makes some kind of a difference.
And yet in scripture we’re instructed to let the poverty among us be a reminder and a motivation to always be generous. Always. Be generous. Always be generous. Always.
There will always be the poor among us and we will always need to be reminded and motivated to choose generosity over selfishness.
This is a huge challenge for me because I tend to box in my generosity – deciding when and how and with whom I want to be generous. I tend to categorize my life into financial positions determining when I can afford to “be generous” and when I cannot.
There will always be poor among us, so never stop being generous.
What does it even mean to “never stop being generous” and is that only in reference to our bank accounts?
Empty-handed and entitled.
Also in these chapters of Deuteronomy it says that no one is to show up in the presence of God empty-handed; each must bring as much as he can manage, giving generously in response to the blessing of God. I feel so convicted here because ohmygosh God’s been generous to me. My life isn’t perfect but it is filled with goodness on so many levels. And yet I often show up empty-handing, asking God to fill me, bless me, protect me, help me, comfort me, defend me, sustain me.
Here’s the thing: I do love the poor and I feel compelled to serve the poor – those that know me or read my blog know that I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life doing just that. And yet I battle with my own flesh and sense of entitlement, too. I wonder if those who have access to less (less stuff, less money, less luxury, less choice) also wrestle with this crippling sense of entitlement that most of us have experienced since we were in diapers. Because even though my intentions are (mostly) good, my thoughts and actions still prove that I love being served, I spend a lot of time making sure I’m comfortable, and I think a lot about “what’s in it for me?” – even when it comes to my own faith and relationship with the Lord.
Seeing this within me compels me to ask the question: how much do I “spend” on myself and my own (my family and friends and those within my comfort zone) and how much do I “spend” on the poor, the widow, the orphan, the “priests” among us (other missionaries, pastors, and ministers), the marginalized, and even (especially?) the foreigners among us? If I get really honest, the answer is that the breakdown is pretty telling about my heart: I’m still so entitled. I’m still so selfish.
If this corporate fast has done one thing so far (four and a half days in), it’s revealed that I am selfishly motivated, self absorbed, and dependent on myself to make things happen. It’s revealed a lack of dependence on the Lord, a lack of discipline in areas that really matter to me, and a lack of dedication toward the things that bring life to others.
The reality is, I want what I want when I want it.
But I also want to change. Like, really change.
And so I pray, Help me Lord! Help me to be sensitive to you and not overly influenced by the ways of my flesh (which YELL and vie for my attention constantly), but to humble myself today so I may have your eyes to see, your ears to hear, and your heart to feel the brokenness in the world around me. Use this fast to help me not get stuck in this is hard or fixate on I’m doing this for you so please bless/help/speak to me.
On being super spiritual and craving burritos.
God is reminding me of my humanity so that I can be reminded of the divinity within me. I have died and now I’m hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3) so that I can be free to enter into a true fast as my flesh follows my spirit. As I’m filled with Jesus (as opposed to my Self) my life looks so different.
A true fast is this:
“To break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’” (Isaiah 58)
Like many of you I desire (fiercely) to be used to break chains of injustice and serve the poor and house the hurting and feed the hungry. But I’m reminded—again—that I need my own chains broken first.
Perhaps fasting has not been a super-spiritual experience for me if you measure it in dreams and visions. (I’m mostly dreaming about Szechwan chicken and having visions about fat burritos and chips and salsa on demand.) I haven’t had endless revelation and thus sayeth the Lord’s to guide my decisions and my future.
But I have had revelation of just who exactly I am: a very human girl in need of a very supernatural God so that I can pursue the things that really matter – changing the diaper of a child who depends on me, including neighbors at my dinner table, praying for the ones who grate my nerves the most, serving far-away mothers who give birth on mud floors, writing my heart out so that others can hear Truth and embrace Hope and know Love, and changing the world one simple act of generosity at a time.
There will always be poor among us, so never stop being generous.
I don’t plan to write any more about fasting or Seven, but if you’d like to read more please visit Pastor Bo Stern’s blog (you can start with day one here). She is a favorite of mine – a woman after God’s own heart – and she’s blogging all seven days as we go. A must read. (Not just now, but all the time.)