by Cheryl Witham

What if spiritual disciplines were the directions of a wise, loving heavenly Father who says, “Stop!”? “Take a break from the way you are doing life; from your habits, from your patterns of the day and week, from the systems you live in, from the things you do without thinking.”

It is important to remember that true spiritual discipline is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit who speaks on behalf of the Father.  It is an invitation to listen and ask questions of God…

How would you have me fast?

What do I need to be freed from?

What needs to be re-ordered or disciplined in my life?

Where are you God?  Why don’t you hear me?  Why don’t you answer my requests?

The Holy Spirit also invites us, while in his presence, to ask hard questions of ourselves…

Does my way of living in relation to God bless or burden those in my life?

Does my knowing God prompt me to be like him, extending grace to the weary and forgiveness to those who are indebted to me? Or, is my knowing expressed as judgment that burdens others with my rightness?

Do I look at others and see what they are not doing and demand more–more performance, more perfection?

Am I more quick to blame than I am to bless?

Parents: Do I use my children to make me look good?  What if they fail?

Employers: Do I drive my employees to make my life easier?

Do I see how tired, how spent, how anxious or how fearful those around us are? Do I even notice the heaviness of their yoke?

Do I receive those in my life, their efforts, their intentions, with praise and thanksgiving or with criticism and correction,  or even condemnation?

Does what I know of God give life, does it encourage, empower and celebrate?

Does my study–my knowledge of God and his word–cause me to be more kind, merciful, tenderhearted, full of lovingkindness, slow to anger, steadfast in love, full of grace, forgiving?  More like God?

Do I make those around me glad in my knowledge of God and my spiritual life, or are they embittered at the cost they pay for my standard of righteousness, my service and my sacrifice?

Do they ever feel like they are the sacrifice I offer? Do others go hungry because of my holiness?

The Fast the Lord calls us to has little to do with giving up coffee or chocolate. I don’t think he is talking about a season of super religion or sad faces. It is not about wearing black or purple.

6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

– Isaiah 58:6-7

What would it look like to for us as individuals and as a community to embrace the fast described for us in Isaiah?

8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.

11 And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.

– Isaiah 58:8-11

Why would God promise such amazing abundance to those who will live in the disciplined kind of life he describes?

I believe God our Father says through the prophet Isaiah, paraphrased by me: If you will love others as I have loved you, I will join you in all you do.  This is the way of my kingdom, all the resources of heaven and earth will be yours if you use what is entrusted to you for the blessing of those I love and gave my Son’s life to redeem.

What will your Lenten Fast look like?  Is it really as simple as love God and love others as we love ourselves?

Talk to Father about it.