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Fasting From The World To Find The Kingdom, part 1 (re-post)

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(This is part one of a two part re-post of four posts from 2012)

“And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward.  When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
  -Mathew 6:16

Jesus mentions fasting, in the sermon on the mount, in Matthew, chapter 6:  He says, “and when you fast..."  Jesus gives instruction to his disciples on how to fast differently than the super-religious people of the day.  The purpose of fasting, like all kingdom activity, is to bring our lives into alignment with heaven.  God rules and reigns in heaven, without restriction.  In fasting, we seek God's rule and reign in our whole being.

I got the idea that we can fast from the world to find the kingdom of God.  This was perhaps the original idea behind monasteries and  hermitages.  This is also the idea behind getting away to pray and retreats.  Jesus himself went away to pray.

But the majority of the majority of Christ-follower's lives are lived in the world.  For the Christian, worldly appetites need to be abstained from, to make way for the kingdom in our lives.

In fasting, we deny our selves worldly things and instead focus on spiritual food.  In fasting, we train our appetites that they come second to our desire for God.

The values of the world are at odds with God's values.  Everywhere, the world is involved in rebellion against God:  Idolatry, deception, and lies.  The Christian lives in the midst of this.  How then do we function in our new walk outside the world, while in the world?  By intentionally fasting from the world as a way of life.  The disciple of Jesus lives a life of God first, all the time, everywhere.

This is sounding hard, you might say.  But, God gives us grace, more grace (James 4:6) to work out walking with him and under the banner of the kingdom in this world.  God gives us latitude and leeway in our walks.  In the new covenant it is all about Jesus.  He has done it all already.

You cannot earn anything, but you get to decide, every day, how far you want to go.  You really can decide to be cold or lukewarm or hot, and if you are a son or daughter, you can expect discipline, with love, from God.  We are not under law, but as sons and daughters, the bar is actually higher.

In the sermon on the mount, after Jesus mentions fasting, everything he says, up to verse 34, is instructive on how to fast from the world.  Remember that for everything that Jesus instructs, God has already made provision for you to do, with the help of the Helper, the Holy Spirit.

"Don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites."

You may feel sad and get sad and therefore, look sad.  That is ok.  Jesus is saying to not put on the sad mask, to be a spiritual phony.  Keep is real, be genuine, be yourself.

Jesus contrasted his ways with the religious leaders of his day.  Hypocrisy was their corporate culture: saying one thing and doing another.  The religious hypocrite has many masks.  They are fake actors, rather than real, transparent, and authentic.

Don't be like the religious hypocrites Jesus says.  They mouth things about God, but they are man centered.  They are law centered, devoid of the Helper, the Holy Spirit.

"You won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Fasting is something you just do in the kingdom.  You do not have to do it, and your are not required to do it.  You might fast and pray if you feel so led, or you might fast (stop) something in your life that is impairing the kingdom in your life.  You won't need to advertise it.  Christ followers have a secret life with God.

One of the marks of a Pharisee is that they don't do things in secret, but display them.  The Pharisee also gets a thrill out of the display being seen, of showing and telling.  Each Follower of Jesus has their own secret history with God, which God rewards.  You don't need to show off.

Fasting, by definition means to abstain from food.  I learned from Christian elders that you can also fast from things like reading the news paper or watching television.  I few years ago, I read about a church that was fasting from gossip.  We might need to fast from things that get out of control in our lives.  Like a weed or an unwanted plant in your yard, these things start small and get bigger and can take over, if totally ignored.

I noticed in Matthew 6, that right after Jesus gives some instructions on fasting (don't do it in a show-off  way), that he talks about some other things that can get out of control in our lives and need to be abstained from.

Imagine a movie about a time before the modern era.  Perhaps the first, second, or third century.  A man or woman looks for pebbles all day, gathers them, and puts them on display.  He or she wakes up each morning and gazes fondly at the pebbles.  The person might also have friends that collect pebbles and they compare and muse for hours about the different pebbles they might find or tell stories of the rarest pebbles that others have found.

Jesus had something to say about this kind of thing:
"Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them.  Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  -Matthew 6:19-21
Fasting from the world means to stop the collecting activities that are not kingdom activities.  "On earth" is contrasted with "in heaven".  Nothing is wrong with collecting treasure for yourselves, as long as it is heavenly and not earthly treasures.  It is very true that, "you can't take it with you".

Everywhere, advertisements are crying out, telling us that we deserve this and that benefit.  There are shopping websites and idea websites that we look at for hours, that lead us towards benefiting ourselves with earthly treasures.  Some people see shopping as their joy and recreational activity.

We have to corral our desires back to God, back to God's kingdom, back to kingdom activity.  Jesus says "stop", because we may have to deny our selves something in order to bring it down to a smaller place in our lives.

What is heavenly treasure and what can you take with you?  Relationships built in Jesus will last.  You get to take your children with you.  You get to take what you give to the Lord with you:  "Thank you for giving to the Lord, I am a life that was changed!"  You get to take what you did in his name with you.  The prayers you prayed, the spiritual seeds you sowed will yield treasure in heaven.  When you suffer for his name, and when you are faithful; you are laying up heavenly treasure.
 “The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be!" -Matthew 6:22-23
Fasting from the world to make way for the kingdom of God in our lives brings up the issue of what we look at.  What you gaze upon is what you become.  To make way for the kingdom in our lives, we need to be more careful what we look at.  Darkness inside a person of the light is a tragic thing.

Are we constantly looking at things, wanting them, lusting for them, coveting other people's things?  Is our life marked by discontent or generosity?  Are we constantly looking to have, to desire, to want for ourselves; or are we always attentive to what we can give and are we content on earth, while hungrily desiring more of heaven?  Cultivate generous eyes.  Learn to see how Jesus sees.  The Holy Spirit will help you see this way.
"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."  -Matthew 6:24
Some of us may need to fast from serving wealth.  Is your life centered around making money or serving God?  Nothing is wrong with making lots of money and being wealthy.  But, is building wealth or building the kingdom your priority?  Who do you serve?  Has your wallet gotten saved? 

Comments

  1. Anonymous2:07 PM

    I read all four parts you wrote on the fasting, and I totally agree with you on the priority to seek the Kingdom. However, in some of your wisdom you contradict my teachings, what was taught to me. I am wondering if you have read the Gospel of Thomas, and what your thoughts are regarding Jesus's teaching in this text?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for commenting. I have looked at Thomas, in my studies. I believe Thomas is a reflection of what Christian communities, who were perhaps less than orthodox (esoteric), believed to have been circulated in the 2nd and 3rd centuries; and not really what Jesus said, verbatim. Some people say that Thomas teaches Gnosticism, which is incompatible with the NT. In this post, I was wrestling with the idea of fasting from the world to find the kingdom. In Thomas, I see that fasting is also mentioned a couple of other times, with a different perspective; saying that you can go overboard with fasting (14 & 104). Tertullian, Clement and Justin also apparently wrestled with these issues of fasting, referring to the Thomas text(s); according to F.F. Bruce (Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, p. 125)

    I am curious what I wrote that contradicted what you believe?

    ReplyDelete

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