Read Isaiah 58 and Matthew 9: 14-15
A big part of Lent involves fasting. It is vitally important that our fasting comes from a pure heart. This is an incredible statement on fasting: “Fasting is, as much as lies in us, an imitation of the angels, a contemning of things present, a school of prayer, a nourishment of the soul, a bridle of the mouth, an abatement of concupiscence: it mollifies rage, it appeases anger, it calms the tempests of nature, it excites reason, it clears the mind, it disburdens the flesh, it chases away night-pollutions, it frees from head-ache. By fasting, a man gets composed behavior, free utterance of his tongue, right apprehensions of his mind.” —John Chrysostom
So here in Isaiah 58 is a fasting that is not pleasing the Lord. Here is worship that is not pleasing the Lord. And yet what is wrong with seeking God, and delighting to know his ways, and asking him for just decisions, and delighting in his nearness, and fasting and humbling ourselves before him? This sounds very religious and what we need to do. Are you ever deeply afraid or do you ever tremble that GOD may find you as a poser? Doesn’t that make you want to get so authentic and intimate with God, you could never be surprised by the Lord in this way—that your most zealous religious practices and even desires are exposed as empty and hypocritical!
The ethical, practical, and relational accompaniments of fasting—or worship in general—are the real test of the authenticity of the fasting and the worship. Monday is the proof of Sunday. God lists the religious forms of their fasting: humbling or afflicting oneself (no food), bowing the head like a reed, spreading out our sackcloth and ashes (cf. Psalm 35:13). Then he lists the ethical accompaniments of this fasting: you go after your own pleasure (in some other way besides eating), you drive hard all your workers and become irritable or contentious and stir up strife and even go so far as to get into fights. And God asks, “Is this the fast that I choose?” The answer is No.
No worship—no preaching, no singing, no playing of instruments, no praying, no fasting, however intense or beautiful—that leaves us harsh with our workers on Monday, or contentious with our spouses at home, or self-indulgent in other areas of our lives, or angry enough to hit somebody—no worship or fasting that leaves us like that is true, God-pleasing worship.
May this season of Lent be a time for us to submit all our religious exercises to HOLY SPIRIT’s discerning wisdom and cleansing power.
JESUS is Risen . . . !