As of last Wednesday, Lent has begun. Lent is a period of 40 days before the Easter. Lent is a season of remembering Jesus’ suffering and death and his love for us. It is time to prepare ourselves to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is time to appreciate God’s love for us. It is time to think about how to follow Jesus’ footsteps.
During Lent, let us think about the spiritual aspect of our lives. During Lent, people do many things that help them spiritually. Some people make new resolutions. Others set aside time for prayer.
I think it is important to live our lives, feeling the season. Life has seasons. Season for working and season for resting. Season for celebrating and season for reflecting. Lent is a season for thinking about spiritual things. Today’s passage is about giving, praying, and fasting. How appropriate! We can cultivate these three things during Lent.
Three Spiritual Principles
Giving, praying, and fasting – These were important spiritual disciplines for the Jewish people during Jesus’ time. I think it is important for us too. So I would like to reflect with you about these three spiritual principles.
First, giving is an important part of our lives. Jewish people have taken this discipline seriously. Even now many Jewish people take the discipline of giving as a part of their lives and practice it. 60 percent of Jewish households earning less than US$50,000 a year donate. Regardless of their economic status, they take giving as an important life principle. God has commanded them to do so, they believe. It is embedded in their religion and in their culture.
Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:11)
I think life of giving is a beautiful life. It is a sign of a blessed life. There are many people who practice philanthropy as a significant part of their life. We should incorporate giving as a part of our life.
Giving does so much good for us. It teaches us to be generous and generosity is an admirable quality of a person. It is hard to cultivate this character and we can do it by practicing the lifestyle of giving. It is good not only to enjoy the abundant life we have but also to share it with others. When we practice giving, somehow we experience the abundance of life. When you give, you don’t become less. You become more.
It’s like the widow who gave her last meal to Elijah. Her jar became never empty.
It also keeps us from falling into the temptation of greed. It is a good way to protect ourselves from materialism. As the exercise does good to our body, the exercise of giving does good to our soul. I notice that people who are giving generously are generally happy.
Secondly, prayer was also a very important discipline to Jewish people in Jesus’ time. Typical Jews at that time prayed three times a day. Morning at sunrise. Afternoon at 3 pm. Evening prayer at nightfall.
We can assume that Jesus also practiced this discipline. In addition to that, Jesus often went away alone into the mountain to pray. We need time to be alone. The busier we get, the more we need to have time to be alone. We need time to be connected with God. Otherwise, we can get easily drift into worldly things, away from God. We will get stressed out and lose joy of life. You don’t get joy by buying things. Joy is a quality of experience you get when you are connected with God. It is not something you can buy; it is something you experience when you are connected with God.
Prayer should be incorporated in our daily living. I send you the Inner Voice so that you can incorporate prayer into your daily life. Last Friday, one person told me that he would do fasting one meal a day during Lent and give that money to Ukraine after reading the Inner Voice about true fasting. Jewish people used the Shema & the Tephilla, meaning Prayer. In the morning, they used both. In the afternoon, they used Tephilla alone. Evening prayer was like morning prayer.
It is important to have a system of prayer. You need to give break to your mind and your spirit. You need to be reconnected with God daily. You need time to meditate on yourself, your life, and the world you live in. You need to be mindful of what you are doing and how you are feeling. You have people you care to pray for . You have situations that require your prayer. That is what Christian life is all about.
Especially, we have a lot to pray for this world these days. People are dying and fleeing from the war zone. Gas price already went up. Food price will go up soon. Especially those countries like Egypt and Turkey – they rely on Russia and Ukraine for 70% of their wheat supply. Many African countries are suffering.
The world has already suffered from food shortage during Covid time. It is getting worse now. We need to pray for the world. Even the largest nuclear plant was attacked.
The third important spiritual discipline is fasting. Giving and praying – some people do that. But the discipline of fasting is not something many people do these days.
Food is a great source of temptation. We eat without thinking. We consume too much. All kinds of diseases come from consuming too much food. By fasting, we appreciate how valuable our food is. By fasting, we keep ourselves from overindulging. Fasting is to recognize that it is God who sustains us, not our food. When Jesus fasted, Satan came to him to tempt him and Jesus said, we do not live by bread alone. Food is important but Satan could not tempt Jesus with food.
When we do fasting, we say that our body does not dictate us. We control the body. We don’t listen to every nagging of our body.
Fasting doesn’t have to be complete starvation. Fasting can be done in a creative way. After all, it is your way of disciplining yourself. You can reduce the portion. You can cut down certain foods. Instead of paying attention to body’s demands, we give our attention to God.
Also in hunger, we identify with those who are hungry. We can think of injustice in this world. Instead of indulging and complaining, we are in solidarity with them. That was the Inner Voice that I sent on Friday. It was from the Isaiah passage.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)
In the Right Attitude
Giving, praying, and fasting – These are very important spiritual disciplines that help our life greatly. But we need to be careful here. These practices do not make you any superior to other people. We don’t do these things to show off or to feel more important than others.
This is what Jesus said.
Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)
When we use our piety to show off, we lose the value of these beautiful spiritual practices. You are turning meaningful spiritual practices into tools for your social recognition.
When we do these practices with a right attitude, they become treasures. But when we use them for our own credits, they become ugly piety that turns people off.
Showing off your spiritual disciplines is like storing up treasures on earth.
This was what Jesus said.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19, 20)
Jesus also said,
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)
When we give, pray, and fast, where is your heart? Is your heart on people who see you or on God? When we do these things with a right attitude, they become treasures, treasures stored up in heaven.