When You Give, Pray, Fast2
Alex's Note: Today our nation celebrates and remembers a man who called us to live up to our own ideals, rooted deeply in his own right-side-up relationship with Jesus. If I'd been a little more on the ball, we would have built today's devotional around this opportunity!
But let us at least note what happens sometimes when one Jesus-follower decides to put all their eggs in the right-side-up-with-Jesus basket: courage, strength, conviction, perseverance, resilience, incredible impact...all in the face of enormous opposition. May the same Jesus that Dr. King followed be the one that leads us into our own right-side-up battles, whatever those might be. And may we play our role together and individually in fighting the battle against the upside-down darkness of racism and prejudice wherever it might be at work in us and around us.
And now: "When You Give, Pray, Fast"
Brian and Kathy Emmet
“When you give … pray … fast …” (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16)
Giving, praying, fasting – are these “optional accessories” to a Christ-following life, a kind of spiritual ornamentation we can add from time to time if and as needed? Or is something more basic going on as we listen together to these words of Jesus?
Jesus warns us against hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is play-acting, dressing ourselves up to give an appearance that impresses people, but leaves our heart-motives hidden and unaddressed. When hypocrites give to the needy, they blow a trumpet so everyone will notice their “noble sacrifice.” When they pray, they do so in a way and in a place so everyone will have a good, clear view. When they fast, they want you to be sure to notice how much it’s costing them to be so spiritual.
They get their reward, Jesus says. It’s clear he thinks they have settled for something cheap and impermanent.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is telling us about the kingdom of God, how it “works,” how you can recognize its presence and activity, how you can in fact get in on it. Jesus isn’t instituting a new law, a new and harder set of rules; he is proclaiming a new reality: “Repent—God’s kingdom is breaking in upon you!”
It’s not if you give, pray, fast, it’s when. Giving, praying, and fasting are to be among the regular practices of kingdom-of-God communities and their members.
Giving, praying and fasting are responses to the neediness of the world around us, and the world inside us. We are to give to the needy because that’s what God is doing—blessing the spiritually bankrupt (the “poor in spirit”) with the lavish wealth of the kingdom. We need to pray, because neither we nor our neighbors “have what it takes,” and only God can give what we most desperately need. We fast because the world is so badly broken and in such great need – and to free our appetites to desire and seek true food and drink.
Giving, praying and fasting in the Jesus way will slow us down; help us to notice differently, pay attention differently; deliver us from our addiction to the approval of others; develop and deepen our capacities to live in the love that is the heart of the kingdom of God.
We are not “earning” anything. The rewards Jesus promises are not spiritual “brownie points”; the reward is that we are getting to know God better, and learning to become more like God in how we see and treat our neighbors and the world around us. And the world within us.
When are you tempted to play-act? What’s one way you try to impress others and are secretly thrilled when they notice? What might repentance look like?