Monday, March 1, 2010

Preventing progress

"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6: 16-18

Fasting seems to be a popular topic during Lent as Christians search for ways of drawing nearer to God through an intentional devotional practice for a 46-day period. I was recently reading through this passage and I got something new out of it that I wanted to share:
Why does Christ encourage people who fast to do so in secrecy? Keeping fasting a secret seems especially hard in societies that seem to revolve around food and meals. But I think that there is a lot to be gained from not allowing your practice to be the topic of your conversation or be "written on your face." Perhaps the benefit to not revealing your fasting (or whatever discipline you've taken up) is not just to keep from coming across as pompous, but perhaps it serves a greater purpose- for the benefit of the one practicing the discipline.

Jesus describes ways that people might make themselves appear hungry during their fast to draw attention to themselves. This is their reward- getting the attention of others. But disciplines are meant to focus attention to increase the opportunity to be shaped by our Creator, "formed" if you will. When we disfigure ourselves as Christ describes, we do the work of transformation in a physical way, preventing any spiritual transformation to take place...we are essentially preempting God's role by taking care of God's work in transforming through the practice.

I find that bringing too many others into a spiritual discipline seems to hinder it from being about God and me. Now, remember, there are people that you should be able to share things with: spouse, family, close friends, etc. The purpose is not to keep your spiritual life and disciplines from people, it is to keep it intimate enough so that God may transform you. Practice, and let God do the work of reshaping.

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