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Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? when you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:5-7)

During this season we call Lent, many Christians practice fasting: a spiritual dicipline involving sacrificing something meaningful to them, in recognition of all that Christ sacrificed for us. Some make quite a show of their fasting, others do it with little fanfare.

In these verses God makes it very clear that sacrifice merely for show, or for the sake of convention, isn't what He wants from His people. The kind of sacrifices God truly wants are those that will benefit others and draw them to Him, just as the sacrifice of His own Son did. Giving up meat for Lent is fine for you personally, but how does that benefit others? Do you give the meat you sacrifice to a homeless shelter, perhaps? Or is it merely a ritual that you have always done, because your parents did it, and the church says to do it?

Others "fast" by giving up something they enjoy for the 40 days of the Lenten season. Giving up personal pleasures, such as favorite television shows or chocolate candy, only serve to make us feel like we've done our religious duty. It's far too easy to check that off our spiritual "to-do" list, give ourselves a pat on the back for being such a "good" Christian, and then go on our merry way. How does such a sacrifice even begin to reflect Christ's ultimate sacrifice?

God isn't into blind, meaningless rituals that benefit no one but ourselves. He is interested in building us up spiritually, that we who have received His love, mercy, grace, and redemption, may share it with others. If we truly want our "fast" to be pleasing and acceptable to God, we have to do it His way, not our own. We have to make our sacrifice one that will impact the lives of others, and point them to the ultimate sacrifice.

So, what are you doing for Lent?


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