Fasting Uncovers Our Hearts

Luke 21.34-36
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Reflection: Fasting Uncovers Our Hearts
By John Tillman

As we continue through Lent we will focus often on the fasting component of the season. 

Our fasting in Lent is often compared to Christ’s fasting in the wilderness prior to his testing by the Devil. One of the chief temptations involved in public fasts such as Lent is to defend them publically or engage in them privately by citing supposed worldly benefits. 

We can focus too much on how we might lose weight by constraining our consumption of certain foods or gain time by constraining our consumption of digital content or entertainment. But our physical gains and losses are of little spiritual consequence. If all we get from fasting is a measurable, earthly ROI, we will be unlikely to reap a spiritual benefit.

Richard Foster, in his devotional classic, Celebration of Discipline makes it clear that we must engage in fasting only with our eyes focused on heavenly, not worldly benefits:

“God questioned the people in Zechariah’s day, “when ye fasted…did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” 

If our fasting is not unto God, we have failed. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights —these must never replace God as the center of our fasting. John Wesley declares, “First, let it [fasting] be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven…” That is the only way we will be saved from loving the blessing more than the Blesser.

Once the primary purpose of fasting is firmly fixed in our hearts, we are at liberty to understand that there are also secondary purposes in fasting. 

More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. this is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David writes, ‘I humbled my soul with fasting” 9ps. 69.10).

Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, that will surface during fasting. At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.”

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Send forth your strength, O God; establish, O God, what you have wrought for us. — Psalm 68.28

Today’s Readings
Exodus 18 (Listen – 3:54)
Luke 21 (Listen – 4:18)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Rend Your Hearts
It is our heart that we must rend in mourning and confession, because God looks at the heart, not our outward appearance. When we rend our heart in community with others, we invite God’s power to work in us for redemption and restoration.

Read more about Fasting According to our Lusts :: Throwback Thursday
There are, alas! many blind men, who practise their castigation, whether it be fasting, watching or labor, only because they think these are good works, intending by them to gain much merit.

Beauty from Ashes :: Guided Prayer

Luke 20.37-38
But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

Reflection: Beauty from Ashes :: Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Ashes used in Ash Wednesday services are often made from palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations. This is one of the beautiful synchronicities of the liturgical year—reminding us that the cycles of sin, repentance, mercy, resurrection, and commission are ever-ongoing.

Today, whether you are a part of a faith tradition that observes Ash Wednesday services or not, follow this guided prayer experience.

Meditate on the visual pictures and the scriptures and pray in your own words.

Ashes symbolize sorrow.
We are probably most familiar with ashes as a symbol of sorrow. They can symbolize our sorrow over our personal sins or a personal loss, or sorrow over the sins or loss suffered by our community or nation.

In ashes we mourn both the catastrophes that naturally happen in our broken world and the ones we, ourselves, orchestrate through our lusts and misguided selfishness.

What is planted in your life that is not of God? Are you watering and fertilizing weeds instead of the good seed of the gospel? Lent is a time to gather up the tares among your wheat—gather them to be burned to ash.

“Repent and believe the gospel” (The Roman Missal: Chapel Edition)

Ashes symbolize destruction and death.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (The Roman Missal: Chapel Edition)

In cultivating our faith, we must go through seasons of destruction. Our fields must be burned. The ashes tilled under.

What is God tilling under the soil in your life? What is he burning down? Let it go. Let it burn.

“Fire will test the quality of each person’s work.” (1 Corinthians 3.13)

Ashes symbolize rebirth.
In worship at the temple, some ashes were used in ceremonies of cleansing and purification.

Burning leads to purification, restoration, renewal. The soil that is burned and turned is fertilized for replanting.

Lent can be a time of burning, in which God prepares us for new growth.

Ask the Holy Spirit to walk with you through the burnt field of your life, through the burnt field of your work. Ask the Spirit, during the time of burning, to reveal to you what He will plant next.

God will bring us…”a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning”… (Isaiah 61.1-3)

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, as we have put our trust in you — Psalm 33.22

Today’s Readings
Exodus 17 (Listen – 2:30)
Luke 20 (Listen – 5:07)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Recalling the Failures
The failures of the past year, or any year, are not our end, but our beginning. Jesus brings hope to our aftermath.

Read more about Called to Unmovable Joy :: Readers’ Choice :: TBT
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death
— George Herbert

The Untied Donkey

Luke 19.30-34
“Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

From John:
Today, Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, is the end of Ordinary time that began following Epiphany and is the gateway to Lent. Today it also corresponds in our Bible reading plan to Luke’s account of Christ’s triumphal entry to Jerusalem. Today’s reflection from Alan Rudnick concerns the Triumphal Entry and references Palm Sunday, near the end of Lent, but we will enjoy it here in anticipation of the joys to come in the Lenten season.

Reflection: The Untied Donkey
By Alan Rudnick

This donkey was born for Jesus’ wonderful work. It had not been used or ridden by anyone else. This donkey was tied up so that it could not wander away or be taken by someone else. It was waiting for Jesus to climb on to ride.

The colt (polos) has royal associations. Jesus’ riding the donkey echoes Zechariah’s prophecy. Nevertheless, to modern readers the donkey seems to be an unlikely and surprising device for Jesus’ use. That is because we see donkeys primarily as work animals capable of carrying heavy loads, or as docile creatures used for children’s rides, but certainly not as the animals of choice to transport triumphant kings.

In the ancient world, however, donkeys were used for ceremonial purposes. Whereas horses were symbols of war, donkeys were symbols of peace and often used to enact treaties.

This donkey was created for a purpose and was meant for Jesus. It was tied; it needed to be untied. Why does Luke emphasize this several times? There is an insight here.

We are often tied aren’t we? We are tied down by many things—by guilt, anxiety, and concern. Some of us are tied down with the need to forgive, but we cannot bring ourselves to do it. Others are tied down to obsessions or chemical dependence. We may be tied down to our smartphones and tablets, and be unable to put those devices down. Some need to let go and not be afraid to show love, peace, faith, joy, or the gospel to others. As Christians, we need to be untied from what weighs us down.

We need to be free to experience Jesus in our lives. We are meant to ride with Jesus: to follow him on his journey to Jerusalem, the Holy City, the city where God dwells. We were created with a purpose: to love God and love each other.

We cannot fully commit to God when we are tied. We must be released. We must surrender our burdens and our weights to God, much like the owner who surrendered his donkey to the two disciples.

By relinquishing our own burdens, we can praise and worship God freely. When we are untied, we can live a life of faith free from the pressure of trying to hold things up. When we are free, we can praise God without any hindrance.

*Selections quoted and edited for length from Lessons from a Donkey, in Christian Reflection.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. — Psalm 92.12

Today’s Readings
Exodus 16 (Listen – 5:02)
Luke 19 (Listen – 5:29)

Read more about The Community of Lent
Because we have been justified by faith we have the joy of entering into a season of reflection by God’s mercy. Together we fast. Together we engage. Together we serve.

Read more about Cultivation Starts With Destruction
The first step of cultivating faith is destruction. And we must start in the field of our own heart, not pointing across the fence at someone else.

Preparing for Joy

Luke 18-11-14
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

From John:
As we move into the season of Lent this week, we will look at selections from Christian writers about Lent and fasting. May we enter Lent together—expectant, hopeful, humble, and…joyful.

Reflection: Preparing for Joy
By Norman Wirzba

In Orthodox theological traditions, Christians are invited into the season of Lent as a time to prepare for joy. Lenten worship instructs us to begin with rejoicing:

“Let us begin the Fast with joy.
Let us give ourselves to spiritual efforts.
Let us cleanse our souls.
Let us cleanse our flesh.
Let us fast from passions as we fast from foods,
taking pleasure in the good works of the Spirit
and accomplishing them in love
that we all may be made worthy to see the passion of Christ our God
and His Holy Pascha, rejoicing with spiritual joy.” (from the vespers liturgy for Forgiveness Sunday)

This emphasis on joy may surprise us, and perhaps even strike some of us as perverse, because we are accustomed to think of Lenten observance as a time of deprivation, a time when we give up or say “No” to a host of things and activities we otherwise love. How can we be expected to rejoice in the giving up of things that give us joy?

Lent can be our preparation for joy because it is the concentrated and disciplined time when we work together to root out the blindness and deception that prevent us from receiving each other as gracious gifts from God. It is a necessary time for Christians because without it we run the risk of experiencing what can only be termed a false joy, a ‘joy’ that has been rendered false by the anxiety, hubris, and destruction that make it possible. True joy is freedom from fear and alienation. Real joy is knowing that we are loved and nurtured. Lenten practices like fasting prepare us for joy because they turn our self-serving into self-offering ways that nurture, celebrate, and share the gifts of God.

Lent teaches us that far too often we live a counterfeit life. It shows us that we have settled for a poor and degraded version of the real thing, which is life in its vibrant freshness and abundance. In the face of a culture that encourages us to neglect, degrade, and abuse each other, Lent invites us to see ourselves and our world clearly, humbly, and truly. Moved beyond the stifling scope of our worry, fear, and petty desires, we can finally be opened to receive the blessings of God.

*Selections quoted from Preparing for Joy in Christian Reflection.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lord, my God, my Savior, by day and night I cry to you. Let my prayer enter into your presence. — Psalm 88.1-2

Today’s Readings
Exodus 15 (Listen – 4:11)
Luke 18 (Listen – 5:27)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Binging on Fasting
In a culture obsessed with consumption, lack of it, even for a short period, stands out. But just because our culture recognizes that fasting is a spiritual practice doesn’t mean we understand it.

Read more about Joy in The Way of the Cross
The book is full of joy, I know, but it is also full of pain, and pain is taken for granted. “Think it not strange. Count it all joy.” We are meant to follow his steps, not avoid them.

Prayer for Older Brothers :: Guided Prayer

Luke 15.31-32
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Reflection: Prayer for Older Brothers :: Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Mature believers must recognize the dual message in Christ’s parable of the prodigal son. In many ways it could be considered the parable of the prodigal sons. 

One son refused to stay in the home due to sinful rebellion.
One son refused to enter the home due to sinful unforgiveness.
One son squandered his father’s wealth.
One son coveted his father’s wealth.
One son was humiliated by his own scandalous behavior.
One son was humiliated by his father’s scandalous grace.

Beginning our faith journey, we struggle to understand how God could love us and adopt us into his family despite our sinfulness. But after living comfortably as a member of God’s family, we soon struggle to understand how God could adopt anyone else.

There are limits to what is restored to the son who returns. His inheritance is spent and will not be restored. He will be financially dependant on his older brother. But in every other aspect, he is restored. He is restored to full fellowship, full honor, and full trust. These things are indicated by the sandals, robe, and ring. His identity is restored. His authority is restored. He is not a second-class family member.

Pray this prayer for an older brother this weekend. God the Father will come out to you, and beg you to rejoice at the scandalous sinners he has adopted as his children.

Prayer for Older Brothers

God, your mercy is a mystery to me.
I see the sins of others and I am scandalized.
How could such a one be accepted?
How could such a one be loved?
How could such a one be forgiven?
How could such a one be trusted?

You come out and embrace me, Father.
You invite me to celebrate
The sinful repentant,
The wanderer returned,
The prideful humbled,
The scandalous purified.

Over your shoulder I see the celebration.
And I remember…
The day you celebrated me, repentant.
The day you celebrated me, returned.
The day you lifted me up when I was humbled.
The day you purified me from my scandalous sin.

The party is not for my prodigal sibling but for me.
The celebration is not for his sins but for your mercy.
Put your arm around my shoulder, Father.
Lead me in, to celebrate mercy shared.
Lead me in, to rejoice for sinners changed.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. — Psalm 85:10

Today’s Readings
Exodus 12:22-51 (Listen – 7:31)
Luke 15 (Listen – 4:19)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 13 (Listen – 3:30), Luke 16 (Listen – 4:27)
Exodus 14 (Listen – 4:46), Luke 17 (Listen – 4:22)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about In the Face of the Impossible
In a very real sense, not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory.

Read more about The Focus of Christ’s Anger
Seek today for what in your life causes Christ to grieve, to be angry. Ask the Holy Spirit to soften your heart and cleanse you.

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