We are excited to explore the Lenten season this year as a church. It is a season that postures our hearts for Easter through practices of fasting, prayer, and generosity. Join us as we ruminate in this season together and share reflections every week.
After this first week of Lent, much of my conversations with you all have centered around fasting — what we have decided to give up — and how that has affected our devotional and prayer life. But in the back of my mind, I've been thinking about how fasting and prayer ought to connect to the third practice of the season: generosity.
To be honest, it is much easier for me to practice fasting and prayer than it is for me to practice fasting and generosity.
Fasting and prayer is safe; I can do it by myself. But that is not the fasting that scripture calls us to practice. Isaiah 58 calls to question the kind of fast that I safely practice:
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?
"Woe is me because I can't have ice cream / fried chicken / bubble tea" is incomplete. There's no doubt we will feel the physical affects of fasting, but it should not end there. The LORD continues through Isaiah's words:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
It's that last line there that gets me. Generosity involves people. People are complicated. Their situations are messy. The truth is I'd rather hide from others in pain. Avoid eye contact. Walk away from the stench. Go to the next subway car. Move to the far side of the sidewalk. New York has trained me to turn a blind eye. I'd rather not see them. I have contentedly grown a heart of stone.
The invitation to practice generosity in the Lenten season is an invitation to transform a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. It is not merely cutting a check for a good cause (that may be a practical part of generous living but it is never the heart of it), but cutting our hearts to be shaped more and more like Christ's heart. Jesus placed himself with broken people to see their needs and let them know they are seen.
John Ortberg writes, "Allow yourself to see need and eventually you'll want to help. Maintain your distance and you probably won't." As we seek to be like Jesus, may we enter into generous giving not only of our finances, but also our time and presence to be with others and see them.
Lord, help us to see. Forgive us for walking around our city blind to our own flesh crying out for justice. Enable us by your Holy Spirit to follow in the footsteps of your Son to walk alongside the marginalized. Give us generous hearts to love others as you have loved us in Christ Jesus. May your name be glorified in us. Amen.