Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting!
What has happened over these past 47 days as we entered a time of fasting and prayer? From the beginning of Lent I mentioned that for me personally the purpose was to confront my own worldliness and to humble myself before God. What has been accomplished?
First, I did not find the attraction ended for all the worldly things that I took off my list during Lent. Not everything has changed, and perhaps this is the greater lesson. No amount of fasting will remove my sinful nature and the only one remedy given by God is death, specifically identifying with the death and resurrection of Christ, reckoning myself dead to sin and alive with Him to God. There is still no room for boasting about who I am, so the goal of humility was achieved but in a surprising way. I am humbled at just how worldly I am.
Secondly, I have understood how empty worldliness really is. The desire for worldly things did not disappear, but I also began to see how much I do not need these things. Someone once said, “Money is not important, just necessary.” We may sum up all of the physical things that attract us in such a way. I am more keenly aware of the fact that this world is passing away, but the kingdom of God is forever.
Our speech reveals our thoughts, and, thirdly, I have found myself speaking and writing more than ever before about the grace of God. I could not say that during these last two months that I have not sinned – I have entertained impure thoughts – but I have also found myself growing in the confidence of the offer of God’s forgiveness. Not only has my prayer life grown, but my desire to pray has grown. I have learned to rest and rejoice in the grace of God offered to us, specifically offered to me, in Jesus Christ.
One fear I had is that I would become “proud of my humility” – I heard someone today do a bit of spiritual boasting about his own observance of Lent. I believe the purposes of God would be more greatly served by failing to keep the fast, and then becoming appalled at our sinfulness and confessing this sin and losing all confidence in our self while turning to Christ for cleansing and strength, than by completing the fast and then boasting to ourselves or to others about our dedication. The great secret of the Christian life is to forsake confidence in ourselves and place our confidence in Christ. Paul wrote of this matter in Philippians.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection…
The “loss of all things” in this context referred to his Pharisaical past that glorified self-righteousness. He considered all of that as “dung,” so surely I should think the same thing about my own poor efforts to be involved in a few days’ fast. But of greater significance he also contrasted living by our own self righteousness to living in the resurrection power of Christ. The message is clear that we have a choice to make between the two; we cannot do both.
Something of a surprising nature is that, during this fast, I have learned to care more about the people closest to me – my wife and children and other immediate family members in particular. Particular in studying the humiliation and death of Christ it brought me to question what things I would not want to be taken from me, and wife and family were the first on the list.
Another surprising benefit I gained is a simple insight into these types of exercises, sort of a big “So what?” to the entire experience. I don’t mean to devalue the experience, but I do intend to keep it in perspective. We are called to search ourselves as followers of Christ, especially to let God’s Spirit show us what is in our hearts, but we dare not think that this is enough. Paul said that he did not consider his life dear unto himself, but that he should finish the course God set out for him, to complete the ministry to which God called him (Acts 20:24-25). At the end of this experience I have to challenge myself to realize that this cannot just be an end in itself, but it should work to my spiritual development that eventually, in one way or another, prepares me to do the ministry that God has called me to do.
So these past 47 days have been of significant spiritual benefit to me, and God has searched my heart and increased my desire that He would search it more.
The final benefit, and the most significant, is a deeper love for Christ for His love and amazing patience with me. I cannot even begin to grasp the great disparity between me and God. He is eternal and I am created. He is all wise and I know so little. He is love and I can be petty and mean. But He stops to love me, to bless me, to listen to my prayers, to tell me that my life is important to Him. This realization of His greatness and love has created in me a greater desire to be close to Him, to know Him more, and to serve Him better.
Thank You, Lord, for Your grace. Cleanse me of my sins and draw me close to Your heart. Do something significant through my life, for Your sake. Amen.