A Heart Condition
Generally speaking, a heart condition is not something that we usually want, but I'm not talking about the type of heart condition that stops your heart. I am talking about the type of heart condition that God wants us to have and that is one that is humble, penitent, kind, and loving. God wants you to have a heart like His. Think of the old saying, when some one is said to be after their own heart. God said of King David, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will”. The heart of a servant is what God is looking for in us. Too often people want what they want at any cost, but this is not the way of God. God cares about your needs and wants you to be happy, but not at the expense of everyone else.
The Old Testament is full of how tired God was of meaningless sacrifices and empty religious customs. What He truly wanted was mercy, forgiveness, and love in our hearts towards one another. He wanted the people to fast and pray not for others to see, to achieve their own glory, but fasting and praying for the right reasons, to repent of our many sins and know that our loving God will understand and forgive us. If we would only do this God would make all things right. Our Scripture from Isaiah 58:6-12 tonight tells us,
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness[a] will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
Jesus tells us today in our Gospel reading many of the same things. He tells us not to give to others to be seen for our own glory. He tells us to pray to God in secret so that only God knows. Does that mean that we shouldn’t pray in Church or some place else, no, but wherever you pray, do it without any thought for yourself as a means of self-righteousness. Often you can pray to yourself without others even knowing that you are doing it. Jesus is looking for the right heart condition.
Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season we call Lent. It is a solemn Christian preparation for believers to observe and prepare for forty days before Easter. It is marked by penance, repentance of sins, charity, and self-denial. It is very symbolic of the Israelites forty years in the desert and Christ’s forty days of temptation in the desert by Satan. It is a time when Christians should focus on Christ, His service, mission, and sacrifice, and is often marked by the reading of the Gospels. It is also a time of self-examination. We all know what our short comings are, or should know, and if we don’t that is what I am talking about anyway. We need to examine ourselves not by our standards but by God’s. We are not to do this to tear ourselves down, but to recognize where we need help and improvement and to humbly ask God for His help in our betterment. God wants the very best for us, but again, not at the expense of others.
Fasting, or willful refrainment from eating, is another way that people have used through the ages as a means of self-sacrifice to bring us closer to God. In modern times we use the word to also mean willful refrainment from other things as well, not just food. God desires meaningful sacrifice though. It should not be forced or just done as a tradition. Scripture tells us that the Lord loves a cheerful giver in all things. He is interested in the condition of your heart, are you? Do you want your heart to be conditioned for God’s service? That is what Lent is all about and Ash Wednesday is the start of it. Pray with me as I pray this Lenten Prayer on How to Fast.
Fast from judging others, feast on the Christ dwelling within them.
Fast from emphasis on differences, feast on the unity of all life.
Fast from apparent darkness, feast on the reality of light.
Fast from words that pollute, feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent, feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger, feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism, feast on optimism.
Fast from worry, feast on trust.
Fast from complaining, feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives, feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures, feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility, feast on nonviolence.
Fast from bitterness, feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern, feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety, feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement, feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress, feast on truths that uplift.
Fast from lethargy, feast on an enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion, feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that we can, feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from idle gossip, feast on purposeful silence.
Gentle God, during this season of fasting and feasting, gift us with your presence, so we can be gifts to others in carrying out your work. In Jesus Holy name we pray. Amen.