Friday, September 10, 2010

A Life Long Fast



I sit in a country infested with poverty.

Poverty

I can literally feel it...and some times it seems like I can see it.

When I stop and think about what the streets of Haiti would look like if I had eyes to see things spiritually, I imagine darkness...evil imps dancing a wicked jig as they wrap heavy chains around and around the people
of Haiti.  In their shrill voices they hiss and chant, "Hopeless.  Trapped.  Forgotten.  Forsaken.  Dirty.  Broken.  Useless.  Ugly.  Unloved.  Unwanted."

Poverty

It's like a heavy, hot, itchy blanket.

I've been reading and rereading Isaiah 58.  In the beginning of the chapter God is angry with His people.

They are rebellious.  They have sinned.

He says His people act like they want to hear from Him.  They pretend they want to be close to God.

The Israelites argue with their Father.  Like a bratty child they sass God and say things like, "Why have we fasted and you haven't seen it?  Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?"

They are quick to yank out their lists of Christian deeds...the list that proves they are godly.  I think we're all tempted to keep that list in our pocket, aren't we?  We're even quicker to whip it out and shove it in God's face or in each other's faces. 

In Isaiah 58, God's people are quick to reach for their list.

God firmly addresses their perverted views, particularly when it comes to their idea of fasting.

God tells them they fast...do all the physical aspects of not eating...and yet their hearts are not changed.  In the middle of their so called "service to God" they do evil things.

And then God says something that I'm trying hard to understand these days...

"Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself?"

One day.  One act.  One token.  One religious act.

God is infuriated by the idea that serving and loving Him could ever be boiled down into an event that begins and ends.

God doesn't seem to be a big fan of our "This makes me a Christian" tokens.  He doesn't seem pleased with the thought that we can divide up our life...chop it up into sections...keep most of those sections for ourselves and hand God a sliver.  He seems even more annoyed that we'd think He should be pleased...stand and clap that we were so generous offering him a tiny piece of the life that He already paid for in full.

It doesn't seem like God digs the one day fast.  The "this makes me an acceptable Christian" check list.

The fast God finds good, right, and acceptable seems like it would take more than a day to accomplish.  It could quite possibly consume our lives.  He says He wants us to fast in a way that looks like this...

loose the chains of injustice
untie the cords of the yoke
set the oppressed free
break every yoke (anything that enslaves)
share your food with the hungry
provide the poor wanderer with shelter
clothe the naked

spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
satisfy the needs of the oppressed

Maybe we all need to ask God what this looks like.  Maybe hard questions are in order.

How are we, our families, and our churches fighting injustice?
How are we, our families, and our churches setting the oppressed free?
How are we, our families, and our churches clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and providing shelter to those who need it?
Are our lives being spent...spent...let's let that word sit on us for a little while.

How are our lives being spent caring for the hungry?

I hate it as much as the next person, but I think if our lives were truly spent to care for the poor we'd feel it in some way every single day.  Would people say we are individuals or people or churches who spend our lives on behalf of the poor?  Spending our lives on something may look way different than throwing money at a problem every once in awhile, donating shoes to the yearly shoe drive, or even coming to Haiti for 9 months.  While those are good things, if that's all we're doing, I think that may be the one day fast God is so disgusted with in His children.

This is important because Isaiah 58 seems to say that somehow our righteousness, our intimacy with God, our healing, our ability to be a light in dark places are all interwoven and connected in some way to caring about the things that God cares about.

The tokens.  The one day fasts.  Our loose change.  Those things are frustrating to the Lord.

I've been reading this passage every day.

I seem to be at a crossroads spiritually.  One part of my heart is in Haiti.  A giant part of my heart wants to go home in nine months.

I stand at the fork in the road.  One path takes me back to the US.  To a cute home.  To nice furniture.  To hot water.  To clean, safe streets.  To friends.  To family.  To comfort.  To 16,000 choices of cereal.

The other road is hard.  It smells.  It's sad.  It's hot.  Uncomfortable. Frustrating. A little lonely.

I'm asking myself...what does it mean to fast forever in order to care for the poor, to feed the hungry, and free the oppressed?  Not fast from food.  I'd fall over dead.  But what about fasting from comfort?  From Target?  From nice neighborhoods?  From nice tile?  What does it look like to fast from the things that prove I'm living for this present life instead of seeking first the Kingdom of God?

What if we're called to fast every day of our lives to care for the hurting?  What if we fast every day on earth because we believe so deeply in the kingdom that awaits us...in the kingdom that is coming?  A life time of fasting because this life does not matter.

I want to be clear.  We do not care for the poor because we are trying to earn our salvation.  We could spend every moment of every day caring for the poor, and yet if we do not belong to God, we'll sit in hell one day next to people who have never even given a few quarters to the bell ringers at Christmas.  The Bible is clear...salvation is a gracious gift and God gives it to people who are ridiculous, selfish, undeserving, and wicked.  And yet He calls us to use the life that we have received from God to care for the poor and the dying...to live out the beauty of the gospel towards our fellow man.


What if I never get to go home to the US and have my old life back?  What if this fast lasts indefinitely while I live on this earth?

What if you're called to do the same thing or something similar?

What if you're called to live in such a way in the United States of America that you are spending your life for the poor?  Fasting from that bigger house, that new car, from buying clothing made by enslaved children on the other side of the world, etc?  Fasting from the American Dream so that you can give more and join God in what He's doing all over the globe.  Fasting from "the next new thing" to buy medicine and food for 24,000 children who will die today from preventable diseases.  Fasting from this world so that the gospel goes out.

What does it mean to fast in a way that means we consider the poor...remember them every time we reach for our wallet at our favorite stores?  What does it mean to fast in such a way that we feel the weight...the friction between how much we have compared to how little most people have.  What does it look like to fast in such a way that we open our eyes, keep them open, start fighting poverty and injustice instead of hiding from it?  To fast like God describes, we'd have to take comfort in Jesus' words..."And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:29).

It would take an awful lot of faith to live like God seems to want us to live.  Suddenly "Do not love the world, or anything in the world" takes on new meaning (1 John 2:15).  Suddenly Jesus' words take on new life when He says, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life"

Right now I don't have the kind of faith required for a fast like God describes.  I like the tokens too much.  When I consider the fast God is describing, my soul is immediately flooded with doubt.  Stay here in Haiti?  Give my entire life to care for the poor, the orphan, and the oppressed?  Fast forever from the American Dream?  What if heaven isn't even real.  What if Jesus isn't real?  What if this life is all there is?

A fool.  I'd be a fool.

I almost despise situations in my life that show what I really believe.  It's way more enjoyable pretending and lying.  The moment I quit judging myself on a human scale and begin examining my life according to scripture and the person and work of Jesus, things get really sad, really quick.

I'm asking God  what it looks like to spend our life carrying for the poor.  Maybe you can ask God that question with me.

I sure wish God was talking to one man in Isaiah 58.  I wish with all my heart today that God's hard words were for one person.  Then it would be very easy for me to say, "Spending your life to care for the poor, the hurting, the oppressed, the enslaved and the fatherless are for some people, but God doesn't call everyone to do that."

Instead, God tells Isaiah in the beginning of chapter 58 to shout these things..yell them...holler them out loud so that ALL His people will hear.

When God  is calling for a fast that requires spending our life for the poor, He's talking to every one who claims to belong to God.

So maybe we should ask God what He means and what this looks like in our lives.  Like everything else, God isn't trying to be a bully or a jerk.  He loves us.  He wants good things for His children.  Somehow us understanding these truths translates into us loving and knowing God better...to us enjoying God and delighting in Him.

Isaiah 58 ends with sweet promises from a loving Father...

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.  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...then you will find your joy in the LORD.

Today I sat and talked with a man who has lived in Haiti for over 20 years.  In the area where he is working the mortality rate for babies is 50 percent.  That means 50 percent of the babies born die within their first couple of years.

Let's ask God what it looks like to fast in such a way that we prevent every other baby in some parts of Haiti from dying next year.

18 comments:

Teri said...

You've given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

Amy said...

I am so enjoying your blog. We support 3 kids in an orphanage in Haiti down by Ti-Rivier thru Mission Haiti, a ministry run by a local lady we know well.

http://www.mission-haiti.org/

It is interesting to go thru your journey as you are down there and to be able to see the country thru your eyes. It will also be interesting to see what God has in store for you - whether it's in Haiti or in the US.

Blessings dear sister,
Amy

Amy said...

I am so enjoying your blog. We support 3 kids in an orphanage in Haiti down by Ti-Rivier thru Mission Haiti, a ministry run by a local lady we know well.

http://www.mission-haiti.org/

It is interesting to go thru your journey as you are down there and to be able to see the country thru your eyes. It will also be interesting to see what God has in store for you - whether it's in Haiti or in the US.

Blessings dear sister,
Amy

The Lopases said...

I have been dwelling on Isaiah 58 for 2 weeks now. I downloaded and printed this "prayers of an excellent wife" book to better pray for brian. one of the first passages to pray was Isaiah 58. when i read it, I shuddered. I saw myself, my family, the nation all over that passage. it was scary. i shared my thoughts with brian a couple times, because i just cant get it out of my head.
processing all this with you sweet friend....

Beth said...

Heather,

I lived in a third world country for 2 years. It wasn't anywhere near the poverty level of Haiti, I don't think, but it was hard. Don't focus too much on wanting to go home in nine months. You want to go home now. You are going to be different in nine months. You are going to have nine months of learning to love Haiti under your belt. You may still want to go home in 9 months, but from the moment you stepped off the plane part of you will always be in Haiti. From the moment you stepped off the plane, you became someone who will always have things and people in two places to miss.

Also, I also want to comment on this that you wrote: "I think if our lives were truly spent to care for the poor we'd feel it in some way every single day." God calls each person differently. I, too, have that call, but in a way that looks nothing like yours. And I do feel it every day, because it dictates where I am, who I talk to, who my friends are, etc. (as it has for you). There is no way you can be in the center of God's will, whatever that may be, and not feel it. Enjoy His will. Most of the time it involves sacrifice. Sometimes it is dirty, sweaty, smelly, difficult. But it is always the only place to be - every single day - until He moves you on.

Which brings me back to the first point I made. In nine months, you will still be choosing His will over yours. You won't know for 8 1/2 more if that is for you to stay in Haiti or move back to the US. So focus on His will for you now. Let Him worry about then.

Hendrick Family said...

Beth...

I was trying to make it clear that I don't think caring for the poor means moving to haiti or some place like it (for everyone).

I do think that as we care for the poor, we probably should feel it in some way...if we're spending our lives to do so.

I believe people in the states can spend their life to love and care for the poor, the fatherless and the oppressed.

I hope that came across clearly in the post.

heather

Beth said...

Yes, it did. Sorry if it felt like I wasn't agreeing with you - I do! :-)

kuliejellogg said...

I thank the Lord for your blog because it causes me to stop and think about how I am spending my life - time, resources, thoughts...

Bob & Judy said...

...you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings...

No idea why, but that verse has always made me tear up.

For goodness sakes, Haiti could use a Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings! But it's only more visible there, more tangible. All around us are broken walls and homeless streets.

Love you, my girl.

Hi. I'm Alanna. said...

Heather, I read your post feeling like God wrote so many of those words in it. It leaves a lot to think on. I hear what you're saying and God is saying even if I don't have all the answers as to how each person is to work it out in their own lives.

I was intrigued to hear your description of the seeing Haiti through spiritual eyes with imps chaining people to hopelessness. Sounds so much like how I see so many people who I encounter in my work everyday. Lives completely chained and broken and such blindness to the spiritual side of it. Sometimes I feel like Isaiah and Jeremiah must have felt saying, "But don't you see that this is not the life God wants? Don't you see those chains you drag with you?" Sometimes they aren't ones the people wearing them chose - someone else chose for them, and they carry the burden alone and it just breaks my heart. Others are willing participants and choose their own way.

Isaiah 58 has long been one of my very favorite passages in the Bible. I'm glad to revisit it from the perspective you shared. I'm interested to see where God leads your heart and these lives touched everyday for the next 9 months (and a lifetime).

Blessings and Grace.

Robert B. Heath said...

This very passage (and others like it) has been tormenting me for years. I cannot believe it is enough to send money to Food for the Poor twice a month, to give our leftovers, the shirts and pants and shoes that we don't want any more, to the poor and think that will satisfy God.

I agree with you totally, and if I were my own, I would be ready in a minute to give up my life for this great fast. But I am not my own, and I don't have the freedom I would wish.

Still, there are many kinds of poor. Sometimes, the poor is someone we have to be patient with, when we'd rather get angry. Or the abused woman on the bus who needs shelter until she can get her life together, or the babies dying in abortion clinics who need advocates. It can require a great fast to come to the aid of these poor.

And often, there are very needy, poor right within our own families, in our homes, who need love, and yet who are the very hardest to love. Sometimes it is harder to love a person within our own home than it is to move to Haiti.

I need to remember that.

Heather said...

You always give me so much to think about. Thank you for your honesty. I read something the other day and for the life of me I cannot remember where...but it basically said I'd rather live my life like there is a heaven and find out there isn't one, than live my life like there is no heaven and find out there is. Prayers for you and your beautiful family

Psalm139verse14 said...

I just found your blog and loved it! I was on a mission trip in Haiti last Jan and got home 3 days before the earthquake hit. I just finished reading Radical and The Hole in Our Gospel---preach girl, you are living it out!
libby

Hannah Andrews said...

thank you so much for letting us see your heart. the good the bad, the ugly, and the challenging

Heather Diaz said...

I know you have a million comments, but I still felt compelled to leave one.
This is my favorite chapter in the Bible. I love how you have taught it in this post.

Thanks Heather! I hope I get to see you when I'm in Haiti...someday!! If not then- then maybe in Glory ;)

Megan Fletcher said...

I've been looking at the title of that post in my list since you posted it and just now decided to make time to read it. Perhaps it was the plan all along. Today we studied Psalm 73. I'd have to say it was one of our pastor's best teachings. The bottom line I took away: where are my eyes trained? The first part of the psalm is Asaph basically looking around at the wicked people and being envious of all they have. He then FINALLY looks back to the Lord and his vision changes to see what truly matters. Verses 10 and 12 talk of abundance and wealth. Our pastor likened it to the "american dream". It struck me particularly hard since on Friday our ministry had all-night prayer and one segment had us praying for the poor and considering the U.S. economy. The point was made that the poverty line in the US is roughly $11K/yr which is about $30/day. Over half the world's population lives on less than $2/day. I never understand "$2/day" until that comparison. How can I continue to squander my wealth? I know I'm wealthy; I understand it (in my head). I am desperate for God to show me this life-long fast right here where He's placed me and change my heart. I want to have eyes to see what He sees.

Thanks for sharing!

Megan said...

Recently I have realized that this is what I am scared of. If we go to Haiti it isn't short term. I don't have a time frame to just "make it through" until we can head back to the States, back to my normal life. Haiti will be my normal life. That is what I am scared of.. I am scared of fasting forever, I would prefer it to have an end in sight.

The Lord is working on me (Praise Him!). As Brock said today, I really have been in down right rebellion about moving to Haiti. For instance, I purposely have not read this post because Brock told me what it was talking about and I didn't want to face it. But, at least I am now aware of my rebellion, I am not blind to it, and I can feel the Lord changing me and softening my heart.

likeravensandlillies said...

I read the Hiding Place recently by Corrie Ten Boom. I think she felt the same way. She told a story in the book about her father and when she asked him how to handle a difficult situation. He compared it to the fact that he would keep her train ticket for her until she needed it and then give it to her right before she boarded the train. He said that was how God was with us...only giving us the strength we need right before boarding time. I pray that He is giving you strength. I am already planning a big purse party. BIG!