Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.

–Isaiah 1:13-15 MSG


Back in my seminary days, a group of us stumbled upon the game Diplomacy—a multiplayer board game of strategy and negotiations (read, scheming and deception). Just like the name indicates, play revolved around “diplomatic” talks between the armies and governments of Europe in the early 1900s. Once a plan was brokered, players revealed their final tactics to discover the loyalty or betrayal of their assumed allies. Curiously, we got through one round of play and feelings were so hurt the game came to a grinding halt never to play again. Most members of our Dead Theologians Society (DTS) felt the game both encouraged and caused deceit, which is un-Christian after all. Therefore, we shouldn’t play it. Those who suggested the game merely revealed a battle within the heart were quickly dismissed. Bad behavior was the problem, not our intentions or impact—no one asked how another felt when betrayed, if only in the game.

Do forces outside a person cause them to act selfishly? Or, is one’s commitment to self merely revealed under pressure? We may like to think ourselves amoral until someone cries foul, and we are left to either defend our actions or admit a wrong of some kind. It’s at this point we sound like those misguided souls on judgment day who ask, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Yes, you did. But I don’t know you, we are not in relationship (my paraphrase).

Through prayer, Lent draws our attention to the subtle and destructive energies of the heart that masquerade as noble or good. However, prayer alone cannot disrupt our false sense of moral neutrality. This is why the church has always insisted that fasting and giving accompany prayer. In prayer we come to know ourselves—our deeper allegiances covered over with whitewash just as we discover the deeper work of God within. By fasting, we come to be ourselves—clearing the mind to recognize God’s work and what’s in the way that requires repentance. Fasting calls out our compassion and desire to love, especially those forced to fast out of necessity. Finally, as prayer and fasting do their deep work within, we learn to give ourselves to God and others in love in order for Lent to do its intended work in us.

Consider Isaiah 58:3-7 and ponder the ways you may or may not know, be, and give yourself. Facing deeper, disturbing realities in your heart, what do you tend to think about them and what do you do with them? Do you see them as opportunities (to discover God) or a problem to fix?


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Life & Death