Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Isaiah 58:2-5 -- On Sacrifice and Suffering

"Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?"
Isaiah 58:2-5

This is fascinating stuff.  Later in the chapter it talks about what fasting should be, but I think this lesson of what fasting is not is a great one as well.  I think we get it wrong quite often.
Sacrifice is important.  And sometimes we are asked to give well beyond what we think we can.  At those times, having faith and giving everything is important.  But let's remember that we have plenty of opportunities for sacrifice in our lives already.  God doesn't ask us to manufacture it.  Having a broken heart and a contrite spirit as we repent from day to day and as we continue to learn is often enough.  Sometimes the sacrifices are larger, but we don't have to make up things to make our lives worse or to make us feel bad, or give up things that are essential to our lives in order to somehow manufacture an extra bit of spirituality or "demand" a blessing from God.  These verses tell us that our suffering isn't the point at all.  We shouldn't fast to be heard.  We shouldn't fast or afflict ourselves to prove to God that we're tough enough to take it.  We shouldn't fast to win arguments, or to smite our enemies. 
Fasting isn't about suffering, at all.  D&C 59:14 backs that up as well: "Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer."  Sacrifice isn't about suffering either.  God isn't asking us to crawl over a bed of nails in order to be heard.  Sacrifice and Fasting are about getting our priorities straight and putting God first.  It's similar to what Richard G. Scott said about scripture study recently: "Feasting on the word of God each day is more important than sleep, school, work, television shows, video games or social media."  When God asks us to do something, we should do it, whether or not it means not eating, or not being able to do something else that we want to do.
Later in the chapter, God explains what fasting *is* about... and it is the same thing that our lives are about.  Helping other people, lifting them up.  Making life better and not worse.  Today, as we go through the necessary sacrifices of our lives, including fasting, let's try to remember not to suffer or think that it is *about* suffering.  It's actually about love, and joy, and bringing goodness and light to the world.  We don't have to manufacture pain in our lives to please God.  We just have to listen to him and serve him and build a better world.

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