Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Victory Over Gluttony

If you've come to the conclusion that you wrestle with the deadly sin of gluttony, now what? How do you achieve victory over gluttony?

We saw that Jesus was initially tempted with gluttony. Those first temptations were very powerful, much like the ones we face on a regular basis. Somehow Jesus continually found ways to be victorious over gluttony. How? Through  fasting.

WHAT IS FASTING? Abstaining from food and/or drink for a period of time as a way of worship, a humbling of oneself, a form of contemplative prayer, a preparation for service to others.

Not only was fasting a key reason for why Jesus was able to be victorious over the temptations to gluttony in the desert, it was a regular part of his ministry. He would often withdraw to the mountains to pray. It's hard to believe that Jesus would pack a papersack of bread and dried fish as he trekked through the hills in order to get away to pray. 

If you struggle with gluttony, you ought to become familiar with the themes of Isaiah 58 - it reveals the heart of God and what he wants to accomplish in the world through his people. If Isaiah 58 gave direction to the life of Jesus, it ought to be instructional for us. It reveals what is true fasting, what God expects from us, as well as what God wants to do in the world through us.

Here's how I would summarize Isaiah 58 (from the Message):

Hey, You’re a Glutton!
1-3 "Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what's wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They're busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, 'What's the right thing to do?'
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
'Why do we fast and you don't look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?'

Your Gluttony Plugs Up God’s Ears
3-5"Well, here's why:
"The bottom line on your 'fast days' is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won't get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

Fasting That Feeds Your Neighbor
6-9"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed, cancel debts.
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.

Generosity On An Empty Stomach
9-12"If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places— firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

Jesus Triumphs On An Empty Stomach
13-14"If you watch your step on the Sabbath
and don't use my holy day for personal advantage,
If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
God's holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing 'business as usual,'
making money, running here and there—
Then you'll be free to enjoy God!
Oh, I'll make you ride high and soar above it all.
I'll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob."
Yes! God says so!
A Summary: Turn Away From Gluttony To Fasting That Feeds Others

Turning away from gluttony will be a continuous process. The temptations will grow in intensity to the degree that you learn to resist them. The ongoing response to the temptations of gluttony will be to turn towards serving and blessing others with generosity and food and justice. Think about it: the temptation of gluttony can be your reminder and prompt to lifting up your neighbors out of poverty and hardships!

WHAT IS FASTING? Abstaining from food and/or drink for a period of time as a way of worship, a humbling of oneself, a form of contemplative prayer, a preparation for service to others.

Your fasting is not about impressing God or seeing how long you can go without food. We traditionally think of fasting as a spiritual discipline that is to benefit ourselves. But clearly from Isaiah 58, while fasting does have obvious personal benefits, it is at its best when it blesses others. Our fasting is worship and prayer, but God wants it to alleviate the suffering others.

Which is why I think Jesus entered Jerusalem as king on a growling belly. Victory over gluttony comes from fasting that results in generosity to those who hunger and are oppressed. Apparently it takes a lot of work to overcome gluttony. And it also takes a lot of work to alleviate suffering in the world. And God makes a connection between the two with his idea of fasting. Jesus the starving king who saves the world.

If you are considering a lifestyle of fasting, you must consult your doctor. If you have any ongoing medical conditions or on any medication, you need to discuss with your doctor how you can make fasting a regular part of your diet without harming your self. Everybody can fast, and fasting can take many forms.

Victory over Gluttony. Where there is a will, there is a way.  
And where there is unwillingness, there is an excuse.

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