At my age there is a real possibility of becoming ‘set in my ways.’ The ways I ‘do life,’ the foods I like, the patterns I follow, are comfortable, like a pair of old shoes. And that’s just fine. A real problem arises if I confuse what is ‘comfortable’ for me with what is ‘right’ for everybody. I want to remain a learner, a person who can adapt to new things, new ways, new ideas. Most of all, I want an experience with God that is alive, that has not abandoned the passion of my first love for Jesus.
Matthew records an encounter that Jesus in which some people asked why the disciples were not following some of the ‘old’ ways. Take a look. “Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14-17, NIV)
Devout Jews of the time sought to please God by fasting and other practices of self-denial. In themselves, such acts of devotion are not bad and they can serve a good purpose; helping a person to focus on God, to listen for the voice of the Spirit intently. However, Jesus tells those inquirers that God is doing a new thing in the world and that they needed to be responsive to Him.
The message of the Kingdom Come was bigger than fasts and feasts. The ‘new wine’ of the Spirit was going to poured into people whose hearts were soft and tender before the Lord so that the message of God’s reconciliation of humanity to Himself through Christ Jesus could go out to the whole earth. That Gospel could not be bottled up in the ‘old wineskins’ of Judaism, could not be expressed through rigid observance of the Law of Moses.
Using simple illustrations, He spoke of the importance of being responsive to what God is doing beyond what is comfortable, familiar, even traditional. Was Jesus erasing our connection to the Old Testament or to practices of the Spiritual disciplines? Not at all! He says that when ‘the bridegroom is taken,’ in other words when He has gone back to Heaven having established the Kingdom by His death and Resurrection, His disciples would fast, too. But, they would practice their devotion outside of the old patterns of the Law, without the need for further sacrifice for sin.
His word remains an important lesson for you and me! Each generation risks becoming rigid, exalting their own traditions to the place of sacred law. If we do, we will miss out on what God is doing, refusing to be responsive. A word of clarification here is critical. Jesus is not praising fads, novelty, or ‘relevance.’ Those things become a trap spiritually, too. Seeking some new thing because we are bored, wanting some excitement to relieve the tedium of daily life, can lead us to throw out good and desirable things in the name of revival and/or renewal. Jesus calls us to listen to the Holy Spirit. That asks for mature discernment, for a readiness to spend time listening before we announce God’s ‘next best thing’ to the world.
Has your faith become rigid, your spiritual life without a tender desire for God? He makes us new, even those of us who are old!
The word from the Word is Paul’s prayer for God’s people. Make his words your prayer, too. I do for you, for me. “Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for Christians everywhere, I have never stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people.” (Ephesians 1:15-18, NLT)
Abba, I humbly bow in Your Presence.
My prayer is that my mind will be clear, my heart will be tender.
Keep me from loving the safe, the familiar, the ‘tried and true’ so much
that I will not hear the Spirit’s invitation.
I pray for a discerning heart that can separate the merely novel
from the work of the Spirit in bringing the Kingdom to this time.
Teach me, renew my love. Preserve me from a living death
so that I will please and honor You for all my days.
In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen