Give Me That Mountain

Traditions Can Become Meaningless

Faith and Unbelief. Day sixty-nine...

Has anyone ever said to you before a meal, “Will you ask the blessing?” Here in the Midwest, I can't image any Christian who doesn't occasionally “ask the blessing” over food.

When my children were little, asking the blessing before eating was something I had them do as a way to encourage them to pray publicly. But it's very easy for such an experience to turn into meaningless repetition.

saying grace

When I speak God's blessing over our meals. the words may be repetitious but my mind is focused. I have no way of knowing if there's anything harmful that's undetected in the food. And God's blessing is a way to counteract any unhealthy substances that could cause sickness or disease.

If you worship the LORD your God, I will bless your bread and your water. I will take away sickness from you. (Exodus 23:25 NCV)

But such “table prayers” can quickly turn from meaningful conversations with God into meaningless traditions.

And likewise, fasting can just as easily become a meaningless tradition—its significance lost in the ritual.

Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. “Why do your disciples disobey our age‐old tradition?” they demanded. “They ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,' and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.' But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can't help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.' In this way, you say they don't need to honor their parents. (Matthew 15:1–6a NLT)
Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:6b–9 KJV)

We make the fast or any other principle of God of none effect by religious traditions that have lost their connection with God.

The Greek word translated as “of none effect” means to render void, deprive of force and authority. That's quite a charge against teaching and following the commandments of men rather than teaching and following the principles of Scripture.

To take the fast from being a meaningful interaction with God to becoming a meaningless ritual doesn't require much effort. It's very easy to gut the fast of its significance—just make it a ritual about your performance.

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don't cheat, I don't sin, and I don't commit adultery. I'm certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14 NLT)

The Pharisee certainly appeared to be the better man. He didn't cheat, sin, or commit adultery. He fasted twice a week and tithed from his income.

But Jesus was not impressed. The Pharisee gave Jesus nothing to work with. The Pharisee was so full of his own traditions, his own self‐righteousness, that he gutted God's Word of its power. He made the Word of God of none effect.

What is your motivation for fasting?

Have a good day,
Mike

Image credit: flickr.com

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