Feasting and fasting
Christine Orme October
Trust in God with all your heart Beverley Shepherd Plus â€Ś Special Article, Ministry Report and CWR Events Page
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Christine Orme Chris Orme is an Anglican lay-reader and works with her husband, a non-stipendiary minister, as part of the team in a south Reading parish. They have four adult daughters and five small grandchildren and have recently enjoyed several trips to Australia to visit their eldest daughter and family. Chris is a teacher by profession but having been deafened 25 years ago, now tutors one-to-one from home. She has many interests waiting to be fully pursued when/if she retires, but apart from the family, what she enjoys most is writing for Inspiring Women Every Day.
Beverley Shepherd Beverley is a long-standing member of the Women’s Ministry team of CWR. As an experienced trainer, mentor and facilitator, she has a wealth of experience in the field of personal and team development, working with a wide range of secular organisations. One of her passions is the encouraging and equipping of Christians in the workplace and she is an associate speaker for The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. A regular speaker at conferences, Beverley has written several books including Insight into Stress and Created as a Woman. Outside of work, her time is enjoyably spent salsa and ballroom dancing, cycling by the river (ie on the flat!) and seeing friends.
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Feasting and fasting
he Israelites were farmers, so in Old Testament times feasts and festivals were linked to the farming year. The ‘Firstfruits’ festival (the New Testament’s Pentecost), when the first sheaf of grain was offered to God, was like a harvest celebration. Other feasts recalled events in Israelite history: the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) was intended to remind them of God’s deliverance of them from slavery in Egypt. Similarly, the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (described in the second part of today’s reading), celebrating the end of the grape and olive harvest, came to be a reminder of the time their ancestors spent wandering in the desert, living in tents, before entering the promised land. These were the three big feasts and all Jewish men were required to observe them in Jerusalem if they possibly could. So, in the Gospels, we read several times of Jesus and His disciples going up to Jerusalem ‘for the feast’. As verse 40 suggests, in celebrating these feasts God’s people acknowledged His goodness and the fact that all they enjoyed could be traced back to Him. They had worked the land and tended the livestock, but it was God who provided rain and sun and gave the harvest. It’s easy to see how this recognition that all they had came from God could ‘spill over’ into the hospitality tradition evident throughout the Bible, a theme we shall explore this month. Verse 22 (not included in our reading) is an example of this – a clear instruction not to reap to the edges of fields so that poor people and non-Israelites might gather the grain from there to eke out their provisions.
THURS SEP 1 Leviticus 23: 4–11,33–44 ‘… take choice fruit … leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the Lord your God …’ (v.40)
For prayer and reflection ‘We plough the fields and scatter/ The good seed on the land/But it is fed and watered/ By God’s almighty hand ...’* *Matthias Claudius, trans. Jane Montgomery Campbell, 1861
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FRI SEP 2
Hospitality – open homes
e have just had a family of four to stay for a couple of nights. They were walking ‘The Shakespeare Way’ from Stratford to ‘Let me get you something to London – about 150 miles – and various friends were eat …’ (v.5) putting them up en route. It felt strangely biblical – welcoming travellers, hot, tired and dusty from walking all day, and providing them with baths, meals and beds. There was a strong tradition of hospitality in the Middle East in Bible times, but the obligation to offer hospitality is rarely spelt out in the Bible, because in that culture it was simply taken for granted that you would welcome travellers into your home, offering shelter and food. Often in the Bible we read of shared meals which turn out to be far more than ‘just’ meals; rather they become significant occasions, marking a message from God or a transaction with Him. Here Abraham hurries to welcome his visitors, sends for water for them to wash their feet and tells his wife and servant to prepare a meal which he serves to them himself. He did this with apparently no expectation of any ‘reward’ but, in fact, these travellers were sent For prayer and by God and had a message for him, confirming God’s reflection promise that Sarah, in old age, would bear a son. The New Testament also demonstrates the tradition of hospitality – Jesus depended on others (often Lord, give me an women – see Mark 15:40–41) and says, in the parable hospitable heart of the sheep and goats, ‘… whatever you did for one and open hands! of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’ Make me willing (Matt. 25:40). Hebrews 13:2 reminds us not to forget ‘to to share with entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have others what You entertained angels without knowing it’. have so freely Genesis 18:1–16
given me. Amen.
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weekend Fasting in the Old Testament
For reflection: Ezra 8:15—23 ‘… I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God …’ (v.21)
asting, in the Bible, and today, basically means going without food for a period of time. The NIV often translates the word ‘fast’ with the phrase ‘deny yourself’. The only compulsory fast in early Israelite history was on the Day of Atonement (Num. 29:7) but after the Exile there may have been four other annual fasts (Zech. 8:19). Fasting – either individually or as a community – could signify grief, or sorrow at, or repentance for, sin. People could fast on behalf of others (see Esther 4:12–17) or, as in our focus verse today, fasting could indicate humility before God, and it therefore became linked with gaining God’s help – not because fasting was a way of manipulating God, but because it was an indication that those who were fasting were taking seriously the requests they were making to God. Many of us today, especially in the wealthy West, have lost touch with the idea of fasting or self-denial, except perhaps during Lent, but it can be a very useful discipline – a tool to help us on our spiritual journey. Optional further reading 2 Samuel 12:1–24
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Trusting God ... knowing God
ny lack of trust in God is not solved by ‘working up’ trust but by taking a good look at Him who can be trusted, and then living in the reality of who He is. If we do not know Him it will prove impossible to trust Him and it will make sense to trust anything else. Jeremiah 2:13 tells us that this is like drawing water from broken cisterns; that is, they seem reliable for a while but then cracks appear and we’re left feeling insecure and vulnerable. Insecurity is a false security exposed! Growing in trust is, very simply, getting to know God better. Not knowing more about God, but knowing Him. And, as we know Him more fully, trust grows because we experience God as totally trustworthy. Like all relationships, knowing God requires time together and communication – we cannot expect to get to know Him without these: there are no short-cuts to intimacy with God. Yes, it takes precious minutes and hours – but time is not the issue. We always make time for those we love and we seek to involve them in all we do. Giving time to our friendship with God becomes easier as the realisation dawns that this is the most important relationship in our lives – everything (including us) was made by Him and for Him, and in Him all things (every aspect of our lives) hold together. Being in loving relationship with God is what we were made for: we miss out on the very purpose of our lives if we fail to recognise this. And it is through this central relationship that everything else in our lives gains its value and purpose. Without God at the centre our lives ‘Everything is meaningless’ (Eccl. 1:2).
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Mon Oct 3 Colossians 1:1–20 ‘… bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God …’ (v.10)
For prayer and reflection Lord, thank You that You want me to know You better. I choose to make time to grow our friendship and give this priority over other things. Amen.
Tues Oct 4
Happy in Jesus
ne hymn I remember singing as a new Christian had the chorus: ‘Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in ‘In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust Jesus, but to trust and obey.’* It sounds simple, doesn’t in his holy name.’ it – yet it’s a daily choice to rejoice and trust in His holy (v.21) name. Like many of you, my upbringing encouraged me to rely on my own abilities and skills to ‘sort it’. Often it’s only in situations that feel beyond our own capacity to ‘sort it’ that we even begin consider what it might mean to trust the Lord. It is important to recognise that trusting God is essentially trusting in and not trusting for; that is, we trust ‘in’ God’s word (v.4), His unfailing love (v.5), His power (v.10), His timing (v.20) and His name/character (v.21) rather than trusting ‘for’ a specific outcome. Specifying exactly how we expect God to act often blinds us to what He is actually doing. And it is because we cannot always ‘see’ what God is doing that we are tempted to rely on our army, horses and strength (vv.16–17), ie other people or our resources or abilities. The hymn writer’s claim that ‘there’s no other way For prayer and to be happy in Jesus’ is real. A key distinctive of the reflection Christian faith is that we are to be hallmarked with joy – a joy not determined by our circumstances but by our relationship with our Father God. Father, I want to One measure of growing in trust will be the absence be a woman who trusts rather than of worry. When I feel anxious, I am learning to ask myself: ‘Which am I doubting – God’s word, love, worries. I commit to work with Your power, timing or character?’ As I zero in on the area of Holy Spirit as You doubt and use the tools we’ll be exploring this month to grow my trust this address it, my peace and joy return. Psalm 33
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*‘Trust and Obey’, John H. Sammis (1846–1919)
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he bank balance was virtually zero and I was trusting God totally for my finances. A significant training contract was then offered – I was ecstatic! A week later they cancelled and I was shattered. It had taken all of seven days for my trust to move from God to the contract. I’d trusted a particular channel of provision rather than the true source, God. Trusting God requires us to withdraw our trust from where it is currently invested – letting go of our alternative strategies for making life safe. We hate not having life under our control; we resist not knowing what the future will bring, continually attempting to walk by sight with a clear map in our hand. And so we light fires and provide ourselves with flaming torches (our plan for the next year, our ten-year vision, our insurance schemes) but then put our trust in our own ability to make it happen. Is it wrong to make plans? No, but trusting our plan rather than God puts us on shaky ground. Throughout the Bible God challenges our alternative areas of trust, be they high and fortified walls (Deut. 28:52) to protect us, ungodly alliances (Isa. 36:6), our ability to fight our own battles (Psa. 44:6), our wealth (Psa. 49:4) and credit cards, powerful people (Psa. 146:3) or our own wisdom (Prov. 3:7). All are idols. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring – the truth is we are walking in the dark! So to trust means extinguishing our flaming torches and letting go of our illusion of control. It is walking out into the darkness and believing that putting our hand into the hand of God is ‘better than light and safer than a known way’.* *Minnie Louise Haskins
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Wed Oct 5 Isaiah 50:4–11; Hebrews 11:1–3 ‘Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light ... rely on his God.’ (v.10)
For prayer and reflection Lord, I ask Your forgiveness for seeking to light my own path into the future and for thinking that I can control tomorrow. Amen.