Change Your Life; Not Your Clothes


The Lent season is less than a day old, and I already feel like I’m starting to learn things from God.

It reminds me of an episode from Taxi, an old TV show that I’m sure was gone by the time many of you were born.  One of the characters meets a woman in the waiting room of a psychiatrist’s office.  The woman is smoking a cigarette (yeah, in the waiting room; the show is THAT old), but she looks very happy.  He asks her why she’s so happy and she says, “Oh, I just quit smoking.”

He looks at her in astonishment because, obviously, she is STILL smoking.  She realizes that he’s looking at the cigarette in her fingers and she says, “Oh, this is my last one.  After this, I’m through.”

She then gets a pensive look on her face and says, “And, I feel so much better.  In fact, I think my taste buds are already starting to return.”  All this while she continues to smoke.

I guess I’m feeling kind of the same way.  I really haven’t done anything different yet.  I finished my last game of Scrabble yesterday.  (If that requires explanation, you need to read the previous blog.)  I just removed all the bookmarks from my computer and the icons from my iPhone for the sports web sites I’m not going to read.  The truth is that I haven’t actually started to change anything, yet.

But, even this morning as I woke up about 4 AM, the usual thinking patterns about my day began and, when thoughts about some of my “small amusements” (that’s how I refer to the list of things I’ve set aside for Lent) came up, I stopped and began to pray, instead.

And, I think I began to feel the return of some of my spiritual “taste buds,” if you know what I mean.

In my experience, that’s how spiritual change begins.  It starts with our basic impulses.  Instead of moving down one thinking path, we intentionally choose another, one that may seem less natural, at first.  We kind of have to force ourselves to go that direction in our minds.

But, once we make that small directional shift, things begin to fall into place.

For our Ash Wednesday service yesterday at Journey of Faith, I was looking for a Scripture reading to share with those who came to make their Lent commitments.  I wanted to share something on the subject of fasting, because our Lent commitments are actually a form of fasting.  God directed me to a passage in Joel 2, verses 12-17.  I read it from The Message.  It’s a good Scripture on the subject of fasting, but one brief phrase really caught my eye.  Verse 13 says this:

Change your life, not just your clothes.
Come back to God, your God.

The reference here is to the ancient Jewish practice of tearing the clothes during times of mourning.  It was traditional to indicate that a person was in mourning, as after the death of a loved one, by making tears in their clothing, literally rending their garment.  The oldest version of this is what we refer to as “sackcloth and ashes.”  The modern version of it is, typically, to tear the breast pocket of a shirt or jacket.

When fasting, a devout Jew would also follow this mourning tradition, indicating that the sacrifice of their fast was akin to the feeling of the loss of someone important.  It was an outward sign that fasting was underway.

But, most of the prophetic writers who speak about fasting rail against this outward show.  Clearly, it had become fashionable to demonstrate the devoutness of fasting rather than to actually feel the process in an intimate way.  Jesus, Himself, speaks out against putting on a show of fasting in the Sermon on the Mount.

In this Joel passage, the prophet refers to this as merely changing your clothes, and offers as the better path an actual change of life.

Right now, I’m feeling the mere flutter of the possibility of change.  I can choose to look like I’m changing, a mere wardrobe shift, or I can choose to actually let God change me from the inside out.

I believe that I really am longing to “come back to God, my God,” just like the prophet said.  I don’t mean to indicate that I had ever left Him, but like all of us, the lack of intentionality of my life has allowed me to stray from best that God has for me.  And, I long to get back in balance.

That’s what Lent is all about, getting your spiritual life back in the balance God intends for you.

Where are you in all this?  Did you make a Lent commitment?  Was it really about a change of life, or was it just a change of clothes.

My prayer for you is that you will allow God to get a brand new grip on your life.  It’s what He wants to do, and not just during Lent.  He longs for you to re-center your life on Him.

Change your life, not just your clothes.
Come back to God, your God.

Always praying for you,

Your older brother,

Pastor Joe

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