Today Christians begin the forty-day journey of Lent that ends at Easter. For centuries Christian seekers and believers have observed this as a time of self-reflection, sacrifice, and repentance. Some Christians make this a season of fasting, prayer, or another spiritual discipline.
Every Christian needs to pause now and then to listen again and anew to God and to assess their life path and decisions. Prayer is the practice of placing ourselves in the presence of God. At its best, the practice of fasting reminds us that we do not need all that we want and invites us to rely again on the spiritual sustenance of God.
But even prayer and fasting can become corrupted. The prophet warns about pious practices with an ulterior motive. It is unacceptable to fast and pray in order to win favor with God, to “make your voice heard on high.” Christians don’t take on spiritual disciplines to win favor with God but to draw near to God. Can you hear God crying out in the psalm—if you want to draw near to me, draw near to your neighbor through acts of mercy and justice.
As Christmas break approached at a nearby college, a pastor-friend of mine invited church members to drive students to the airport for their trips home. They picked the students up, drove them to the airport, and sent them off with a bag of goodies for the flight. The pastor invited them to simply “practice being Christian” with no expectation of benefit to the church.
Dorotheos of Gaza describes how when you draw near to others you draw near to God and when you draw near to God you cannot help but draw near to the people around you.

Let my love of you, dear God, draw me nearer to the people around me. Amen.

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