Yesterday we began working on forgiveness. An important aspect of the entire forgiving process is our heart's attitude toward those in need and hurting.
Jesus calls upon us not to judge others and then adds that we will be judged by the exact same measure we use on others (Matthew 7:1-2). How we judge the hurting is critical to our overall spiritual health.
To explain how this kind of judgment works, Francis Schaeffer tells a story in his book, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century:
If every little baby that was ever born anywhere in the world had a tape recorder hung about its neck, and if this tape recorder only recorded the moral judgments with which this child as he grew bound other men, the moral precepts might be much lower than the biblical law, but they would still be moral judgments.
Eventually each person comes to that great moment when he stands before God as judge. Suppose, then, that God simply touched the tape recorder button and each man heard played out in his own words all those statements by which he had bound other men in moral judgment. He could hear it going on for years—thousands and thousands of moral judgments made against other men, not aesthetic judgments, but moral judgments.
Then God would simply say to the man, though he had never heard the Bible, now where do you stand in the light of your own moral judgments? The Bible points out . . . that every voice would be stilled. All men would have to acknowledge that they have deliberately done those things which they knew to be wrong. Nobody could deny it. (49, 50)
We are certainly called upon to call sinful practices sin, but in calling a sinful practice sin we are not at the same time to judge the person who sins.
To Trip Down Some Stairs
We can consider it this way:
One kind of sin would be like someone carrying something down the stairs and not watching or being careful, tripping, and crashing down.
Another kind of sin would be like someone having placed something on the stairs, making the person coming down the stairs go crashing to the bottom.
The first person who came crashing down the stairs did not have a vile motive in his or her tumbling, so it would be obvious that no motive could be assessed. The second person who put something on the stairs could no less be judged as having done so with vile intent unless he or she admitted it. To judge the intent of the second person is exactly what Jesus was getting at, even when we are certain someone did so with vile intent. To not know and to call it so would be to judge.
Not to Judge
Jesus calls us not to judge the motive in another. We are not to assume the motive of any action by assessing it sinful or unwise or just a spontaneous sin without motive. We are especially not to judge an action which Jesus nor Scripture in any way defines as a sin.
Even in calling an action a sin, we are not supposed to judge the person as vile but rather the bad action as having the power to bring harm to people we love.
If one person gossips about another person, it is easy to pipe up and say, "I don't think we should engage in this activity." It would be another to say, "I always knew you hated the person you are gossiping about and have secretly wanted to harm him/her." We cannot see motive, so we cannot discern a motive behind any action.
Applying the Brakes
Some actions are not necessarily sinful unless they are caused by an evil motive. For example, you could see someone on the side of the street asking for money and assume he is lazy and not wanting to work, or you could deem the person a thief for using the money differently from how she claimed she would use it. The person might be lazy depending on motive but only his motive could make such an action wrong, and we can never know the motive. While we drive by or give or pray, we are not to pass judgment or even to imagine what we cannot see.
Defining a motive when the motive is impossible to know or see is where Jesus wants us to apply our judgment brakes. Yes, we are to know what sin is, what will kill us if we practice it. At the same time, He calls us not to label motives of which we can never be certain.
"Isn’t this the fast I choose: ... Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will appear like the dawn, and your recovery will come quickly.
Your righteousness will go before you, and the LORD’s glory will be your rear guard."
Isaiah 58:7-8 CSB
As we said yesterday, fasting is more than just denying food. It is more than just seeking to weasel something out of God by impressing Him with our self-discipline. Fasting humbles our soul; it should weaken our opinions of ourselves so we can see others in more loving ways.
Isaiah is giving us the second action God wants to work in our hearts as we fast. Yesterday, Isaiah dealt with those we were mistreating by not letting them go free through forgiveness. He used the metaphor of slavery, as masters would hold in slavery those indebted to them, in the same way someone lacking forgiveness can hold in debt someone who has offended him.
Today we will look at what Isaiah has to say about fasting and how God wants to change our compassion toward the needy.
2. To Give Compassion to the Needy
It is a fast where compassion and care are born in our hearts that go way beyond throwing money at the feet of institutions built to care for the needy. The fast Yahweh has chosen seeks to revolutionize the heart to such levels of compassion that we begin to befriend those needing help, food, clothing, and a fresh start. God does not call us to help them at an arm's length, but in these passages He urges us to invite them into our homes and befriend the hurting.
The fast God chooses particularly embraces those of God's family, those of our own "flesh and blood," who are hurting.
To be hard-hearted toward the needy is not only an expression of greed but an expression of non-forgiveness. It judges the hurting as not deserving the time of our relationship and help.
The non-forgiving thinks, "The poor, needy, hurting guy over there doesn't deserve my help, but instead needs to show some initiative and take some responsibility.”
Let me add here that compassion is not throwing money, food, and clothing at those in need; compassion is engaging someone in need relationally and helping her out of her circumstance personally.
Compassion is no longer looking at someone and judging whether or not he appears worth the time. Like forgiveness, compassion does not allow someone's actions to become offensive.
It is not that we are called to immerse our entire life into helping the hurting, but we are called to be blind of motive when God brings into our lives those who require a little more sacrifice and our help.
Fasting is meant to humble the heart so we can begin to see our own harsh judgment toward the motives of others and come to Christ for cleansing.
Isaiah goes on to say that once lack of forgiveness and judgment at any level are gone, we will see God again. Not only will we see God, but we will begin to heal. Our entire nature will change, and we will shine in a new way.
Today is really an extension of yesterday. Not only is it essential to forgive those who offend us personally, but it is critical that we don't judge and then, by extension, become offended at those who don't please us generally. Those in need, those trapped in addiction, those who have buried their lives with mistakes are easy targets for judgment.
Instead of only throwing our money at institutions to help the hurting, Jesus wants us to get involved personally. Giving money to institutions is good, but it shows no real, personal compassion.
Today we encourage you to ask the question, “Jesus, where do You want me involved personally in the life of a hurting person?”
Some teach a financial class, some work with children and then discover a single-parent family to help, others work with youth or singles, but all search for helping the hurting on a personal level. Others become aimed at those engaged in recovery or those coming out of jail and prisons. The list of where to serve so we can find people to help is endless. Why not find a place to serve others, especially in a church? People who begin to attend a church or reach out any place, not merely for their need but for help to change, is the best place to invest help.
Fasting becomes a time when Jesus can soften our hearts once again and remove our excuses to serve.
Daily Journal Thoughts
On your "Prayer and Fasting Commitments” page, write down the date.
Next, write your commitment; it might be worded something like this:
“Jesus, today I ask You to make my heart even more sensitive and give me a personal compassion for those in need, even if I feel need myself.”
Next, go to your "Daily Journal," and write the date at the top of the page.
This is a simple but important task. Write down places you serve and then ask God to make you aware of a specific person within that group that He might want you to give personal attention to.
If you do not have some place you consistently serve, ask God to lead you to that place of ministry. People who are hurting, who begin to go somewhere for change, are the ones who are most ready for personal help and will make the best use of your time.
This is why God encourages us to especially care for those hurting in the household of faith first (Galatians 6:10; Hebrews 6:10; 1 John 3:16-19; Isaiah 58:7d). To care for the household of faith first is a way at getting at those most ready for change. Yes, God will lead you to others, but churches are filled with the hurting who are waiting for someone to see them personally and show some compassion.
Prayerfully write down the places you serve and the people Jesus may be leading you to personally, and then ask the Holy Spirit to guide and empower you.