Here is another message that came to me from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: The traditional fasts and times of mourning you have kept in early summer, midsummer, autumn, and winter are now ended. They will become festivals of joy and celebration for the people of Judah. So love truth and peace.”
Zechariah 8:18-19 NLT
The Lord promised the people of Judah that their periods of fasting and mourning would be transformed into celebrations. That’s the promise of the resurrection we are preparing our hearts for. We know that God sent hope for the world in the form of a human Jesus to be sacrificed for our sins. We also know that the darkness of his crucifixion was obliterated three days later when he rose from the dead and conquered death forever. Find a few images that symbolize darkness and light and make a collage showing the change from darkness to light we celebrate at Easter.
They share freely and give generously to those in need.
Their good deeds will be remembered forever.
They will have influence and honor.
Psalm 112:9 NLT
When you have time, read this whole Psalm (It’s only 10 verses – you can do it!). I count at least four references to the longevity of those who obey God – two of those say our good deeds will last forever. We know God prepared us for good works (Ephesians 2:10), and he promises us that obedience is eternal! Mankind has long tried to achieve eternal glory by recording their feats in paintings, carvings, hieroglyphs, epic poems, and more. Imagine your good deeds as a panel of hieroglyphs, and sketch several of them as a record of God’s faithfulness.
You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
Matthew 5:13-16 NLT
Imagine a light trapped under a basket and trying very hard to get out. Write a very short story (micro fiction) of the adventures of the light trying to get out and shine like it was made to do.
Dress yourselves in burlap and weep, you priests! Wail, you who serve before the altar! Come, spend the night in burlap, you ministers of my God. For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God. Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting. Bring the leaders and all the people of the land into the Temple of the Lord your God, and cry out to him there. The day of the Lord is near, the day when destruction comes from the Almighty. How terrible that day will be!
Joel 1:13-15 NLT
In the Old Testament, fasting was often an act of penance to beg for God’s mercy. Here in Joel, the priests and ministers are called to action first. As a follower of Christ, you are a spiritual leader in the world and are called to act first before the rest of the world is held to account. As you look at the world around you, where do you see our culture and country running headlong into sin? How is it manifested on a local level? Where do you see its impact directly on your life? What can you do as a leader to act in love and confront the sin? Start with yourself at the smallest action level and work outwards. List 10 ways you can lead within your sphere of influence and beyond.
But despite Jesus’ instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
Luke 5:15-16 NLT
Jesus knew that no matter how important his ministry of preaching and healing was, spending time alone with God in prayer was even more important. Luke tells us that he often retreated for prayer. Do you have a special place where you can withdraw from your daily work and spend time with God? Go there now and sketch the view while you sit quietly and listen for Jesus to speak to your heart.
And there by the Ahava Canal, I gave orders for all of us to fast and humble ourselves before our God. We prayed that he would give us a safe journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled. For I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to accompany us and protect us from enemies along the way. After all, we had told the king, “Our God’s hand of protection is on all who worship him, but his fierce anger rages against those who abandon him.” So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer.
Ezra 8:21-23 NLT
This passage in Ezra demonstrates once again that God is faithful and that fasting allows us to hone in on listening to him speak. As you read and reflect on this passage, choose one word that comes to mind about fasting. Write that word longways so that each letter is on a new line down the page. Use each of these letters to write an acrostic poem or a list of words that describe God, with the beginning of each line starting with the next letter of the word you wrote down the page.
The seeds of good deeds become a tree of life;
a wise person wins friends.
Proverbs 11:30 NLT
Design a seed packet for the seeds of good deeds. You might include a picture of the seed and the grown plant as well as some basic planting instructions. Think about a product description and why someone might want to plant these seeds.
O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings!
Psalm 61:1-4 NLT
The Psalms are such a great way to learn how to pray honestly. This one begins with and earnest plea for God to listen. Of course we know that God is always listening to our prayers, but sometimes it feels urgent that we get his attention, just like this psalmist. How do you call out to God most often when you feel like you are desperate for him to hear you? Compose a hand lettering design with that phrase. Try mixing fonts and letter sizes – maybe even illuminate your lettering with some drawing or embellishments.
You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the Lord?
No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide yourselves from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal.
Isaiah 58:5-8a NLT
If you have time, I suggest reading this whole chapter or coming back to read it later and spend some time studying all of it more deeply.
We often think of fasting as abstaining from food or maybe from media, but God shows us here that fasting isn’t about what we give up: it’s about the condition and motivation of our hearts. God’s words to Isaiah for the Israelites in this passage are transformative. Instead of just skipping lunch, we should also skip social injustice. We should feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the needy among us. Fasting very often turns into a self-righteous act, and God turns that on its head by pointing us out towards the world in need of help. Find a news headline today about a great need in the world. Print it or cut it out. Then write or sketch a different ending – a way you can help to transform that need.