To trust God by serving others removes anxiety from our lives

Allowing God to work in our interest, not against us, requires faith.

1 Peter 5:5-7 – In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you.

Peter here is encouraging humility among those to whom he is writing. First for the elders and leaders of the congregations, and then for the young who might be resistant to authority. He then justifies this position with a quote from Proverbs 3:34, saying “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” In his context, Peter relates that a position of humility is preferred so that God can then lift them up at the appropriate time. This is reminiscent of the teaching of Yeshua:

Luke 14:8-11 – “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, don’t recline at the best place, because a more distinguished person than you may have been invited by your host. “The one who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in humiliation, you will proceed to take the lowest place. “But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ You will then be honored in the presence of all the other guests. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

By drawing on this imagery from Messiah, Peter is encouraging humility among all the believers so that God would then have opportunity to exalt them. In this way, Peter continues, there was no need to be anxious, since God would surely accomplish this in his perfect timing. Take care of others, he says, and God will take care of you.

Humbling oneself requires a deep trust in God. In humbling oneself, one must believe that there is a greater good for God’s purposes that can result from this humility, because our natural response is not to humble ourselves in the service and preference of others but to serve ourselves and our needs above others.

From Peter’s perspective when we focus on ourselves we tend to be more anxious, not knowing how we can achieve or gain what we need. Yet, when we humble ourselves and choose to put others before ourselves, our anxiety can be shed in this service of God, knowing that he is the One who cares for our needs. While we are busying ourselves with the needs of others, God is working quietly on our behalf, providing us favor in our time of need.

The proverb contrasts this state of grace and favor among the humble with an unfavorable alternative by saying that God actively resists the proud and arrogant. This idea goes back to a principle I believe is throughout the Bible: there are natural moral and spiritual consequences built into this Creation by God. In this instance, when one is arrogant, self-centered, and mocking others God has set bounds in place that work against that type of individual, whether socially, physically, or spiritually.

The apostle James also leverages this same quote from Proverbs for a similar use, in encouraging his hearers to get their eyes off praying for things they personally desire and onto the needs of others.

James 4:3-4, 6 – You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulterous people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the friend of the world becomes the enemy of God. … But he gives greater grace. Therefore he says: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Why should we place ourselves in an adversarial position against God by seeking our own elevated status and position? According to Peter and James, this is what happens when we seek our own desires above the needs of others. This condition creates anxiety for always having to gauge who we can trust and how we can maintain our standing.

Instead, when we demonstrate our trust in God and his design for the world by producing fruit of genuine humility and service for others, we can then shed our anxiety for our position and status in this world. Serving God by serving others relieves us from our concern for ourselves and allows us the freedom to truly provide for the needs of those around us with sincerity and love.


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Fasting and prayer: devotion in the service of others

Fasting is a practice of holiness, or setting apart, which can create an intimate time of seeking to commune with God. But as we will see, it is also a strong metaphor for the concept of whole-hearted devotion to serving others.

Core of the Bible podcast #19 – Fasting and prayer: devotion in the service of others

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of Holiness, and the role of fasting and prayer. This is a practice of holiness, or setting apart, which can create an intimate time of seeking to commune with God. But as we will see, it is also a strong metaphor for the concept of whole-hearted devotion to serving others.

Yeshua stated it this way:

Moreover when you fast, do not be as the hypocrites, of a sad appearance; for they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face, that you do not appear unto men to fast, but unto your Father which is in secret: and your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you openly. Matthew 6:16-18

Now the primary purpose of this teaching by Yeshua was to address the issue of public pride that the Jewish leaders would practice to make a show of their obedience openly. He instead focuses on the private and sincere relationship that believers should have with God. Yeshua does not dissuade the practice of fasting, just the manner in which the Jews were using it to make themselves look better in the eyes of others.

Fasting is a practice of believers mentioned throughout the Bible, typically coupled with intense, focused prayer.

Daniel 9:3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes…

Mark 9:29  And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, except by prayer and fasting.

Acts 14:23  And when they had ordained themselves elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

1 Corinthians 7:5  Do not deprive one another, except it be with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan not tempt you for your lack of self control.

Of course the admonition of Yeshua is that fasting and prayer should not in any way become a source of pride and vanity, as if you are doing something special that God should suddenly sit up and take notice of. He encourages fasting in the context of the daily routine, without any indication to others that you might be separating yourself apart. This “secret” aspect of fasting and prayer indicates the personal nature of this type of communion with God.

By reviewing how fasting and prayer have been used in the Bible, we can come to a better practical understanding of how God intends us to use this practice in ways that honor him. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but highlights some insights into this misunderstood practice.

Fasting and prayer as an act of repentance

Fasting is related to a humbling of oneself before God. In many English versions, this is typically translated as affliction or humbling; to “afflict one’s soul” was an act of humility before Yahweh. This was specifically listed as a commanded practice on the Day of Atonement each year, a day of seeking God and petitioning him for forgiveness.

And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger who sojourns among you: … It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and you shall afflict your souls by a statute forever. Leviticus 16:29, 31

This corporate fasting was to be for a national representative humbling before God, that the community would always remain obedient to God’s ways and that his acceptance would be evident throughout their land for the coming year. Fasting, therefore, is a manner of self-denial in the service of a larger objective.  

Fasting and prayer was for seeking God’s involvement and favor

These are some additional examples of corporate fasting and prayer that was used to seek God’s will and a hopeful outcome of events.

Ezra 8:21, 23 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Aha’va, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him an upright way for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. … So we fasted and besought our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

Esther 4:16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.”

It is interesting to note that these examples of corporate fasting were for the benefit of others, or for better understanding God’s purpose and will for their lives.

Fasting and prayer for the sake of enemies

We typically see fasting and prayer as a way of declaring our sincerity before God for our personal requests, yet the Psalmist carries a clear directive of how he was moved to fast and pray for even his enemies.

Psalm 35:11-14 False witnesses stepped forward and questioned me concerning things about which I knew nothing. They paid me back evil for good; my soul mourns. But when they were sick, I wore sackcloth, humbled myself with fasting, and prayed from my heart repeatedly. I paced about as for my friend or my brother, and fell down mourning as one weeps for one’s mother.

This, of course, echoes the later teaching of Yeshua.

Matthew 5:43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Fasting accompanied great times of testing, but also of revelation.

We see that  Yeshua fasted during this pivotal time of testing at the outset of his public ministry. 

Luke 4:1-2 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.

Likewise, Moses had fasted on Sinai during his time of communion with Yahweh which resulted in the provision of the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 34:28  And he [Moses] was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

Both of these men had fasted in the service of others which resulted in bold empowerment in their public ministries.

Fasting and prayer with the wrong attitude

Isaiah is very bold in denouncing the corrupt religiosity of his day when he confronts Israel with a hypothetical conversation between the Israelites and God.

Isaiah 58:3-5  ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. 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?

Fasting is not a cure-all for the deficiencies of the heart; if our heart is not right, we will not be praying right, fasting or not.  

Through all of these passages, we are learning that fasting is significant, but only if it is done with a right and sincere attitude, and primarily in the service of others, not for our own selfish ambitions.

In teaching of the fulfillment of this kingdom, Yeshua continues this idea of being set apart through fasting. He encourages this practice among believers but cautions them not to make a show of it with others, otherwise their “humbling” would itself become a form of hypocrisy. Fasting and prayer was not to be something for personal benefit or gain, but for the service of others. Yeshua specifies that true fasting and prayer is “unto your Father,” as a means of private intimacy in communication with him.  

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites [do,] for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18

When we fast, we should take measures to be certain it is not obvious to others. Our private works of humility and worship in the service of, and communion with, the one true God should remain private. If we are sincere in preparing our hearts and bodies to be receptive to the leading of God, we must maintain that intimacy.

When our inner convictions become just an outward show, we have denied ourselves and create a mockery of God. Self-adulation and false humility demonstrate a shallow understanding of our spiritual condition for the simple purpose of bettering ourselves in the eyes of others.

Ultimately, fasting reminds us who our Provider is, both physically and spiritually

Deuteronomy 8:2-3 And you shall remember all the ways which the LORD your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you did not know, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.

In the wilderness, the Israelites were forced to fast as a way of recognizing their dependence on God. Their lack of food provided the example that God would also supply their needs through the manna. They were set apart in the wilderness, a people called to a unique way of life that was to exemplify the kingdom of God on the earth. In this wilderness experience, they were to be humbled, proven. God wanted to find out what was in their hearts. He taught them dependence on him for their physical and spiritual needs.

This whole narrative is an appropriate allegory for us today, as this world system we live in can appear to be a vast wilderness devoid of any life-giving support. God uses this world system to humble and prove us, searching for what is in our hearts. He wants us to recognize him and depend on him for our spiritual and physical needs. This way, the kingdom community can grow and thrive.

The right kind of fasting

Going back to Isaiah, he provides us the clearest insight into God’s view of fasting and prayer:

Isaiah 58:6-11 – “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 from relatives who need your help. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the LORD will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.

I have always loved this passage in Isaiah because it highlights the fallacy of fasting as a sort of magic charm that can be used to get God’s attention for personal desires. Instead, Isaiah says what really gets God’s attention is denying ourselves (i.e., fasting) through the service of others. The provision of justice and mercy is what true fasting is all about. What makes us holy or set apart from others should be our sincere and tireless efforts in outreach to those in need. Most people in the world are existing for their own wants and desires; God’s people should demonstrate a different mindset, one that seeks to focus on others, even to the point of denying oneself so that others can be benefited.

The apostle Paul writes:

Philippians 2:3-4 – Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

In summary of all I’ve discussed here today, denying body and soul is a personal discipline that is meant to take our eyes off of ourselves and our own needs. Making a display of it contradicts everything it is intended to accomplish.

However, maintaining a vital and dynamic intimacy with God through our heart understanding working in concert with our actions towards others provides great personal reward. Fasting with prayer is a spiritual practice that, done for the right reasons and in the correct, sincere manner, will provide a deep level of personal connection with God in the service of others. This practice provides us an opportunity to continually set ourselves apart in seeking God’s purpose within his kingdom. This is an unseen way in which we are strengthened to visibly serve others effectively in his name.

Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that fasting and prayer is not a personal discipline for our own selfish desires, but a means of humbling ourselves before God in the service of the needs of others.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The formula for eradicating evil

Forgiveness is a bridge to positive, loving responses.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. … You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:38, 43-44

Follow the example of your Father in heaven by loving your enemies; speak well of them, help them, and pray for their needs. Never retaliate; instead, offer to go above and beyond for those oppressing you.

This teaching of Yeshua is one of the most widely known yet least practiced of all of his precepts. This is because it is non-intuitive and frankly, difficult. It involves two aspects, both an inward motivation and an outward practicality.

If someone is forcing you to do something against your will, double your response. By expending twice the effort in a positive manner than they demanded of you from a negative motivation, you will in essence be overcoming their evil intent with a double measure of good. Additionally, if you are inwardly motivated for their good by praying for them and their needs, you are removed from your reflexive, emotional response of like for like. You are now placing yourself in a frame of mind that becomes concerned for their welfare where you can truly learn of their needs and act with genuine intention.

The typical human response in relationships is to respond in kind to how we are treated by others. A nobler aspiration would be to treat all people with an equal measure of kindness. However, Yeshua calls us to the highest level of interaction: not just to be kind to all, but to expend twice the effort and concern over those who are least deserving of it. This is true love, and the formula for eradicating evil in the world.

It’s simple math: a negative number plus a positive number of equal value only amounts to zero. It takes a positive number of higher value to end with a positive result.

Forgiveness is a bridge to positive, loving responses. When we intentionally overlook a personal injustice, we are freed to be obedient to God’s command to double our loving actions. If we do not exercise forgiveness, we may attempt to be obedient, but our actions can become only hollow shadows with no real substance.

The motivation Yeshua provides us for practicing this kind of forgiveness and love is because when we do so, we are mimicking our heavenly Father. God doesn’t ask us to do anything he himself is unwilling to do. If he blesses the wicked with life and rain and abundance, it is not because they are deserving, but perhaps in their abundance they will recognize his blessing, turn from their ways, and honor him for it.

The apostle Paul calls this God’s “testimony of goodness.” When interacting with crowds in Iconium and Athens, he speaks about the nature of the true God, and he relates how God blesses them.

Yet He has not left Himself without testimony to His goodness: He gives you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness.

Acts 14:17

From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. God intended that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.

Acts 17:26-27

If we are to represent God as his children, we should be doing what he does. Unfortunately, in our human quest for justice and fairness, we stumble over what we personally think is fair and right based on our limited perspective, but that is not our place. Yeshua encourages us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Our intentional actions based on forgiveness and love, then, become our personal testimony of goodness. As a result, God is honored, and all evil intentions can be overcome with love.

Guarding against covetousness

We need to be vigilant in removing all unrighteous practices from our lives.

He told the people, “Be careful to guard yourselves from every kind of greed. Life is not about having a lot of material possessions.”

Luke 12:15

Yeshua cautions us to be mindful that we are not overcome with covetousness. The roots of some of the words used here mean to desire to “superabound” with “numerically more” material things.

Contextually, this admonition is sandwiched being questioned by a man wanting Yeshua to act as an arbiter in determining the distribution of an inheritance between brothers, and the parable of the rich man who stores up excessive grain for the future only to die that night.

A desire to have an abundance of wealth or material possessions is, for most people, a desire for security in life. Whether it’s financial savings plans, 401K retirement plans, or winning the lottery, we desire to have an assured future. If we know we have more than enough for the moment, then our ongoing provision is accounted for. Yeshua provides the reasoning behind why this should not be our primary focus in life.

First of all, we may work hard to save for our future, only to have our life end prematurely (from our perspective), and who would then be the recipient of everything we had worked so hard to attain? Was all that work and time spent collecting all of that wealth really the best use of our resources while we lived?

Additionally, it does not allow us to be rich towards God. If God blesses us, we should be faithful in using those material blessings to bless others, as he has done with us. This is how the child honors the Father and demonstrates their true spiritual lineage; by becoming like him.

Further, the apostle Paul provides a stern warning regarding covetousness to the believers in Colosse:

Put to death, therefore, whatever is worldly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Colossians 3:5

Greed, the desire for more and more material things for personal security and satisfaction, is idolatry. This must be put to death, a term of finality; there is no middle ground. We need to be vigilant in removing all unrighteous practices from our lives, and idolatry is the primary indicator of rebellion against God. When we seek to trust our provision (which we can see) more than our Provider (whom we cannot see), then we have fallen prey to idolatry.

God promises to meet our needs, not our wants, but in so doing, we should demonstrate generosity with others out of respect for his care for us. If you really desire to have an abundance, then rather than being an idolater, be an abundant giver.

Give, and you will receive. A large quantity, pressed together, shaken down, and running over will be put into your pocket. The standards you use for others will be applied to you.”

Luke 6:38

Simply respect others

Our actions towards others should be based on our own internal sense of justice, fairness, and equity.

Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:12

Certainly, anything that you wish others would do for you, do in the same manner for them, for this summarizes God’s teachings regarding others.

The simplicity and practical wisdom of this maxim is unsurpassed. We are, after all, self-focused by nature, relating to all other things outside of ourselves as to how we are affected or influenced by them. We know what we like, and we know what is offensive to us. We know when we believe our rights have been violated. We believe we know how we should be treated by others.

Since we are so familiar with ourselves and what we believe we deserve, Yeshua uses this innate familiarity with our own perceived deservedness and turns it on its head by suggesting that is the same way we should treat others. Our actions towards others should be based on our own internal sense of justice, fairness, and equity. This is the essence of compassion.

The logic of this wisdom has been mocked by some who would take a literal rendering to the extreme. “What about individuals who enjoy being harmed by others? Should they go and harm others, because that’s how they would want to be treated?” The folly of this is self-evident: beginning with the premise of a non-universal aberration leads to a faulty non-universal conclusion.

As is typically the case, this type of flawed reasoning stems from isolating this verse from its surrounding context, which gives a broader understanding of how it is intended to be applied. In this passage (7:1-12), Yeshua is admonishing his hearers about overall unfair judgment of others and hypocrisy in their own actions. The Golden Rule is the capstone solution to resolve his preceding points regarding these illegitimate practices.

The fact that this teaching also summarizes the torah or instruction of God is of no small importance. Yeshua here defines the role and universality of the Bible message by summarizing its intent: the instruction of God should cause us to be equitable and compassionate in all of our relationships.

If you like people being nice to you, be nice to them first. If you enjoy being congratulated by others, then look outside your own perspective and do the same to others. If you desire that others provide help to you in your time of need, then find opportunities to do so for others. If you want people to respect your views, then respect theirs. While you may disagree with their conclusions, they still have the same right to hold their views as you do with your own.

Simple respect solves all interpersonal relationships. This type of compassionate living is how God implores all of us to love one another.

Entering the Kingdom

By living in the kingdom through our righteous actions and example, we are expanding the reach and influence of heaven on earth.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”

Matthew 7:21

Entering into the Kingdom of heaven is possible only by consistently doing the will of the Father in heaven, not by merely claiming to be a disciple. It is the doing of God’s will that provides entrance, not the hope of entering at some future point. God’s kingdom is here and now.

When we are being faithful to God’s word, and doing his work in this world, we have entered his kingdom and are lighting the way for others to join, also. As we faithfully serve him now, the evidence of God’s kingdom continues to touch and transform the lives of others, By living in the kingdom through our righteous actions and example, we are expanding the reach and influence of heaven on earth.