Friday, January 26, 2024

Fried Bananas and Self-Denial

Suggested Reading: Leviticus 16:29-34

Once, on vacation, my wife and I took the kids to a Brazilian steakhouse. What is unique about these restaurants, if you've never been to one, is that they serve all-you-can-eat meats of various kinds, but they bring them to your table and cut them off the grilling skewer right there. Most of these places also serve a specialty that I have never really enjoyed: fried bananas or plantains. If you know me at all, you probably know that for most my life I have despised bananas. Believe it or not, I have banana horror stories (which, granted, are probably only horrific to me).

Though bananas no longer make me sick, I still try to avoid them. But I also know that, for people who like bananas, these Brazilian fried bananas are supposed to be amazing. So when they brought them to the table, I wanted my kids (who love bananas) to try them. But my son, who is not an adventurous eater, didn't want to. So, because I knew he would enjoy them if he tried them, I practiced a little self-denial and I made him a deal: If he tried the fried bananas, Daddy would try the fried bananas. I didn't enjoy the banana, but my son did (even though he tried to deny it behind that big ol' grin he couldn't keep off of his face), and I enjoyed that.

While we as Christians often claim to observe something similar to a Sabbath, the people of Ancient Israel understood the Sabbath a little differently than we do. We tend to think of the Sabbath as a day off, as a day to stop and relax and enjoy life. We might go to church, if we practice it on Sunday. But mostly, today, the Sabbath is a day of relaxation and enjoyment. For the Ancient Israelites, the Sabbath was something else entirely as demonstrated by Leviticus 16:31 which reads, "It is a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial; it is a permanent statute" (HCSB). You see, for the Ancient Israelites, the Sabbath was indeed a day of rest and a day which they enjoyed, but that wasn't the point of the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was a day to cease from the normal day to day activities and focus on God, not themselves. It was supposed to be a day completely devoted to worshiping and meditating on God. They weren't supposed to cook or warm up food, they weren't supposed to fix something that was broken. They weren't supposed to mow the lawn or engage in sports (which were considered work). They weren't even supposed to engage in marital relations (which would make them ceremonially unclean). They were supposed to spend the day putting aside the normal activities of life and focusing on God.

As busy as our lives can be, some of us can work very hard to carve out a little time just for us, to relax and enjoy ourselves, to let go of stress. But how often do we really set everything aside and focus on God? How often do we practice self-denial and turn off the tv, eat leftovers, set aside the chores and spend the day focusing on God? How often do we focus on God even when we have "pressing" matters to attend to?

We need those times when we stop and read God's word and listen for God's voice, when we don't think about work and hobbies and TV shows and books. We need those times with nothing to do but ponder the mysteries of God and consider the personal and practical applications of God's Word for our own lives. We need those times when we are open enough that God can correct our course because we've started to stray. We need to treat God like we really do love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We need to practice placing God above everything else, even if we have to start with just taking a morning here or an afternoon there and work up to a full day.

We all need holidays and times of relaxation. But, more than that, we all need a Sabbath.

Getting Lost in Discussion

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