Sunday, January 1, 2017

Fattened Hearts

We tried something new this year--after Thanksgiving we decided to clean out the cupboards (i.e. not to buy groceries) until Christmas. This may be standard practice for you, but we had amassed canned, dried and frozen goods at our house--things we "didn't prefer." Oh, were we excited for Christmas!

When the load from the store arrived, I had plenty of help--and there was a lot of celebrating as we filled the cupboards. It renewed my sense of how fasting from regular routines and behavior makes celebrations more enjoyable. God instituted feasting and celebrations--they're His idea. He loves a good party! But enjoyment, feasting and celebrating are magnified by moderation.

A few months ago I chewed on the verse, "You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter." (James 5:5). And I asked, "What does it mean to 'fatten your heart?'"

The cows in our barn are on a slaughter-fest. For many months they simply grazed in the pasture. But now, with a slaughter date fixed they get unlimited corn. Twice a day our daughter pours buckets of corn in the trough. They know when it's coming. Standing at the door, they bawl outrageously until she appears. Unbeknownst to them, the goal is to fatten them--quickly--for their doom.

With that picture in mind, we (Americans in particular) fatten our hearts daily. We belly up to the trough of pleasure, entertainment, food, leisure activity, achievement, etc. etc. And if the trough doesn't have what we want, we bawl exceedingly. It is our due! It is ours! But, oh, the consequences of a fattened heart.... Failing to see beyond the immediate pleasure, we rarely, if ever, sit back and look at the outcome.

As I watch young people indulging in leisure and desired activities, I wonder at the long-term effects of parenting and personal choices. Training does not happen in a year or two--it is a life-long process. And then I look at myself. I am no different. In looking at what I've been given, I wonder how my time--money, energy, thoughts, plans, conversation--could be better spent. How might I "put on the brakes" and train my heart to say no to pleasure and luxury? Am I looking ahead to days of celebration? Even more, am I seeing ahead to limited resources and the realities of our world? How I've lost awareness of poverty, need, hunger, nakedness, thirst, cold--the very real conditions of many in our world.

May this new year usher in, not prosperity of pleasure, but richness of life and awareness of God's good gifts, of His eternal working in my life and those around me.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:1-11 ESV)

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