The first few days of our Lenten observance have now passed. Hopefully you are spending time concentrating on deepening your relationship with God rather than obsessing about the actual practice of fasting. But it is important to fast. When we say that the essential substance of such a season as this is to turn from sin, and to avoid all those opportunities to fall away from God in what we say, and do, and think, it does not mean that actually changing our diet and learning to exercise self-discipline is of no consequence, it only means that it is not the goal or the objective of our effort.
However much we have found grace to put into practice whatever rule we have been given, it is a matter of universal experience that we will face the temptation to give up. And so the sixth secret is this - Hang on in there!
It may be the fifth day of this strict fast, but already our enemy will be making all sorts of suggestions as to why it is entirely reasonable to give ourselves a break. If we have successfully kept to the rule we are trying to follow he will whisper that it does not matter if we let ourselves have a treat because we deserve it. If we have already struggled to keep to the rule we are trying to follow he will whisper that since we haven't kept the season of fasting very well we might as well abandon it altogether. Even if we resist these insinuations he will commend us on how well we have done but suggest that there is no need to keep such a strict rule now that the end of the first week is approaching and we can allow ourselves to relax the restrictions we are following because we are still keeping the fast better than most.
Imagine someone training for an important athletics competition. He has run five times round the track but the coach wants him to run around fifty times. Of course he is free to stop after he has completed five circuits. But he will not win the competition he is training for if he does. Of course he could start cutting across the track so he was only running half way around each time, but that will not put him in the right state of fitness to win the competition either. What he will say to himself, if he is determined to compete and win, is that he will hang on in there. The other laps can take care of themselves, but he will complete this lap before he worries about giving up altogether or cheating himself and his coach.
And this is surely what we need to do. Tomorrow is another day. Perhaps we will abandon the fast tomorrow. Perhaps we will allow ourselves all manner of relaxations of our rule tomorrow. But we will finish today as we started. Not in our own strength of course. Left to ourselves we would fail in despair or succeed in pride. But our God who loves us sees our efforts as we struggle down the back-straight in the cold and rain and if we ask then he promises to give the grace we need to be obedient.
So hang on in there, however you feel. It will pass. Ask God for grace to continue to the end of the day in obedience, and tomorrow will receive grace for itself. Do not fall under the weight of the days and weeks of perseverance still required of you. For today is the day of salvation. Hang on in there.
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