Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Living Without Leaven: Reflections on the Days of Unleavened Bread

Now that the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the seven day period following Passover where we are instructed to abstain from leaven, has come to a close, I thought I would share a few reflections and stories from my experience from this year and years past.  

As I explained in my prior post, the observance of this biblical festival is so valuable and so exciting, because in the practice of the physical removal of leaven, which symbolizes sin, we can learn to understand something about the nature of sin: how it creeps in to our lives, how we justify it, how we are controlled by it or not on guard to stand against it when temptation comes. I am always overwhelmed with practical lessons by this festival, though it lasts only a few days. 

A Reluctance to Release

A friend of mine who also recently began celebrating these biblical festivals shared with me that she noticed how unhealthy the leavened items were as she began to remove them from her home. Pancakes, pasta, and carbs-oh my! She saw so clearly that these were not even things that she needed in her life as she took them from her cabinets. Her son, however, did not agree. In 10-year-old fashion, he took the biscuits that he wanted to keep and hid them under his bed. She tried explaining that these would not 'keep' under his bed, that they would rot and stink and eventually have to be thrown out anyway. He just didn't understand, and he didn't agree. My friend said out of guilt, she almost backed down and let him have the biscuits to appease him. But the Lord woke her up at an early hour on Friday morning and she felt in her heart she did not need to compromise on this exercise. She got up, removed the leaven, and took it outside just in time for the trash men to come and take it away. She reported feeling such a sense of relief and peace to be rid of it.

I can think of so many spiritual applications to her experience. Others around us are going to think
that we are crazy when we live counter-cultural, holy lives. They want to hold on to their sin and don’t want us bothering them about it if they are not ready to make the same commitments. Just like the people of His day thought Jesus was crazy, Jesus tells us that ‘a servant is not above his master.’

I could immediately relate to wanting to ‘keep the peace’ and thought of so many times in my life when I just ‘went along’ with activities even though I knew they did not sit right with my spirit, because I didn’t want to cause problems.

But standing strong in our convictions, even when people think we’re a little off our rocker, is important to the Lord. He tells us that we will be criticized and persecuted. But he also tells us that a day will come when we will be vindicated. Don't we want His vindication more than we want the approval of others? It’s a LOT easier said than done, even when it’s just bread we’re talking about! But if we can’t even be obedient with one small thing, an exercise to control our intake of one thing, how likely are we to stand strong in other weightier matters? Can God really entrust us with more if we can’t even be firm about removing some silly little bread items from our house for one week? It makes you think, that’s for sure.

Watch and Pray

Another thing I always marvel at is how easily the leaven, spiritual and physical, sneaks in without us taking notice of it. Out of habit we just pick things up and take them in to ourselves, just living life. Last year on Sunday after our worship service at my church I went over to the visitor table where my favorite cookies in the whole world were spread in all kinds of colors and shapes. Without even thinking about it I grabbed one, joyfully, and scarfed it down. It was not until ten minutes later that I realized what I had done. “Oh no! I’m not supposed to be eating that!” I felt like such a failure. I couldn’t even remember that rule for one whole day. It is such a habit for me to pick up whatever I want, that I was oblivious. A friend with me at the time said, “God knows you didn’t mean to do that.” And truly I was repentant. I did not intentionally eat the cookie. I just wasn’t paying attention.

Isn’t sin like that in our lives? We just go about life, kindof on autopilot, and before we know it we’ve made a mistake. We’ve let a word slip, we’ve told a little white lie. We’ve eaten a little cookie during Unleavened Bread. We’ve made mistakes because we were not cautious about our surroundings. Whether we are new to the faith or have been walking with the Lord for some time, we discover that while He has our heart, our bodies struggle getting accustomed to being told no. As life plays out and we are faced with trials and temptations, and as we begin to work out our individual sanctification through them, we must always be on guard. We have to continue that process of breaking old habits, keep letting Him speak to our hearts, and allow Him create change in our lives from the inside out. This keeps going until His return. This ‘removal of leaven’ is how we should go about living every day!

Matthew 26:41: Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed [is] willing, but the flesh [is] weak.

Needless to say, I thought I would have been a LOT more vigilant this year, but I made the same mistake again a day into this year's observances. Sigh. I am a work in progress, and I am reminded of how we are so forgetful. Just as the great hymn Come Thou Fount so beautifully explains "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love." It is a tragedy how easily we lose our way. But joyfully, greatfully, His mercies are new every morning.  

Unleavened Bread always reminds me that as a follower of Christ, I just can’t walk through life on
autopilot. I can’t just walk in to a bakery without thinking about all the temptations that will
encircle me. In the same way, I’m not going to walk into other physical places that will tempt me to sin unintentionally either - those places, those temptations are different for each of us, but the reaction should be the same. We must flee from those things and run toward our Savior, who never let unintentional sin slip by Him.

Things to Ponder

Are you living your life holding tightly to your leaven? Are you like my friend's son, trying to hide your habit, your addiction, your sin away from the Lord when you know it's time to release it? Or maybe you are like me, your sin isn't intentional, but you need to work on being more vigilent in guarding the holiness He has given to you? I continue to pray for new awareness, courage, and growth in your sanctification journey with the Lord.


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