Don't you feel better when you do things right? It's never exciting to learn that you are doing the wrong thing or doing something the wrong way. As Jesus was met these disciples of John The Baptist, that is one thing they wanted to know: Are we doing the right thing? Read their exact question again (taken from this week's Bible text in Mark 2:18-22 (with Matt 9:14-17 and Luke 5:33-39 in parenthesis)):
Once when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people (the disciples of John the Baptist) came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?” (Why are your disciples always eating and drinking?)
Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast (mourn) while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
(Then Jesus gave them an illustration) “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine (is stored in) calls for new wineskins (so that both are preserved).”
(But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. 'The old is just fine,' they say.)
These folks asked a genuine question. People had been fasting for centuries. It was a discipline with a main purpose of getting closer to God. They would deny a physical need (food) and seek Spiritual nourishment. These men had repented of their sin under the teaching ministry of John The Baptist. They were preparing for the coming of Messiah. Surely, fasting was a link in the chain of their preparation. Now Jesus arrives and they are told He is The One they have been waiting for and that He would lead them to God. They are confused because His disciples are not following all of the disciplines that they were...
Jesus kindly teaches them that there is a time and a place to fast but that 'now wasn't the time' and 'this wasn't the place'. These next thoughts apply to much more than just fasting:
1. Sometimes we can do the right thing for the wrong reason. In this case, many people fasted but not all of them did so for the purpose of getting closer to God. Some people just wanted to be seen by others. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a story about a man who brags about fasting twice per week. He ends the story by teaching us that 'those who exalt themselves will be humbled'. This applies to our life. When we do something let's check our motives to make sure we are doing it for genuine reasons that honor God and not ourselves.
2. Sometimes we can be doing the right thing at the wrong place. Fasting could be a useful tool for a person who desires greater closeness to God but Jesus taught His followers that location was important. In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus taught His followers to fast in such a way that nobody would notice. He taught them that if they were doing something for the right reasons then it wouldn't matter who 'didn't see it' because 'their Father in Heaven' would. The place of Spiritual Growth is on the 'inside' and what we do on the inside will influence our outside life.
3. Sometimes we can be doing the right thing at the wrong time. Jesus taught us in our main text (above) that there was a time to fast but this was not that time. He gave the illustration of the wedding banquet to explain this truth. You can even think of it in a simple formula. Fasting brings us closer to God. God was right here in the flesh (Jesus). Therefore we do not need to fast to get closer because we can't get closer than we are right now. We should be prayerful about timing...not just about fasting...but on all matters. It seems odd to choose to do something like a fast and not ensure that this time is right with the One that we fast for (God). In life, you can often have great intentions but fail or waste time/energy because you didn't properly plan the start time. This can sometimes mean to delay something and patiently wait until the right time. Other times it means to stop procrastinating and 'get it done'. In both instances, seek God for His Timing.
4. Sometimes we are just doing the wrong thing. Jesus does not address this one in regard to fasting but He does address several groups like this in The Scriptures. One example is in Matthew 23 where Jesus instructs His followers not to do what the Pharisees did. These leaders preached rightly but lived wrongly so that they were not good models to follow. To learn you have been doing the wrong thing can be frustrating as you think about wasted energies or even about people you may have harmed. However, it can also be a huge positive as you can now take that wasted energy and use it in an appropriate way.
As we follow Jesus, we need to often ask, 'Are we doing the right thing?'. We need to constantly re-evaluate what we are doing and why we are doing it. This allows us to correct any error and prioritize our life energies based upon what is needed most for the time. Do not be afraid to ask this question. It is much better than the alternative of spinning your wheels while expecting to be making progress. After all, you probably remember the definition of Insanity: 'Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".