By Allen White
Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17
John the Baptist’s disciples were afraid that Jesus was leading His disciples astray. The practice of religious folks in that day, especially the Pharisees, was to fast two days a week without water. This strict observance served to discipline the body, even though the Law only required fasting on the Day of Atonement as a form of humbling themselves (Leviticus 23:27).
John’s disciples were “serious” about their faith. Jesus’ disciples came across as party boys. Jesus was the life of the party.
Jesus turns the conversation from fasting to feasting. No one fasted at a wedding. In fact, a wedding feast would typically last for seven days. There was plenty of eating and drinking. The disciples’ time with Jesus called for rejoicing, not restraint. Jesus brought a new relationship between people and God.
To exercise self-restraint in the presence of the Messiah made about as much sense as patching an old garment with new cloth or putting new wine into old wineskins. A well-worn piece of clothing had shrunk from washing over time. A new piece of cloth had not. The patch would only add to the damage, not repair it.
The fresh press of grapes needed room to expand during the fermentation process. Today, that would happen in oak barrels in a wine cave or in stainless steel tanks in a place like Livingston, California, which resembles a refinery more than a winery.
In Jesus’ day, fermentation happened in an animal skin. As the new wine fermented, the wineskin would stretch and expand. An old wineskin was already stretched out. To fill it with new wine, when it was already stretched to capacity, meant that an explosion was imminent.
New wine belonged in new skin. New cloth belonged on new clothes. A new covenant prized rejoicing over ritual.
There is a place in our spiritual life for self-discipline. There are days when we need to routinely connect with God, even if we don’t feel like it. But, if our regimen of spiritual disciplines has left us dreading our relationship with God, then we have taken things too far.
Yes, God wants dedicated disciples, but He also wants us to delight in Him as He delights in us (Psalm 149:4). When the things that used to bring us closer to God begin to get in the way of our relationship with God, then it’s time to try something new.
There are many ways to connect with God. Sing worship songs at the top of your lungs while you’re driving. Take a passage of Scripture and put it into your own words. Serve someone who needs help. Talk to someone about your relationship with God. Pray out loud. Be quiet and turn off the noise for half a day. Skip a meal -- spend the time with God and spend the money on someone in need.
God doesn’t want our mindless obedience. He desires meaningful interaction. When giving becomes like paying the bills, when praying sounds like placing an order, when serving becomes just another thing to do, it’s time to do something different. The doing doesn’t make the difference. It’s our connection to God that matters.
Are you stuck in a rut in your relationship with God? Where have good habits become dreaded routines in your life? Try something new. Don’t let even good things sap your joy.
Today’s devotional is reposted from July 24, 2011.
More from Allen White: allenwhite.org