“This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you.”
(Leviticus 16:29)

This particular turn of phrase is truly fascinating. It occurs throughout the Old Testament, turning up in interesting places. At first glance, it doesn’t make much sense to the Western reader of English translations.

“›aÌ‚naÌ‚h nephesh

In the Hebrew, the word “›aÌ‚naÌ‚h means “to humble, afflict, be humiliated, weaken oneself.” Nephesh is the word for “soul” or “living being” used frequently in the Old Testament, beginning in Genesis as God created the living beings and eventually breathed the breath of life into the clay he formed. It resulted in a “living soul” that God named “Adam.”

Used together, these two words form a Hebrew idiom or euphemism of sorts meaning, “to fast.”

If you’ve ever explored the connection between the body and the soul, you’ll know that there are lots of fascinating questions. Can the body live apart from the soul? What is the difference between the brain and the mind? Are our memories actually stored in cells?

Regardless, however, of where the lines between the two get drawn, one thing is clear: they are connected. And nothing illustrates this more perfectly than the principles of fasting. By denying oneself in one area (in this case: food), one is actually afflicting or humbling his entire person. If you apply this phrase to the more Greek concept of the soul as the “mind, will, & emotions,” it becomes even more interesting. What, if anything, competes more with the human spirit (not to mention the Holy Spirit) for clarity in our lives than our “soul?”

A Time to Fast

Given the current economic situation, the rapidly-changing business environment, and the general uncertainty that pervades much of what is familiar in this season, it is perhaps more obvious than usual just how desperately we need to actively listen to the Source of all Wisdom.

I typically like to start out the year by setting vision, striving for clarity and focus, and re-evaulating almost everything. But since the soul can be such a cluttered place — full of plans, regrets, desires, dreams, wishes and wants — this process can prove to be difficult. This year more than ever, I really don’t want to follow the leading of my own thoughts and desires. I want God’s thoughts and desires.

I knew it was going to require some additional effort. So imagine my delight when my good friend called a fast for all those associated with the congregation he pastors. And he evidently wasn’t playing games either — he called a 21-day fast. He’s using some wisdom — giving people options regarding specifically how they intend to carry it out, breaking it up into phases (liquids only, a “Daniel” fast, etc.), and even distributing some information regarding medical risks and so forth. Nevertheless, it’s a 3-week period of “afflicting the soul.”

I don’t know about you, but my soul can use some “afflicting.” I want to demote my own thinking, reasoning, and ill-informed perspective (at least relative to the viewpoint that my Father holds). I want to weaken the grip that my dysfunctions and personal ambitions have on my present and future.

Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; reverently fear and worship the Lord and turn [entirely] away from evil. It shall be health to your nerves and sinews, and marrow and moistening to your bones.
(Proverbs 3:5-8 AMP)

After all, He knows what’s coming… how to be prepared… and what to do better than anyone. And He is not silent. I just tend to have too much interfering with my “reception.” I’m determined to clear the air so I can hear from Him accurately.

Care to join me?

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