Fish on Fridays
When I was in elementary school, we always had fish on Fridays. It never made sense to me. We didn’t have hamburgers on Mondays or chicken pot pie on Wednesdays; no other food enjoyed the privilege of being able to command a day all to itself. Except for fish. When I inquired about this, I was told it was a “Catholic thing,” and since I was a Protestant, I didn’t have to worry about it. I wasn’t worried; I just thought it tasted bad.
Now that I’m older, I have a better understanding of the whole ‚”fish on Fridays” deal. In the first century, Jews fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. Early Christians continued that tradition but changed the days to Wednesdays and Fridays, because Judas engineered Jesus’ arrest on a Wednesday and Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Eventually, the Wednesday fast was dropped and only the Friday fast remained. Most often, the fast entailed avoiding meat because meat was considered a luxury food. You either had to have enough money to buy it or raise it yourself. But fish was on the approved list, because even people who were poor could catch fish. More recently, the Bishops of the Catholic Church have relaxed the Friday fast, because in the affluent West, the faithful were satisfying the requirements of fasting by enjoying a Friday dinner of Lobster Thermidor.
In light of this, let me pose a question: When I ate fish on Fridays as an elementary-age boy, was I fasting? The answer depends on who you ask. There are many who would call it a fast, because it’s the way fasting has always been done. But my own immature willful choice wasn’t to deprive myself; it was to indulge myself. Therein lies the rub.
When I entered into life with Jesus, I became His disciple. ButI have to confess that for most of my life with Jesus, my “discipleship” has mostly consisted of trying to modify my behavior and follow a list of rules and guidelines…it was kind of like choosing to eat fish on Fridays instead of meat. It was “outside-in” discipleship.
But the very definition of the word “discipled” completely flips the idea of “outside-in” discipleship on its head. When done the way Jesus intends, discipleship is always “inside-out.”
The word “disciple” has a very interesting etymology. It comes from a combination of two words: dis meaning “to take” and capere meaning “apart.” Put those two words together and it means “to take apart.” In other words, a disciple is one who has been taken apart, piece by piece. That’s the way discipleship works in real life.
If you and I are going to be taken apart and re-formed into the image of Jesus, there are at least three things we have to understand: 1) It requires a willful choice on our part; 2) It requires us to lay down things we currently hold as precious; 3) It is a lengthy process.
Let me explain. First, since becoming a disciple of Jesus requires a willful choice, it cannot be done accidentally. Years ago, the Lord gave me a simple but powerful analogy to help me understand this principle: It’s like waking up one morning and discovering that although I had always been right-handed, I could now only use my left hand. Every single moment through the day presents an opportunity for me to practice using the hand I normally didn’t use, whether it’s picking up a pen or a fork or opening a door. And every day, if I deliberately choose to exercise using that hand, I will bit by bit get better at it. In the same way, becoming like Jesus can be as awkward and cumbersome as switching my dexterity. But if I really want to, I will be able to do it with God’s help.
Secondly, becoming a disciple of Jesus requires me to lay down things I currently hold as precious. If this weren’t true, there would be no need for me to become a disciple, because I would already be perfectly like Jesus. Since I am painfully aware that I’m not currently like Jesus, part of my plan is to allow the Lord to show me His evaluation of my life. And the more serious I am about becoming a disciple, the more ruthless I want God to be. I know that He will never be unkind, but if I’m serious about growing as a disciple, I don’t want God to cut me any slack. I can’t work on areas that I’m not aware of.
Finally, discipleship is a lengthy process. A good rule of thumb is that the deeper the work, the longer the process. Large houses take longer to build than small ones. And with you, God is building a very large house.
I now know why I never liked fish on Fridays: it’s false advertising. Eating fish on Fridays never caused my heart to lean towards God. Sometimes I wonder if, in my own discipleship journey, I settle for “fish on Fridays” by assuming that simply because I do the right things that my heart will automatically lean towards God as a result.
The Christian life is not a sprint, it’s more like a 973-mile walk. Sometimes we get blisters; sometimes we get tired. But the important thing is that we make progress, even if it’s only a few steps. Don’t try to reach the finish line today, just enjoy the journey.
What is The Holy Spirit saying to you?
Marcus Brecheen, Executive Pastor Extension Campuses/NRH Campus, Gateway Church
Category: Guest Posts