This is an article I received from a Koinonia House eNews regarding fasting this Lent. I thought it would be helpful information about our attitude toward this season and toward fasting. Whether you consider to fast anything this Lent is up to you, but use whatever season you’re in to lead you closer to God and Jesus. For more information on fasting, see our other post on “What I Have Learned from Fasting.”
No Fasting God
from the February 16, 2010 eNews issue
“My dad asked me what I was giving up for Lent this year. I told him I was giving up God for Lent so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty.” – A Catholic teen overheard on a bus.
Ash Wednesday is upon us, a day when Catholics gather to have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross as a sign of penitence and dedication to Christ. It marks the beginning of the 40 days leading to Easter. The idea of community repentance and fasting is a good one, one that could bring much spiritual fruit in our churches if practiced with the right heart. The question is, how much of Lent becomes just another gotta-do religious act? If Christians from any denomination choose to take this time to seek God’s face in the days leading up to the celebration of our Lord’s death and resurrection, that is excellent. Prayer and fasting are still biblical, but they must be done carefully and in truth.
Many instances of fasting are found in the Old Testament; Moses fasted for 40 days when he went up to receive the Law from the LORD (Exo. 34:28); Daniel entered into a three week partial fast which removed all delicacies (pleasant bread, meat and wine) from his diet (Dan 10:3); the people of Nehemiah’s time fasted and prayed and repented in sackcloth as the Law of the LORD was read to them (Neh. 9:1); Esther and her maids fasted from both food and water for three days before she went in to speak to the King in order to save the life of her people (Est. 4:16).
Fasting does not only belong in the Old Testament, though. Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert before choosing his disciples (Luke 4). In Acts 13, the church at Antioch was fasting and praying when the Holy Spirit told them to separate out Barnabas and Saul (Paul) for the work He had for them. Jesus never said, “If you fast…” he said, “When you fast….” (Matt. 6:16) and prayer and fasting can still be a valuable practice for the Church today. In fact, Jesus indicated that certain evil spiritual forces are only driven out by fasting and prayer (Mark 9:29).
Before beginning a time of prayer and fasting, though, it is important to keep some things in mind:
- Fasting is not an obligation.The purpose of fasting is to seek God’s face, to examine oneself and get any unconfessed sin out in the open. It’s a time to put other things aside and remember that nothing is more important than Jesus – a time to remember our “first Love.” It’s a time to once again present ourselves as living sacrifices before God, humbling ourselves before Him in love and worship, saying, “Here I am, Father. I’m Yours.” There is little value in fasting as merely a religious act, out of guilt, or because everybody else is doing it.
- Don’t be a self-denial hero.Fasting is not about the simple act of going without. It is not a battle of self-control or willpower. We should save willpower for dieting. Fasting is about putting God first in our lives, setting aside other things that are just not as important as our relationship with Him.
- Fasting requires care and prudence.While Moses survived 40 days without food and water, his circumstances were especially unique. People have died through imprudent fasting. Both entering into a fast and getting off a fast should be done slowly and gradually, so as to give they body time to adjust, and it can be wise to get a medical examination before starting a major fast.
For some people, fasting can be harmful. Certain people should never fast all food, especially people with a history of eating disorders, those with heart conditions, diabetes, hypoglycemia, or pregnant or nursing women.
- Fasting food is optional.There are many ways to fast. A 40-day food-free fast is possible and can be spiritually beneficial, but it can also be life-threatening if not done properly. There are partial fasts, like when Daniel avoided meat and wine for three weeks. There are short food-free fasts like Esther’s three days. Some people fast only one day or one meal – or one day each week. Many people go on juice-only fasts, which can also be cleansing for the body.
There are many things that can be fasted without starving oneself, however. Some people give up chocolate and sweets, and others give up watching television. Any things that could come between us and God are good candidates for fasting, especially our time wasters, like computer games or endless texting on the phone.
- Don’t let Satan get you down.God can use our fasting and prayer times to win powerful spiritual battles, and, because of that, Satan is guaranteed to try to discourage us. We need to be ready for opposition and distraction, determined to keep our commitment to the end, but we also need to remember our artillery against the Enemy is prayer and worship. Any time we get discouraged and aggravated or distracted, we need to quickly take the matter before the Throne of God. As James 4:7 says, “…Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
- Focus On God.The purpose of fasting is not simply the act of self-denial; it is a time to come before the Lord. If we give up watching our favorite show, it should be because we are putting that time toward the purpose of seeking God. Setting aside our golf clubs for a month is fairly useless if, instead of playing golf, we just go bowling.
When we fast, we need to set aside specific time to dedicate ourselves to going before God. He is the whole point of the fast, after all. And beyond our special quiet time with our King, we should enjoy worship and prayer throughout the day, taking every opportunity to enter His presence. Bill Bright writes:
“Read His Word and pray during what were mealtimes. Meditate on Him when you awake in the night. Sing praises to Him whenever you please. Focus on your Heavenly Father and make every act one of praise and worship. God will enable you to experience His command to “pray without ceasing” as you seek His presence.”
- Any time can be good for a fast.It may be the season of Lent, a popular time for fasting and prayer. However, fasting is not limited to set times on a calendar. Community fasting and prayer can be a powerful weapon and an excellent way for a church body to get on track with the Spirit of God. However, the most important time to fast is when the Spirit leads us.
May God bless us all as we come before Him and prepare our hearts to serve Him now and every day throughout this year.