Here are a few thoughts on Fasting for Lent that I hope will help. Several of the ideas provided here (and much more) can be found in the book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney, which we highly recommend.
IS FASTING SOMETHING NORMAL CHRISTIANS DO?
Let’s start by acknowledging that Jesus seemed to think fasting would be something we would incorporate into our lives. The teachings of Jesus found in Matthew 6 include: meeting the needs of the poor, prayer, forgiving others, proper handling of wealth, trust in and loyalty to God, and…fasting. I’m pretty sure very few of us would be willing to call any of these things unimportant. Well, except fasting. Why is fasting so broadly ignored as a normal part of the Christian life?
You will need to trust that I’m a normal guy when I say what I’m about to say. If you asked me to list the top five things that help me stay focused on God, useful for His purposes, and living in a God honoring way I would place regular fasting in that list. Yes…I fast regularly. I don’t think that makes me “super-spiritual”. In fact, it reminds me of the exact opposite. Without God at work in my life I am not a very good person. I’m prone to selfishness, anger and pride. I can be quick to speak and slow to listen. Very few things in my life combat this better than fasting.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF FASTING?
There are many reasons to fast and there are several spiritual benefits. Here are three benefits of fasting that are worth considering specifically during The Lent Experience:
Fasting trains us to say no to our flesh– Doesn’t Mardi Gras make you wonder? Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday and is designed to help people get all of their sin out of their system before entering the season of Lent. That certainly is an exercise in missing the point. On a very basic level, if we can say no to food when we are hungry then we are learning to take control over our bodies. So we say no to something that is good (like food) so that we learn how to say no to the temptation of sin. Fasting trains us how to say “no” to the flesh and “yes” to God (see Galatians 5).
Fasting reminds us of our weakness – It’s amazing what effect skipping one meal can have on us. We are dependent creatures. In other words, we need things outside of ourselves to survive (like food and water). God is not like us. He is independent. He needs nothing outside of Himself to exist. When we are hungry and our stomachs are growling, it is a very tangible reminder that there is a God and we are not Him. It humbles us. It causes us to think rightly about ourselves. There are very few practical things you can do that teach this lesson more quickly than fasting.
Fasting increases our focus– There is no inherent spiritual value in skipping meals. We don’t earn brownie points (please excuse the food reference) with God by fasting. When we fast for a reason, the fast helps us focus on that reason. Being hungry constantly reminds us of what caused us to initiate the fast in the first place. In the case of The Lent Experience, our goal is to focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here are some Scriptures that I would encourage you to read (perhaps several times) at some point during your fast. (Colossians 2:6-3:17; Ephesians 2)
WHAT FASTING IS NOT
- Fasting is not just a short season of obedience to God. I always find it funny when people give up really bad things for Lent. It’s like saying “Ok God, just for this few weeks I’m gonna be good”.
- Fasting is not a trick. Many people who feel obligated to fast during Lent will choose to “give up” things that they don’t like anyway. Sorry…that doesn’t fool God.
- Fasting is not a spiritual temper tantrum. It’s not a way to force God to do what we want Him to do. “I prayed. God didn’t answer. I’ll force God to answer by fasting and praying.” It just doesn’t work that way.
TIPS FOR FASTING
- There may be some medical reasons that you would want to consult your doctor before fasting. If you have any question about how fasting will affect you medically, please contact a physician.
- Abstaining from food is the primary way people fast and is specifically this week’s challenge. However, people also initiate fasts that abstain from things like social media, tv, or sex.
- When breaking your fast, don’t pig out. You’ll regret it. Your first meal after any length of fasting should be healthy and light. This will take self-control since you’ll be hungry.
- Drink water.
- Expect to not feel great. You may get a headache. Taking medicine is not a violation of your fast.