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Since we are currently in the season of Lent, it is appropriate to share some thoughts about the spiritual discipline of fasting. Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) that lead up to Easter Sunday in which many Christians throughout the centuries have modeled Jesus’ example of fasting (Matthew 4:1-2). While observing Lent helps provide rhythm to our lives and gives us a structured opportunity to fast alongside our brothers and sisters, fasting can be beneficial as part of a regular practice in our lives as well.
Throughout scripture, fasting is seen as an expression of faith and devotion to God. In the Old Testament, we see numerous examples of fasting as a sign of mourning or even repentance. In the New Testament, followers of Christ in the early church fasted as they discerned where the Spirit was leading them. Jesus fasted before beginning his ministry. Scripture also reminds us that fasting for the wrong reasons is meaningless. Isaiah 58 challenges us to remember that all the fasting in the world means nothing if we are not also practicing justice, compassion, and love as well. And Jesus tells us that, when we fast, we should do it in secret; it we are fasting so that others will see, then we are seeking approval from others and not from God.
Fasting in Scripture refers to abstaining from food and/or drink for one meal or for an extended time, however, there are many other things that Christians can choose to abstain from during a fast. For example you could fast from shopping, social media, television, or certain types of foods, like meat or sweets. Fasting is not about weight loss, approval-seeking, or manipulating God; it’s about relinquishing control to God.
If you are new to fasting, try abstaining from one meal this week and gradually build your way up to a more extended fast. Perhaps as you fast you can pray for discernment regarding a decision that you are facing, or for someone who is sick and in need of prayer. Or, as we observe Lent, you can choose to give up something until Easter that you know is distracting you from growing in your relationship with God and instead pray, read scripture, or meditate.
Through fasting, we uncover ways that we might be trying to satisfy our own needs and instead allow God to sustain us. Fasting is often done in tandem with other spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, discernment, meditation, and scripture reading. Rather than turning to our own means of comfort, we instead turn to God for provision, care, and connection. When we feel the pangs of hunger, or the desire to find connection on Facebook, or the need to buy something new and novel, we are reminded that our Father knows our needs and cares for us and we seek deeper relationship with him, instead.
To close, I’ll leave you with the word of God spoken through the prophet of Isaiah (58:6-9):
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’