Lent is coming! February 13-March 30!!
Each year before Lent, conversations turn to what you are giving up. Common answers include facebook, chocolate, caffeine, soda, etc. My question is "Is this the kind of fasting that God wants?" While we typically think Lent is all about fasting, it isn't just about fasting, but also about prayer and "alms-giving" (giving to the poor). As we are giving up things, we can use our new-found time to pray and/or to volunteer. We can use our new-found money to help those less fortunate.
Our culture seems to view Lent as a time where we deprive ourselves. Period. It's like we think that God wants us to be miserable, *if* we fast. So we tell everyone how hard it is to do our particular fast and we expect God to reward us for our miserableness of self-deprivation. Fasting isn't just about self-deprivation. That's not really beneficial to anyone. (I think "Congrats!! You made yourself miserable and the world is just the same!!") Fasting is about identifying with and helping those God cares about on the margins (widows, orphans, poor, etc.). It's about focusing on God instead of self.
What is fasting supposed to be like, according to the Bible?
1. Fasting is private (Matthew 6:16-18)
2. Fasting is a "when" not an "if" (Matthew 6:16-18)
3. Fasting can be used to fight injustice, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and shelter the traveler (Isaiah 58)
One of my favorite passages in Isaiah is Isaiah 58. God lets His people know, in no uncertain terms, what He views as the ideal and non-ideal fast.
First off is the non-ideal: self-denial for self-denial's sake, humbling oneself for attention, sackcloth and ashes to make yourself miserable, and fasting just to be noticed.
But then the ideal fast is chosen: fighting injustice, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the stranger. If we do this, God promises that He will guard us, He will heal us, and He will answer our prayers.
How does this translate into Lent?
If you decide to drink only water for Lent, that's fine, but take the money you would have spent on other beverages and send it through a ministry to a poorer country to help them get access to clean water (wells for Africa).
A common fast for college students is to fast from facebook. If you decide to give up facebook to Lent, that's fine, but how will you spend the new-found time you have? (Hopefully not just increasing your time for pintrest). A more generic version: if you decide to give up tv, how will you spend the new-found time you have? What about volunteering at a Christian thrift shop (lighthouse missions) or a soup kitchen? What about praying more, reading the Bible more, or sharing our faith more.
If you are giving up some food item for Lent, that's fine, but use the money you would have spent to buy food for a food bank or a world hunger fighting group
That's how the literalistic side of me looks at God's directive in Isaiah. How can I feed the hungry (food bank), clothe the naked (thrift shop), shelter the stranger (couch surfing), and fight injustice (International Justice Mission)?
But Liz, this will take my time, energy, and resources. Precisely. God doesn't want to be offered the last of your harvest, the bruised, pitiful fruit of your life. He wants the first-fruits, the best. When I find out I don't have to buy something I thought I did, I feel like I get free money (or at least more money in another category). So if I opted to only drink water for Lent, it would be hard for me to take the money I would have spent and not use it for myself. It would be easy to say, "I'm not drinking Dr. Pepper for lunch, so I'm ordering dessert." But that type of fast is only focused on how it impacts me and it doesn't help anyone else.
In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus adds another challenge to fasting: don't fast to show off. Fast in secret. Telling a spouse, prayer partner, or accountability partner is one thing (and good), but if I told everyone I meet that "I am fasting by giving up ___ and it sure is hard, but I are so holy that I can survive," that's not what God has in mind.
(Side Note: Now, if you count from Feb. 13 up to March 30 [Ash Wednesday through Pre-Easter Saturday], there are technically 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but there are only 40 days of Lent. How is this possible? There are 6 Sundays, that's how. Traditionally, Sundays are days of celebration, of feasting, of goodness. Sundays are not for fasting because the Bridegroom is present (Matthew 9:14-17). What these extra 6 days mean to you depends on how you approach Lent. If you are giving something up in order to fulfill the type of fasting described in Isaiah 58, these 6 Sundays are different. They are a celebration. Celebrate with friends, family, or church members. Share about how God is working in your lives. Give thanks for the God who created food and drink that tastes good. If you give up social media, on Sundays, you might post about what God is doing in your life. I wonder, if I gave up non-water beverages for Lent (to donate the money to a clean water group), would the beverages taste sweeter on Sunday? Would I savor or gulp? Would I take the option or not?)
So this Lent, I challenge you to fast in a manner pleasing to God. Deny yourself in order to serve God's children. Keep it secret. And God will heal you and answer your prayers. I challenge you to give God your best, your first fruits, your dearest thing. Give Him what's closest to your heart and then use the time and money you would have spent to glorify Him. Pray more, give more, love more, focus more, but do this secretly.