Tomorrow we begin our journey – 40 days of preparation before the wonderful celebration of Easter.
Let’s think about Fasting
Chances are you are among the majority of Christians who rarely or never fast. It might be that you’ve never really heard about it and don’t really know what it means. Or it may be that the very idea of deliberately going without something as important as food is so strange.
What is fasting?
Fasting is voluntarily going without food — or any other regularly enjoyed, good gift from God — for the sake of some spiritual purpose. It is markedly counter-cultural in our consumerist society. We deny ourselves something good and offer that time and space to God.
Seven Reasons to Fast
1. To make space for God.
We live immensely busy lives, full of activity and noise. Most of us long for some extra time, some space and some peace to enjoy it. Deliberately giving up something is one of the only ways to make space in amongst the busy-ness.
Think of all the time we use shopping, preparing, eating and clearing up. If you limit your food intake – perhaps by going without one meal a day, you can use that extra time to devote yourself to God in prayer.
2. To teach us faith
Faith means trusting God. So much of our time and energy is given to look after ourselves – it’s inevitable, it’s often good and it’s certainly necessary. But given all that time, we can easily think that our life depends on us and all that we consume. We fast to remind ourselves that we rely on God for everything:
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.Deuteronomy 8 v 2-3, quoted by Jesus in the wilderness
3. To worship God
Luke 2 tells the story of an 84-year-old prophetess named Anna. Anna was devoted to God, and fasting was one expression of her love for Him.
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.Luke 2 v 36-38
Anna committed herself to God, spending all her time in the temple worshipping God. And what did this worship look like? Fasting and prayer: self-denial and commitment to God. And her wonderful reward after all those years was to meet the baby Jesus.
4. To be guided by God
In the early church, fasting and prayer were normal features of the faithful Christian life. Throughout the book of Acts, we find that when people devote themselves to God in fasting and prayer, God directs them.
While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”Acts 13 v 2
And as they follow this guidance and obey God’s instruction, they commit their way to God – in fasting and prayer. These were the natural ways for them to draw near to God at the significant moments.
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.Acts 14 v 23
5. To reveal our sin
As we fast, our sin can become evident pretty quickly – consider your temper when you’re hungry! Or think about how easily your desire for food consumes everything and any good intentions fall by the wayside.
Going without food strips away our comfort and lays bare some of the darker parts of our soul. Part of growing as a Christian is having a better understanding of what you’re really like, so that you can understand a bit more about how amazing it is that God loves you.
6. To repent of sin
“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”Joel 2 v 12
We know that we are weak and internally corrupt. We know that we need cleansing and forgiveness. Fasting does not earn us any favour or get us let off the consequences of our sin. But it is a sign that our repentance is more than just words or a momentary pang of guilt.
So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.Daniel 9 v 3-5
7. Because we choose to
It’s really important that fasting is done as a private thing between you and God. In fact, Jesus encourages his followers to hide the fact that they are fasting. It would be easy to make a big deal of it, but then we’d be in danger of fasting to make others think that we’re really holy.
‘When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.Matthew 6 v 16-18
Let no one judge you by whether or not you fast. It is a very useful spiritual discipline and can be powerfully used by God in your life. But it will not change God’s attitude towards you, as he could not love you more than he has done in Christ Jesus.
We hope you’ve found these devotionals really helpful. It would be great to hear from you any advice or ideas for the future. As you know, we’re doing something a bit different for Lent. We don’t know yet whether we’re going to continue publishing these after Easter. Please get in touch to let us know if you’ve found these helpful.