Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent is a season of reflection, repentance and remembering our own weaknesses. It is a season designed to soften the Christian heart, remind us of our dependance upon God and give us compassion for those who we meet in our daily lives.
Traditionally, Lent is a season of fasting which helps to humble us before God and reveal to us just how fragile we are. I am a huge supporter of fasting because of the impact it has on our spirits. I realize that Lent has become, in many areas, a season of dieting and fish fries, but this was not the intended purpose. Abstaining from food to lose weight is not the same thing as fasting to encounter more of God’s Presence.
I don’t know if you observe the Lenten fast, but I would encourage you to. Fasting can take most any form, though it usually deals with food. In essence, fasting is “exchanging” a legitimate pleasure (food, television, Facebook) for a greater devotional life (prayer, reading the Word). Fasting is a wonderful way to discover just how much we prop ourselves up with various things that aren’t God. We use food to manage our emotions rather than prayer, we “check out” by watching television rather than dealing with things more directly and effectively, etc. For the business people of the world, I offer this recommendation – take your lunch break and pray and read your bible rather than going out to eat. Then, when you get those little hunger pains in the afternoon, use them to remember who you interceded for and pray for them again. You shouldn’t have any problems eating a normal supper.
Fasting is totally optional, of course. And if you decide to give up food, or certain foods (like “meats and sweets” also called a “Daniel Fast”) I would recommend taking it easy the first couple of days. If you have certain medical conditions (diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.) please consult your doctor before giving fasting a try.
Lastly, there should always be a worthy goal when fasting. You remember this goal when things are tough and it sees you through. My goal is, almost always, greater intimacy with Jesus and a release of the power of the Holy Spirit in my life and ministry. It might be different for you, but a solid and biblically sound goal is essential to see you through the difficult times.
That’s it! Once again, I encourage you to embrace this discipline of fasting. In this day and age, we have to be very intentional about restraining ourselves because food is so abundant. But it is a useful discipline AND the Lord receives it as an act of love. May the Lord give you grace for these next 40 days.