To Fast….or Not To Fast…A Question for Lent

Photo by Karen Mitchell Smith of TopShelfPhotos, cross by John Stout

Today,  Ash Wednesday, begins the traditional Christian season of Lent. Having grown up in a Baptist home, Lent wasn’t something we observed. I knew that my Catholic and Episcopalian friends ate fish on Fridays, and they talked about “giving up” certain things for Lent, but beyond that, I really knew nothing of this Christian season.

As a convergence Christian, I truly became aware of Lent a few years ago and began to do a little more study each year as to the purpose. Sometimes it’s hard to break out of past mindsets (whether or not they are correct) about so-called dead traditions, etc., so I wanted to be sure that if I chose to observe Lent, it wasn’t to be en vogue or so that I could join the masses who give up chocolate for Lent and then complain long and loud about it. I wanted it to mean something.

So, the first step was to gain an understanding of what Lent actually is and is not. The word “Lent,” itself, is a word with ancient Germanic roots, meaning “springtime.” A time of renewal. Traditionally, Lent is observed in four ways:

Fasting, Prayer, Charity and Scripture

The idea of fasting at this time is to die to oneself (Gal 5:24  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires), in preparation for proper reflection on Christ’s life, death and resurrection as we move into the Easter season. You can fast food, television, Facebook, texting, and any number of other things that will remind you that you are giving up something to which you have the right, but you are choosing time with God instead.

The encouragement for prayer and works of charity comes from Isaiah 58:6, where God rebukes those who fast for public approval’s sake and exhorts them to a fast that He can honor. A fast where his people break the yoke of oppression, divide their bread with the hungry and loosen the bonds of wickedness.

This same scripture tells us what Lent is not, or more generally, what fasting is not.  “‘Why have we fasted and You do not see ? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice ?’ [the people say.] Behold, [says God] on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?”

Through this scripture, God makes it clear that the purpose for fasting is not to draw attention to ourselves, to whine about what we are giving up for Lent and how hard it is or to live by our own fleshly desires. For this reason, I have hesitated to participate in Lent. I don’t want to begin a commitment to God and not be able to keep it. I don’t want my experience to be another type of New Years Resolution that lasts the first week and is a memory by the third week.

Moreover, the ideals of Lent are ones I try to live by daily, anyway. Although I don’t fast, I do try to die to my flesh in other ways. Fasting can be giving up your rights: your right to be right, your right to be first, your right to sleep in on Sunday mornings, etc. I read the Word daily and meditate on scriptures during devotional time, and I find ways to help those less fortunate than me. So do I really need to observe Lent?

I think, for me, this year the answer is yes. I want to enter a deeper time of devotion to God. A time of consciously making decisions that honor him. A time of being aware everyday that I’m choosing God over myself.

With that decision made, these are the things I plan to do during Lent, 2011:

  • Give up worry: When I begin to worry, I will consciously turn that worry over to God and quote scriptures, just as Jesus did when Satan tempted him in the wilderness.
  • Pray for the world, one nation per day: Operation World makes this easy by highlighting a nation everyday. If you follow their schedule, you will have prayed for every nation by the end of one year.
  • Support a needy child in a Latin American country through Latin America Child Care, an outreach of the Assemblies of God church: Because I love Roatan, Honduras so much, I have chosen a little girl in that country. Her name is Uzi, and I will be praying for her daily and sending money for her support monthly.
  • Read my Bible everyday: It’s something I already do, and I would love to say I’m going to do something amazing like read the Bible through in a year, but I know it won’t happen. At least not this year. So I’m going to do what I know I will do.

The Choice Is Yours!

If you’re thinking of participating in Lent this year, I would encourage you to first examine your heart for the reasons why. God lays out six wonderful blessings in Isaiah 58: 8-10 for those who fast with a purposeful and right heart.  If you decide that God has purposed you to celebrate Lent this year, I pray for your springtime renewal as you move with me and the millions of others through this meaningful season. And if you choose not to observe Lent, remember “there is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The choice is yours. Be blessed, whichever you decide!

3 Comments

Filed under Spiritual Journey

3 responses to “To Fast….or Not To Fast…A Question for Lent

  1. Carol Scott

    This was interesting and thought provoking. Like you, I would have to pray as to what is right for me. I haven’t really ever searched out the idea of observing Lent as it has not been discussed all that much in any of the churches I’ve attended. I know I want to be fully devoted to the Lord and try to be with all that is within me. As I spend more time in His presence, I know He will guide me into all truth.

  2. Cathy Gillespie

    Karen- Thanks for those thought provoking words. I’ve decided to give up raising my voice this lenten season. Wish me luck 🙂

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