It’s Lent, a time of examination and preparation. One way the church has historically observed Lent is with the practice of Fasting…why? How? What? When? Where?
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus seemed to take for granted that people would fast. Notice that he did not say “if” you fast, but “whenever” – as if fasting was something a person who followed Jesus would do regularly. Still, we don’t hear a lot about fasting in our culture – that may be because fasting is a practice that reminds us that we are not ultimately in control of everything. We have become a people very proud of our self-sufficiency and independence; but fasting helps us keep our balance in life. Jesus knew that we needed to live in the balance of life focused on God, and it’s easy to let our focus slip to things we think we need (letting our bodies control us).
What do you think about this passage? What do you hear when you hear Jesus say “and whenever you fast…”? What do you think of when you hear the word “fasting”?
Fasting helps us see ourselves as we really are – when we remove something from our life, we quickly see how much we depend on it – how much it controls us. It can help us see that we have come to depend too much on one thing – and just as God promises, our lives become imbalanced when we become too dependent on something and we lose our focus on God. Deciding to go without, food, or television, or our cell phone, or ipod or video games we learn how much our peace depends upon the pleasures we get as a result of these things – and how powerful & clever the body or mind are at getting its own way against our strong resolves.
Have you ever tried to go without something–fasting from TV, or food, or something else? How did that go? What did you learn during that time?
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ‘
Jesus went without food or the company of others for forty days to be strengthened by God – to be sure his focus was on God and not on himself or his desires. Tempted and tested over and over again, Jesus became fully aware of the weaknesses of a human body, mind, and spirit by enduring a much longer fast than most of us could imagine. He fasted before he began his ministry and was convinced he knew what was possible for us in a life with God here on Earth. In human form he learned first hand about the strength provided when we trust and focus on God. Jesus taught us by doing what we can do – from what is possible not by what is impossible. Jesus added spiritual practices to his life and taught us from what he knew would help us live as we were created to live. He expected us to fast so that we might also become confident in our knowledge of God and ourselves.
Fasting among the Jews and then among Christians began as a spiritual practice of going without food and sometimes drink for a certain amount of time. It was intended to be a time of re-centering themselves toward God – to allow the physical hunger to remind them that they were not created to be self-sufficient or live independent of God.
Spiritual practices exist to help us grow in our faith, our hope, our love, our gratitude – they are not a way to win the approval of others or of God. When we fast from something we desire, it helps us become more open to the acceptance of God’s will for us and helps us to see our lives through our faith in God.
Lauren Winner learned practiced fasting as part of her Jewish faith and then came to add the practice to her life as a Christian. She said, “Fasting is not merely a long, torturous means to a far-away end; a fast is not to be understood as a miserable experience that will sanctify you. Nor is a fast like a back-room deal at the courthouse, the lawyer for the penitent trading three weeks of food in exchange for divine mercy.
…the fast accomplishes a repositioning. When I am sated, it is easy to feel independent. When I am hungry, it is possible to remember where my dependence lies.” (Mudhouse Sabbath p. 91)
What do you think? How can you let something go and learn to be more dependent on God, from whom all blessings flow? What would it mean to fast from something this week or this season, and how might it change your perspective on where God is and what God is doing?
In the Family Devotional Booklet for Lent there is a fasting practice recommended. Last week we fasted from snacking between meals. Did you try that? How did it go? This week we are fasting from text messaging and video games. How is that going? What’s easy, what’s hard, and what is helping you to see God and life differently?
Do you need a family devotional booklet for Lent, with daily scripture readings and reflection questions? Contact Teri in the church office.