When I was in the third grade our family moved from rural Iowa to Staten Island, NY into an Italian neighborhood where most everybody was Roman Catholic. I heard my new friends talking about what they were going to ‘give up’ for Lent. It was a puzzle to me because my Pentecostal church did not observe seasons of Advent or Lent. Even as a child I realized that most of what they were ‘fasting’ for Lent was symbolic, as in giving up chocolate cake. Will you be observing a Lenten fast?
Today is the beginning of the season of Lent, 40 days that lead up to the celebration of the Resurrection. The word has roots in Anglo-Saxon language, sounding like their word for Spring. Traditionally, Lent was marked by fasting, abstaining from certain foods for the purpose of spiritual focus. It was set at 40 days (excluding Sundays) because the number, 40, is a recurrent one throughout the Bible that is often associated with preparation for God’s work of renewal. The rain fell for 40 days in Noah’s flood. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Moses spent 40 days on the mountain receiving the Law. Israel’s spies explored Canaan for 40 days. Jesus spent 40 days alone, fasting, and during that time experienced the temptation.
I believe that the Christian church desperately needs a renewal in our time.
Would you join me in prayer, asking God to prepare our hearts for the move of the Spirit? “Lord, start with me,” I pray!
Though we do not practice the discipline of fasting very much these days, it is useful as a discipline to remind ourselves that we are more than our physical appetites. A meaningful fast is an offering to God as well as a discipline of the body. Fasting, coupled with prayer, can help us to grow in Christ. Paul knew the importance of a fast. “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NLT)
Saying ‘no’ to our personal comfort is not a choice readily made. Living in our climate-controlled homes, with abundance of food, we respond like servants to our body’s signals for warmth, food, or drink. Don’t misunderstand me. I am grateful for a secure home, a warm bed, and a full belly! But, things are out of balance. If we are incapable of refusing the cravings of our body, we will be easy targets for the Tempter.
Paul puts it in stark terms of slavery. “Before, you let yourselves be slaves of impurity and lawlessness. Now you must choose to be slaves of righteousness so that you will become holy. In those days, when you were slaves of sin, you weren’t concerned with doing what was right. And what was the result? It was not good, since now you are ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life.” (Romans 6:19-22, NLT)
During the season of Lent, I am suggesting that we engage with a meaningful kind of ‘fasting.’ Instead of symbolically giving up M+M™ candy, how about taking on your appetites with the help of the Spirit?
Are you consumed by anxiety in these uncertain days? Take up a fast.
Is there an ‘addiction’ in your life, something that owns you instead of you owning it? Take up a fast.
Complaining too often or too much about discomforts or inconveniences? Take up a fast.
Give God your lunch hour one day a week and make the time one of prayerful reflection. Or, set aside one evening each week to sit in silence instead of watching YouTube.™
Whatever you do remember, it’s not a ‘hunger strike’ to get God’s attention!
Fasting is for the purpose of discipline and preparation.
Match your fast with meditation on the meaning of our Christianity. In Christ, we go from death to life, from facing an eternity apart from God to having a home promised for eternity in His Presence. Lenten fasts end before Easter so that Christians can feast with joy. That feast anticipates the promise of life beyond death, of hope that survives the body’s demise.
Spirit-filled Christians must have a vision that reaches over time’s horizon. The reason we say no to the craving of ‘the flesh,’ (the sinful nature) is because we know that there is a greater promise of Glory. That is why Paul starkly tells us to mortify the flesh, that is, to put it to death. “We are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:12-14, NKJV) Fasting is one way to say, “Die, old sinful nature!”
Let’s use this season to grow toward the eternal hope that we read about in the word from the Word.
“It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—… our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power.
But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:2, 53-58, NLT) Amen!
Now, what about those M+M’s?
I will offer up my life
In spirit and truth,
Pouring out the oil of love
As my worship to You.
In surrender I must give
My ev’ry part;
Lord, receive the sacrifice
Of a broken heart.
Jesus, what can I give,
What can I bring
To so faithful a friend,
To so loving a King?
Savior, what can be said,
What can be sung
As a praise of Your name
For the things You have done?
Oh, my words could not tell,
Not even in part,
Of the debt of love
That is owed by this
You deserve my every breath
For You’ve paid the great cost.
Giving up Your life to death,
Even death on a cross.
You took all my shame away,
There defeated my sin,
Opened up the gates of heaven,
And have beckoned me in.
Matt Redman © 1994 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
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