Ash Wednesday is here. Are you giving up anything for Lent? Lent traditionally is a spiritual season of forty days of preparation for the believer to celebrate Easter (the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ) typically by prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial. It is modeled after Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness before He began His earthly ministry and during which time He was tempted by the devil.
Fasting traditionally and Biblically referrs to the abstaining food. It is a solemn spiritual discipline whereby a person sets aside the time typically given to eating for prayer and relies on the power of God to sustain him instead of physical nourishment. In this way it holds more than just a discipline factor of abstaining from food, but also a faith factor in relying on God for physical strength. To keep one’s self from eating without devoting the time to prayer and deepening our faith is not Biblical or Spiritual fasting. It is a fad diet, or an attempt to change habits.
Lent has evolved over the years where adherents will choose something in their lives from which to abstain, typically something that absorbs much of their time like social media, various forms of entertainment or pass-times. While it is a good discipline to purposefully re-designate time unto the Lord than unto television (or anything), it is not in its truest state fasting, as it removes the element of physical dependence for nourishment and sustenance from God.
Jesus fasted. The disciples fasted after He returned to Heaven. It is a healthy Spiritual discipline from which we would all benefit if we practiced. It is not an exercise to force God’s hand but a time to seek His face, submit to His will and His exhortations in Scripture and rely on Him.
Jesus gave very clear instructions about fasting. It was the tradition in His day to make it clear in the streets to everyone that one was fasting so as to appear Spiritual. Jesus said that such a one had his reward in full through the honor of men: God did not honor it.
“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
– Matt 6.16-18
Will you abstain from anything for Lent? If you choose a pass-time, this is a good thing. Anything you surrender for the sake of knowing God more or choosing to spend more time with Him is a wise and healthy decision. Where you spend your time and money is where your heart is (Matt 6.21)! If you choose to fast for all or part of the season, do not forget to spend the time that you would normally spend preparing and eating meals in prayer. Rely on God for Spiritual and physical strength. Enjoy Him, and let Him transform your life. Keep it between you and God. Enlist a prayer partner or accountability partner to ask you as to the progress of your discipline, but let no one else know of your decision.
Do not, however, feel obligated to participate in the tradition. Lent is not a command of Scripture and it is not a means by which you will earn merit or favor with God. Prayerless abstinence is worthless. And keeping tradition for the sake of keeping tradition benefits no one. Turn to Jesus. Trust Him, rely on Him, and if taking a season of purposeful intentionality to know Him and hear Him more, then spend the next forty days seeking Him. And let those habits remain beyond the season.