Why do we Fast during Lent?
Historically, people have chosen to fast during this season. There are two aspects to the Lenten fast: giving something up and picking something up. Fasting is a spiritual discipline designed to help us better focus on and connect with God. “Fasting is not a magical way to manipulate God into doing our will,” writes Adele Calhoun. “It’s not a way to get God to be an accomplice to our plans. Neither is fasting a spiritual way to lose weight or control others.” Simply put, fasting helps create space for us to intentionally seek God in ways that go beyond the normal routine of worship and prayer.
When we fast, we are one-on-one with God, offering Him not only our time, but the attentiveness that we otherwise might be giving to eating, shopping, surfing the web, or watching television. Fasting aligns our lives (hearts, minds and bodies) with God and what He really wants to do. As a church, one of the ways we are going to move closer to God is through the practice and discipline of fasting.
How Should I Fast?
There are a number of ways in which people fasted throughout Scripture. There was a normal fast, where one eats no food but drinks water. Others engaged in an absolute fast, in which they eat no food and drink no water. Queen Esther was on an absolute fast for three days in Esther chapter 4. Additionally, there was a partial fast, where one does not eat a certain category of food. Daniel was on a partial fast in Daniel chapter 1 when he ate only vegetables and water, but refrained from the royal food and wine.
Another means is to fast not only from food, but things as well. As such, it is a refraining from things like media, television, internet, cell phones, etc. Regardless of the means, the goal is the same, to create space to be with God and serve others. Thus, it is imperative to keep in mind, that when fasting, it is more important to be realistic, than legalistic. Focus more on the details of connecting with God than the details of the menu.
You may want to spend some time seeking God’s direction for how you (and your family) should fast during this season. Some may want to commit to a partial fast, eating only fruits and vegetables like Daniel. You may do this for a week, 21-days, or perhaps the whole forty-days. Others may want to select one day each week and engage in a normal fast, choosing to eat nothing, drinking only juices and water. Perhaps you’ll do a media fast from your cell phone on the weekends (or longer). There are endless options.
A simple starting point is to look at how you utilize your free time. How could you transform this time during this season to seeking God, engaging Scripture, praying, giving, etc? There will be more fasting options provided throughout the devotional in the days ahead.
Each week you will be provided with a fasting focus for that week. They are meant to be supplementary to any other form of fasting you have sensed God’s leading in thus far.
Historically, fasts begin Monday and end Saturday. Many break their fasting on Sundays. Sundays are set aside as “Feast” days in celebration of the goodness Jesus brings. You may do each fast for the week and only for that week, or consider letting them build on each other, so that by the end of Lent, you are doing all five weekly fasts at the same time.
Over the next several weeks, as a way of being accountable, share your intentions for Lent with your family, housemates, friends, or small group.
(Note: Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 219.)