This year, the world approaches Lent—the six week season between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday—with a heightened sense of sorrow and fear. Our world is on fire—again. Instead of COVID-19, it’s war, inflation, mass hunger, unemployment, and political instability. If ever we needed to turn our eyes to Jesus and prepare our hearts to celebrate and affirm his resurrection power, it’s now! If ever we needed to long for his return, it’s today.
Traditionally, Christians have readied themselves for this Easter celebration by fasting and focusing on prayer.
Fasting is a process of self-denial that reveals the ways our constant consuming will never give us real control over our lives or protect us from the ways the world is changing. Through prayer and fasting, Lent shows us how our attempts to insulate ourselves from risk or numb our fears are, in fact, deepening our wounds and keeping us apart from the only one who can still our anxious thoughts and comfort our aching hearts.
After the beauty of Advent and the decadent celebration of Christmas, Lent can feel like a downer. Especially if you live in the Northern Hemisphere—it’s already dark and cold and barren, and you want me to give up one of the few comforts I have for six weeks? In addition to being unappealing, it can be hard to understand how observing Lent—fasting—could help us navigate a chaotic world where we feel increasingly vulnerable.
But it does! In the midst of our hunger during Lent (physical and spiritual), we will hear Jesus calling us to live an abundant life free from fear, by getting ready for Good Friday. We need to get ready to die to our doubts and anxieties, and then be raised to a new life of faith and hope in Jesus on Easter morning.
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In Foster’s 1978 hit, Celebration of Discipline, he defines fasting as: “the voluntary denial of otherwise normal functioning for the sake of intense spiritual activity.” The first time I read his book, I decided to fast from drinking coffee for Lent—I definitely stopped all normal functioning for 40 days! But, sadly, I can’t say that I got much spiritual growth out of the process. I was doing it alone and I didn’t have a real purpose to my fasting. For some reason, it didn’t “work”.
In Isaiah 58, the Bible describes how God defines fasting, and what the results of our fasting should be:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear.”
|Sometimes "the oppressed" and "the hungry" don't look the way we expect they will.
The best place to start is to find a group of people to fast with, perhaps family, small group members, the people we live with, or even Christian colleagues. Then choose something to fast from and talk about ways you can bring justice into your own community, together.
By fasting as a group, you’ll grow closer together and have a higher chance of sticking with it through to Easter weekend. During your weeks of fasting, talk to each other about how the experience is going. Pay attention to how you feel when you crave what you’ve given up. Ask “What is the underlying need I’m trying to meet? What is the pain I’m trying to medicate? What in my life feels out of control?” Turn to Jesus, and allow him to speak his authority and peace into your life.
Here are five (pretty classic) suggestions for fasting, each one offering something to abstain from and something to add/change in your life.
Let’s try fasting together, this Lent—for ourselves and for our neighbours—so that the oppressed will be set free, the hungry will be fed, and our light will break forth like the dawn. In a world on fire, doesn’t that sound like the good news of Easter morning?
Are you moved by Isaiah’s call to live for God’s justice in this broken world? Talk to someone at FH Canada about how you can partner with a community to help them fight poverty. Reach out to [email protected]