February is winding down and we have begun the forty days of Lent that will lead us to Easter.
I am filled with spinning ideas and thoughts for how to mark this season well.
I attended the Ash Wednesday service at a nearby Lutheran church yesterday at noon and listened to a very good teaching on fasting.
We often associate some kind of fast with Lent and I know there are a multitude of ideas and suggestions and helps out there, but I found the reinforcement of information about fasting to be helpful so I wanted to pass this along to you today.
The pastor who spoke is Eric Trickey of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and these are from my notes but completely giving all credit to his sermon, unless otherwise noted.
He started off with our addiction to comfort by referencing the origins of “Fat Tuesday” and he said this, which I absolutely loved the way it captures our culture and me as a true comfort junkie:
“We are Fat Tuesday people living in a Fat Tuesday world.”
Isn’t it the truth?
We have all the comforts and conveniences and choices at our fingertips 24/7.
We have to force ourselves to exercise so we don’t gain weight from all the excess of life.
We want what we want when we want it and we grow impatient quickly with any delay.
And yet, as he pointed out, we are surrounded by emptiness and craving and an insatiable desire for more.
So Lent is a time when we are invited to intentionally find ways to deny ourselves of things that we have the rights and access to that are good things, so that we can draw deeper from God the better things that will feed our spirits and cleanse our souls to live more purposefully the life He redeemed for us.
He defined Fasting as, “the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.”
So Fasting is a giving up of something, beneficially used to meet a physical need, that is a normal part of your daily life for the purpose of increasing the addition of pursuing more of what feeds your spirit.
He used the obvious choice of a food fast of some kind and recommended starting small with skipping a meal or two and using that meal time for prayer and meditation on Scripture.
My own thoughts here regarding alternatives to fasting from food:
While I do understand that there are many other kinds of fasts you can choose, including from a favorite food or beverage item or from things like social media and television, I highly recommend an actual meal fast of some kind during each week for the purpose of replacing the time spent on food preparation and consumption with prayer and scripture meditation.
We can overcomplicate something that Jesus modeled clearly in the wilderness as He faced temptation and defeated it.
Pastor Trickey reminded us that fasting is not used to manipulate God in any way, as in “I am fasting so You will move in this setting or situation,” but rather to seek balance in the ways we have been conditioned to have our needs meet ASAP and to help reveal the things that have become idols in our hearts and minds.
I loved it when he pointed out what we can expect. Because the reality of doing without food is you WILL experience levels of discomfort and the minute you do, you will want to bail on the fast for the common good of yourself and all those you love.
Among the things that will happen when you are hungry physically are:
Anger – doing without food makes us grouchy and as we struggle with that, we begin to see how comfort has become our buffer and filter instead of inner strength of the Spirit at work in us
Pride – we can proud of our fasting and “holiness” or our concern about what others think of us because we are fasting can reveal the ugly side of our man-pleasing nature
Self-Pity – as we fast and pray and yet face struggles that do not lessen in spite of our desire to draw closer to God, we can feel sorry for ourselves and become resentful towards God
The revelation of “your part” of the problems around you – as we read Scripture or face conflict with family, the fasting and drawing near to God opens our eyes to our own contributions to the sins and troubles around us.
As we fast and turn to God in prayer and bible reading, we make ourselves available, in a weakened state, to hear more clearly from God. We also begin to recognize the things we have been turning to and defaulting towards INSTEAD of God…and these are our functional idols.
As we read Scriptures from this place of humbling; while our tummies are rumbling and our minds are trying to forget that we will have to wait several hours for dinner, God begins to speak to us through His Spirt, and we are more able to receive conviction as we open our heart and mind to His Word.
We may read a passage about judgment and immediately think of someone who needs to hear this, but as we mediate and pray for God to speak to THEM…or lead us in how we can speak to THEM…He speaks to US.
When 3:00 rolls around and we become that Betty White in the Snickers commercial, we must draw on His strength to keep our tempers in control and our words kind and gentle.
When we are feeling light headed and yet the demands around us are increasing in weight, it is by prayer and calling on His power at work within us that we press on, realizing suddenly how much we really always depend on Him…we just thought we were self-sufficient in our own abilities.
My favorite slice of advice came at the end when he said, “Abandon the outcomes of your fast to God. Let God reveal to you what the fast is about.”
We will falter and fail in being “perfect” in our fasting and this is where God will meet us and we will be ready to listen to His Word to us.
So for anyone who might be considering some kind of fast during this season of Lent, here is my prayer for us:
Lord God, as we enter the season of the calendar of our faith called “Lent,” I ask that You would guide us into quiet places of humility and self-denial so that we could draw nearer to You and learn from You.
Lord, we know and understand that fasting is not done to earn Your favor. We believe Your word that says we do not deserve Your favor but that it is a gift of grace that You have bestowed on us.
Our desire is not to impress You or any human around us, but rather to place ourselves more openly in Your Presence by denying the feeding of our flesh and desiring the feeding of our souls and spirits on Your Word.
Father God, I ask that You would give us hearts to seek after You and I pray that as we, each one, ask You for the best way to do this during the season of Lent, You would grant us clear direction and wisdom to hear the fast You are calling us to.
Our desire is to not only hear from You, but to obey You and we know that this is also a grace gift of the Holy Spirit.
Thank You for leading us through Lent and for the promise that You draw near to us when we draw near to You (James 4:8)
We look forward to this journey with You and we dedicate this season to Your honor and glory.
In Jesus’ Name