As a kid growing up in the South, there wasn't a Catholic church for miles. I'm not even sure where the closest one was located. Needless to say, I never understood Lent, fasting, Ash Wednesday or any of the other traditions.
Since then, I've learned the value of fasting and Lent provides a great time to practice this spiritual discipline.
WHEN IS LENT?
Lent lasts from February 17 - April 3, 2010. Take this period of 46 days to fast from something and seek God. Sunday's are "free days" where we celebrate Jesus' victory over sin and death.
WHAT IS FASTING?
Fasting is abstaining in some significant way from food or drink. I've expanded this definition to include anything that you tend to enjoy - such as television, computer, facebook, etc. It can also include types of food - chocolate, sweets, coffee, pop, meat, etc. It is not giving up "bad things" but giving up something that you depend on or enjoy.
WHY DO WE FAST?
1. Fasting shows you the value of God above all things. Instead of turning to these things or finding our satisfaction in them, we use the void created to turn us toward our ultimate source of satisfaction - God.
2. Fasting trains you to suffer well. You will suffer. That's one of life's realities. You can either waste your suffering by becoming bitter and angry or you can allow God to use your suffering to make you more like Jesus. When you fast, you are intentionally suffering in order to train yourself for godliness.
3. Fasting teaches you self-denial. Jesus called his disciples and said "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." (Matt. 16:24) Denying yourself helps you learn to resist sin and temptation.
4. Fasting helps you focus on God. Focus on one goal or prayer during your fasting. When your stomach growls or your thumb itches for the remote, turn your thoughts to God and pray for that thing.
5. In spite of all of these reasons, the main reason I began to practice fasting was this - Jesus did it and tells us to do it. In Matthew 6:16, he says "When you fast . . . ". There was no "if" or any thought that His disciples wouldn't. Jesus practiced fasting and He expected that His disciples would too.
HOW DO I START?
1. Choose the item that you will fast from.
Maybe you will abstain from meat, sweets, coffee, pop, or some other food. You may choose to fast from an entire meal - for example, skip breakfast or lunch every day.
2. Find a focal point or prayer.
I am praying that God will use Redeemer to help 60 people encounter and follow Jesus in 2010. I hope you'll join me in that prayer.
3. Commit your journey to God.
The point of this exercise is to learn to depend on God, not your own skills or willpower. Commit your way to God and ask Him for His help.
Check back to the blog for prayers, thoughts, and challenges throughout the Lenten Fast. Also, feel free to comment and share your own thoughts and discoveries.
Here's my prayer for you today:
"Father, thank You for those who are giving up some pleasure to seek you. We want You more than we want the comfort of these 'things.' Teach us to rely on You through this journey. As we draw close to You, I ask You to respond and draw close to us. Amen."