Why Does Redeemer Encouraging You To Participate In Lent?
You should fast, whether or not you participate in Lent. We don't encourage "Lent", as if there were something magical about it. What we encourage is fasting. Lent is simply time set aside to fast. You may choose to fast during Lent. You should fast at various times, whether it includes Lent or not.
What is fasting?
Fasting is voluntarily giving up some good thing, for a set period of time, in order to focus on God. It is voluntary - you don't have to do it. You give up a good thing (It does not mean stopping something sinful or harmful). It is for a set period of time (It could be one meal, one day, three days, whatever).
Fasting is a spiritual discipline that helps to train you in godliness and holiness. The purpose is to focus on God. Spiritual disciplines are like drills in athletics. They prepare you to perform at a higher level later. For example, you run wind sprints at football practice so that when the game comes you can play better. The referee doesn't meet both teams at midfield, add up the sprints they ran the previous week and award the game to the team that ran the most. They still have to play the game.
Fasting trains you in godliness by helping you to focus on God. You select a good thing, set it aside and focus on drawing near to God. For example, you may choose to fast from lunch. Instead of using your lunch hour to eat, you use that time to take a walk and pray.
Fasting is NOT:
- Giving up something sinful or bad that you should quit anyway.
- A means of earning "extra credit" with God.
- Something you are forced to do.
- A means of doing something beneficial for you but not focused on God (for example, losing weight).
Part of the backlash against Lent comes because people use it for one of these reasons. If you are using Lent or fasting for some reason other than drawing near to God, you shouldn't do it.
Why Should I Fast?
Here's one thing I have yet to see addressed by anyone criticizing Lent: Jesus expects you to fast, just like he expects you to pray and give. He practiced fasting himself (see Luke 4:2). In Matthew 6:16-18 he says "And when you fast . . . ", assuming that you will.
The point is that fasting is good and should be practiced. It is only bad if it is done for show, to earn credit with God, or for your own purposes.
What Does This Mean For Redeemer?
We participate in Lent because it is a good time to focus on God and prepare ourselves to celebrate Easter. We want you to participate by fasting from something that is good and enjoyable.
Here's why: when you "miss" that thing, it serves as a reminder to pray and seek God. In addition, it creates a valuable rhythm in your life. You give something up and focus on God during the week. You enjoy it and celebrate Him as the giver of all good things by enjoying it on Sunday. We need to practice celebrating too!
Here's an example of how it works: You don't eat sweets during the week and instead seek God when you crave them. On Sunday, you eat all the sweets you want and thank God for them every time (and you won't have to be reminded to be thankful!!!).
This just doesn't work if you're using it to kick a bad habit or give up something good. For example, a guy decides to stop cussing for Lent. He doesn't cuss during the week and maybe he does pray when he's frustrated or angry. On Sunday, he swears all day and thanks God for the gift. Ummmmmm. No.
If you have some specific questions, please post those and we'll try to answer them.
If you're interested, there's a sermon entitled: Fasting: Developing a Hunger for God on 1/16/2011 here.