Lent & Fasting

Lent & Fasting

John Haralson   •   March 29, 2017

This post is part of a series on becoming a people of prayer. During the season of Lent, the leadership at Grace is inviting our congregation into committing to morning and evening prayer using the prayer book Seeking God’s Face in the morning and the Prayer of Examen in the evening.

 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
Jesus, in John 6:47-51


Dear Friends,

God routinely leads his people into the wilderness. He directs us into places where we cannot rely on ourselves or on our surroundings to provide the things we need. Instead, the Lord makes a regular habit of putting us in situations where we must trust in him.

When we fast, we voluntarily take a short trip into the wilderness. By choosing to go without food or other key aspects of our daily lives, we refuse to partake of various good gifts from God so that we may grow in our ability to depend upon him. 

So, when best understood, fasting is not a form of works righteousness or super spirituality. It is a very practical discipline through which we can create space for and cultivate dependence upon God. In other words, the focus during fasting isn’t on what you are giving up (“Look at me, I’m starving for Jesus! Aren’t I holy?!”). Instead, the focus of fasting becomes the encounters with God that take place during the fast.

This Lent, I have given up alcohol and taken social media apps off my phone. Though I haven’t been flawless in my ability to stick to the fast (that’s not the point, anyway), I have begun to realize how I use both social media and alcohol to distract myself from  what is going on in my own heart. If I’ve had a rough day, a beer or two can really help take my mind off of it. The problem is that “taking my mind off” my problems generally results in them getting buried. I seldom seem to address things that I habitually escape from.

So, this Lent, I have found myself at various times angry and anxious. Without the numbing effect of a really delicious IPA or a 20-minute Twitter session, these emotions have nowhere to hide. And, at key points in the past couple of weeks, I have been able to bring both my anxiety and anger to the Lord. 

There have been moments when this has resulted in my entering into a significant time of spiritual wrestling before God. There have been some intense struggles that God has wanted me to walk through. If I wasn’t fasting, I probably would have sleepwalked through these opportunities.

At other times, there were no major epiphanies. God just told me to act faithfully and lovingly toward those around me instead of letting my anger or anxiety rule over me. “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other,” seemed to be the message from God in these moments.

The point of fasting is not that we might become a congregation of spiritual giants. Rather, through the discipline of fasting, we get to live out our dependence upon God more fully. We create opportunities where we may learn what it means to pray to the Lord, “Give us this day our daily bread.” 

In our culture of instant gratification, this is pretty radical.

Warmly in Christ,

John

PS This blog post was inspired in part by this homily by Bishop Stephen Scarlett of St. Matthews Church in Newport Beach, CA. In addition, here is a longer article from Comment magazine. on the practice of fasting.