Day #1: Wednesday, February 26 (Ash Wednesday)
Old Testament: Isaiah 58:1-12
New Testament: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
In our world of instant gratification, wholesale grocers, and super-sized fast food portions, fasting from food is one of the great counter-cultural practices of the church. Christian fasting, for various reasons, largely has become a foreign concept. Considering how often fasting appears in the Bible, it is surprising that it has been nudged to the edge of church life. In addition to fasting being a regular part of Israel’s religious life, David fasted upon realizing his sin with Bathsheba and the death of their child (2 Samuel 12), Esther asked for her fellow Jews to fast prior to her approaching the king (Esther 4:16), and Jesus presumed fasting as part of the godly life. But somewhere along the line, many Christ-followers gave up on the regular practice of fasting.
Historically, Ash Wednesday has been one of the few remaining observances of fasting by the church. Scot McKnight describes fasting as “a person’s whole-body natural response to life’s sacred moments.” Most often we think of fasting as willingly abstaining from food, drink, or even both. McKnight believes that fasting is a natural, physical and spiritual reaction to a sacred moment. When someone is facing a crisis (like losing a loved one), it is our natural instinct to stop eating. We lose our appetite. In those moments, a comforter’s first reaction is to encourage the grieving person to eat something for health and strength. If you have ever been in that situation, however, rarely does the person choose to eat. They need their space, time, and patience. During that sacred moment, they look beyond food for their sustenance.
If you have never fasted for non-medical reasons before, consider making today a day of fasting. If you feel like an entire day of fasting will be too difficult, choose to skip one meal. Human beings can live several weeks without food though you would never guess that if you watched the way we constantly consume food. I am convinced that God wants the best for us and that his desire is not for us to live a miserable, suffering life. The point of fasting is not to make ourselves miserable. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4 NIV). In the same way, there is a time to eat, and a time to refrain from eating. In our culture of affluence and middleclass lifestyle, we spend a lot of time laughing and dancing, but today is a day to mourn and reflect.
Fasting connects our body with our spirit and soul. Quoting McKnight again, “Fasting is a choice not to eat for a designated period because some moment is so sacred that partaking in food would deface or profane the seriousness of the moment.” When we are fasting, we are telling our body that something very significant, something sacred, is taking place, and we are not going to respond to our physical stimuli like we ordinarily would.
The entire Lenten season is a season designed for fasting. We suspend ordinary routines in order to provide space to more intentional focus on Jesus and our faith. Marva Dawn explains, ”The season was designed by our forebears to give us ample time to consider all that Christ did for us in his entire life of suffering, as that culminated in his death on the cross.” It has become common for people to give up desserts or alcohol or television or social media during Lent. Abstaining from anything that distracts us from the presence of God in our lives is commendable. Today is a good day to fast from food and to use those mealtimes to talk with God in prayerful meditation about how fasting can help you come to know Christ in the coming weeks. Spend today preparing your heart and considering ways that God can work on your heart throughout Lent.
Here are some ideas for you to consider as part of your fasting experience during the forty days of Lent.
- Think about your food addictions. Caffeine, sugar, and alcohol all have addictive qualities to them. Consider giving up your morning coffee, your daily desserts, or Friday night beer or wine during Lent and consider how subliminally you may be turning to these things for comfort.
- Give up listening to music in the car and learn to be comfortable in the silence.
- Reflect on how much time you spend on social media. Consider going on a Facebook or Instagram hiatus during Lent and take note of how much a part of your daily routines social media has become.
- Some have referred to today as the Golden Age of television. With so many ways to watch high quality programming we can be overwhelmed trying to keep up with all the great shows people seem to always be talking about. I’m certain that God appreciates good television but consider experiencing Lent without it. [Admittedly, such a fast will make following along at points in this journal a challenge.]
- Pornography has become an epidemic in our culture. Perhaps you have tried and failed more times than you want to admit at giving up your porn addiction, but you always find yourself right back in front of explicit content. Consider using Lent to start over again. When you are alone and vulnerable, find a better use of your time than in front of a computer or on your phone. Perhaps find an accountability partner that you can talk openly with during Lent to help keep you clean.
- Some of us really struggle with negativity. Consider using Lent to cleanse yourself of negative comments about others. Make a concerted effort each day to say nothing but positive comments all day long.
- How do you begin your day? I used to look at my phone almost as soon as I woke up (and check email and social media), and I was surprised at the big difference it made to wait and check my email and notifications after I began my day at the office. Consider your morning routines, and how changing them over the next few weeks might awaken yourself to the presence of God.
These are, of course, but a few ideas to help you determine your best pathway for Lent. One of the great blessings of Lent is that you can make it your own. Your walk with God is a unique one. You have struggles and vices unique to you. The church is here to be your encouragement but take this opportunity to design a commitment for knowing Christ by abstaining from some of your favorite things. Remember, just like a diet, avoid committing to more than you can handle. Forty days is a long time, and you want to pursue commitments that you can keep. Maybe a total fast would be too challenging, so consider fasting one day a week from some of the things mentioned above. Lent is intended to be a kind of gym for working out our spirituality. May God bless you as you discern your spiritual workout regimen.
 Scot McKnight, Fasting, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), xiv.
 Ibid, 19.
 Marva Dawn, A Royal ‘Waste’ of Time, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 279.