The season of Lent starts today–the 40 day period of fasting and prayer when Christians fast from certain foods, all food, or habits in order to remember and meditate on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. This fasting and prayer also ties with giving to charitable purposes, a tangible way to illustrate God’s mercy by pouring out mercy to others.
I’ve fasted from something during every season of Lent for the last 5 years, but, to be honest, I’m not sure why. Many people will ask this time of year, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Then someone will respond, “Chocolate,” or “Soda,” etc… and then the conversation ends. But is that really where the season of Lent ends? We just give something up for 40 days and that’s it? I know there’s something more here.
I did a little internet research and discovered some helpful information in this article from the Resurgence, called Why Bother With Lent. (I found the sections “Confusion Regarding Lent” and “Fasting and Prayer” to be especially helpful.)
An important thought from the article to keep in mind this season:
Any special attention to the Lenten season that honors God must include heart-level repentance and real faith, not external obedience to church tradition.
Here’s some of what Elliot Grudem and Bruce Benedict had to say about fasting:
We fast (not just during Lent) because Jesus told us to do so (Matt. 6:16, Mark 2:20). We fast because we continue to see the pattern of fasting practiced in the church (Acts 13, for example). We fast because it is one of the means God uses to break the power of sin in our lives, prepare us well for prayer, and humble us before him (for unlike God, we need food to live).
The act of self-denial can be a helpful tool in your Christian growth. There is nothing magic about it; however it can be a helpful reminder of your deep need for Jesus and the way that Jesus meets and satisfies your every need. [emphasis mine]
Lord, use this Lenten season to break the power of sin in our lives, prepare us well for prayer, and humble us before you. Break us of feeling enslaved to a law of fasting or abstaining, and instead bring our hearts to repentance and humility. May this season be a reminder of our deep need for your Son and a reminder of the way Jesus perfectly fulfills and satisfies our every need. May our desires for what we’re abstaining from point us to you and lead us to meditate on your provision.
Romans 14: 5-9
In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.
God, thank you for this season of Lent and for the new life we have through your Son. May those of us who decide to practice the disciplines of Lent be fully convinced and thankful. May those of us who decide not to practice the disciplines of Lent also be fully convinced and thankful. May we not condemn one another for eating or abstaining, and instead remain focused on bringing honor to your name and being thankful for your provision. Thank you for sending your Son to be our redemption. Protect me from becoming hardened to that truth and soften my heart to be molded into your likeness. Move us to be merciful to others as you are merciful to us. So thankful, Lord. I love you, Father. Amen.