The church we attend (and where I serve) is an independent, non-denominational church that does not practice a lot of traditional liturgy. However, I was raised in the Methodist church so I’m somewhat familiar with it. If you’ve seen people today with ash crosses on their foreheads like I have already, that’s your clue that today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lenten season. That makes yesterday Fat Tuesday. (I was going to Tweet “Hey, hey, hey….It’s faaaaat Tuesday” but I didn’t think of it until 11:00 last night and I missed my window of opportunity). If you didn’t know, Mardi Gras is french for Fat Tuesday.
Anyway…So, what, again, is Lent? Basically, Lent is the season leading up to Easter and kicks off on Ash Wednesday. Here’s a pretty good description of the purpose of Lent from www.churchyear.net:
The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. Thus it is fitting that the season of Lent begin with a symbol of repentance: placing ashes mixed with oil on one’s head or forehead. However, we must remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit. Our Lenten disciplines are supposed to help us become more like Christ. Eastern Christians call this process theosis, which St. Athanasius aptly describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.”
My wife and I always take this opportunity to identify some things in our life that are not helping us mature spiritually. We then abstain from it entirely, or mostly, for the season of Lent. It’s usually involves dessert or sweets, or TV or something like that. One year we actually went 40 days with no TV (give or take an hour). That was pretty awesome. One year I went without coffee (I had some decaf). That was hard. Last night we decided what it would be and we are trying to figure out how to bring the kids into it with us. It always results in a new awareness of the things that are hindering the growth in our relationship with Jesus.
In the Bible we see that fasting was once commonplace. I don’t remember any teaching on fasting from all my years growing up in church (no offense to my church). It seems like fasting still remains a mystery and is missing in the lives of many Christians.
Fasting is difficult. Our flesh desires are very strong and for those of us who have the means to feed them, fasting is a very good spiritual practice. Try it sometime – just skip lunch – on purpose. Don’t tell anyone – just don’t eat lunch. You’ll be hungry. Let that remind you to pray. Think about what you really need to live. Think about what God provides for you. Ask yourself how much you rely on God. Consider how materialism and consumerism may be creeping into your life. Consider how material things might distract you from relationships with your family – your friends – and God. Consider the reasons you might seek material things, or to eat junk food, or to watch TV. Are you medicating a deeper issue? Are you bored in life? Are you just lazy?
I’d love to take this opportunity to invite, for the first time, an intentional discussion right here on the blog. Here are some questions to ponder and discuss. Just click on the comments link and leave your thoughts. You can also subscribe to the post comments. You then get an email every time a new comment in this post is added.
- Have you ever fasted before? If so, what was your experience like and what resulted from it?
- Do you understand what fasting is all about?
- Are you giving up anything for Lent this year? What is it and why?
Last year when Tracy had us fast, we went to see OSU play a game in Indiana, and the fast went VERY easy. I felt so lucky that it wasn’t hard. After reading your post it occurred to me that BECAUSE it was easy I didn’t benefit from it as I could have.