So it’s Lent again. Each year the common question circulating in “churchy” circles is “What have you given up this year?” Giving up something for Lent is a type of fast so that begs the question, what is fasting and why should we do it?
What fasting is not
Fasting is not a way to make God like you more. He already loves you with the same intensity of love he has for Jesus. Stop and think about that for a second. It’s a love perfected; an eternal love. A love the likes of which you can only imagine for nothing like it exists among people. You cannot make God love you any more or any less. And that’s a good thing ‘cause if you could I’d be in trouble!
Fasting is not a way to get God to bless you. Although we will try, people do not manipulate God. He may get a chuckle out of watching us cross our fingers, knock on wood, throw a prayer heavenward and change R-rated outbursts to PG grumblings, but his decisions do not hinge on our behavior. He causes the rain to fall on the wicked and the righteous. I don’t know why, maybe it has to do with that whole infinite love thing.
Fasting alone does not please God. I’m not sure where it came from, but many folks think God is anti-fun. That he gets joy watching you suffer. Not true. The God of the Bible is the God who peppered Israel’s religious calendar with feast days and celebrations. He is the God who turned water into wine so a wedding gala could go on. He is the God who tells the story of a loving father who, upon the return of his wayward son, spares no expense throwing a party in celebration. This is the God who invented waddling toddlers, gut-busting laughter, the pun, and sex! God is not anti-fun.
What fasting is
Fasting is a brisk wind that awakens us from worldly pursuits and reminds us – HEY! There are more important things out there! Fasting from food (just to name a few) helps us appreciate what we have, makes us aware of those who go without, teaches us we control our bodies and not the other way around, brings us back to prayer and the word as we use each hunger pang as a cue, saves us time (no prep, no travel, no clean-up) and saves us money both of which we can use intentionally to be with God or to bless others. It’s no wonder the Jews took it for granted that a person living a God-ward life would fast.
Fasting can involve anything. The first (and really the only) sin is the breaking of the 1st commandment. “You shall have no other gods before me.” The most dangerous idols are some of the very best things in your life. Money, art, technology, entertainment, food, activities. Those are good things, until they supplant the Best Thing. Regularly fasting from these things for a time, while it won’t make God notice you more, will get you outside of yourself to where you can notice God and the people God’s bringing across your path.