Lent is upon us!  Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which falls on February 22nd this year, and ends on Easter Sunday which falls on April 8th this year.  Lent is a period in the church calendar that is designed to be a penitential season of reflection and preparation.  The word Lent derives from a root word meaning “lengthen.”  In the season of Spring the days are lengthening. That’s perhaps a part of what Lent is about.  But also, historically in the Church, the practice of observing the Easter vigil was “lengthened” to 40 days – and thus this period of time became known as Lent.

Why forty days?  In the Bible, 40 days is a holy and complete time.  We see significant events in the Bible occurring in 40 days.  Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 commandments for 40 days.  During the flood of Noah it rained for 40 days and 40 nights.  When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, it was for 40 days.  And so the early Christian Church set the calendar for Lent at 40 days.  (Note – when you add up the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday you actually get more than 40 days.  That’s because the Sundays in Lent don’t count toward the 40 days.  On Sunday, the Lord’s day, the Church breaks from the penitence for one day of rejoicing and praise recognizing that Christ has overcome the grave and is alive and reigning! See Matt. 9:15)

So what happens during the 40 days?  Since Scripture does not mandate what is to happen during Lent, there is freedom and variety in how to observe this period of preparation.  I would suggest that anything that we can do to increase our awareness of Christ’s sacrifice, and what it means for us, is beneficial.  So at our church this means that we change things a bit by adding some things and taking some things away.  During Lent, we add midweek worship services that provide an extra opportunity to gather for prayer, meditation and reflection of the Lord’s passion and crucifixion.  And we also take some things away.  Usually decorations and celebrations are kept to a minimum, and in our worship services we generally choose hymns with a more somber tone, meaning that hymns and liturgical responses with “Alleluia’s” (a word expressing jubilation) are usually avoided.

What about for you?  I likewise recommend that in your individual observance of Lent that you also add some things and take some things away. For the period of Lent, you may want to consider adding some extra devotion time.  For your convenience, we make free Lenten devotional booklets available so you can have some special time of focus through Scripture and prayer.  You also may want to add in some time of corporate worship. Each Wednesday in Lent we offer a special evening service that is simpler in form and allows you the opportunity to sing and pray with other believers.  But also for the forty day period of Lent you may want to take something away.  We call this “fasting” and it is a spiritual discipline that has been practiced for centuries.

When we talk about spiritual disciplines we tend to focus on prayer, study, quiet time and tithing but often neglect fasting. However we see that in the Bible fasting is a spiritual discipline that was practiced by prophets, kings and apostles.  We see that many significant Biblical characters were blessed by God through fasting – Moses, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, Ester, Daniel and Paul, for example.  Even our Lord Jesus used fasting as a way to draw closer to the Father while He was being tempted by the devil in the desert (see Matthew 4).

What comes to mind when you think of fasting?  Is it something that only “super-spiritual” people do?  Is it something you think people do for attention?  Is it a gimmick?  Is it something that’s too difficult for you to do or something that’s out of your reach?  Let me address a few of these opinions and hopefully shed some light on this important spiritual discipline of fasting, and then let me suggest how you might use fasting as a way to draw closer to the Lord this coming Lent.

First, what is fasting not? Fasting is not a diet program. If you need to lose weight, a fast is not the way to do it.  Fasting is not for personal glory; it’s something that’s between you and God.  In fact, Jesus spoke out against those who drew attention to themselves when they were fasting. So what is fasting?  A simple definition of fasting is abstaining from something for spiritual purposes.  Usually it’s food that we forgo when fasting, but really anything that we give our attention to is something that could be removed in order to create more room for God in your life.  When you fast, your desire is to draw closer to God and to ask God to reveal himself to you.  Sometimes our lives get so full of the blessings of God, that we crowd out the One that is doing the blessing – God Himself.  Sometimes we have so much going on that if God wanted to speak to us there is so much noise and so much activity in our life that we couldn’t hear Him if He said something to us.  Remember, God often speaks in a whisper (1 Kings 19:12).  The purpose of fasting is to increase your awareness of and dependence upon God.

So, how might you fast this Lent?  One way is to simply give up something that you frequently crave, but is non-essential.  Chocolate is a popular choice since, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need chocolate to live!  Every time you forgo the pleasure of chocolate, it reminds you of Christ’s sacrifice for you and allows you to depend on God to get you through that craving.  All our cravings are something that only God can satisfy anyway.  You might give up something that is sapping your available time – television, video games or surfing the internet.  Consider spending the time that you free up, not with some other activity, but with family, or doing devotions, or enjoying God’s creation while meditating on His greatness!  There are many ways you can fast.

This year, I am going to encourage you to join me in doing a simple “juice fast.”  It’s a light fast and an easy way to start if you’ve never fasted before, yet it has all the spiritual benefits of drawing closer to the Lord through abstaining from something.  How you do a juice fast is to simply skip a meal or two and replace that meal with some liquid or juice.  This will help you to keep your energy up (diabetics and others, please consult your physician if you have any concerns about this diet change) but it still represents a sacrifice.  I suggest doing this fast each week during Lent.  For example: have a good meal for dinner on Tuesday, then have juices for breakfast and lunch on Wednesday, breaking your fast with dinner (perhaps soup supper at church?) on Wednesday. That’s a 24-hour juice fast!

Considering the challenging Spiritual work that our congregation is doing in preparing to reach many with the Gospel this Easter, shouldn’t we draw close to the Lord through fasting and prayer for the 40 days of Lent that precede Easter?  Won’t we individually benefit from the time spent seeking the Lord? Let’s do what we hear spoken of in Scripture, but seldom do – fast and pray.

To God Alone be the Glory,

Pastor Augie