Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40 day period before Easter, known as Lent. Traditionally this is a time when Christians all over the world “fast” something.
I would like to take this blog post to tell you not to “fast” for the sake of “fasting”. Let’s take a look at two passages on fasting from the Bible, and break down what fasting is really about.
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
(Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
(Isaiah 58:3-8 ESV)
OK. So what are these two passages saying? First, fasting is between you and God. It’s not something to declare, nor something to show off. The purpose of fasting is to draw closer to him, not to gather the attention of others. Fasting does not make you “holier”. The idea that giving up chocolate, candy, texting, Facebook, tv, etc. would make you “holier” in the eyes of God shows that you do not understand what makes you “holy”. When Jesus called his follows to him, he said that we must deny ourselves. You know what means? Jesus wants ALL of us. Not just our Facebook time, our texting time, or our candy eating time. In fact, for you to “add” to your righteousness by fasting cheapens it. Your righteousness isn’t found in what you do. It’s found in what Jesus did on the cross. So for us to “add” to what Jesus did on the cross is in fact an offense to what God’s done for us. So we must not go there.
OK then… where does that leave us? Well the Isaiah passage gives us some insight into what fasting really IS about. It’s about a change in our lives. It’s about a routine change. It’s about getting out of our comfort zones. It’s giving to the poor, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, encouraging those who need it. Yes it’s good to give up something for God, but you must replace that with an action! If you’re gonna give up Facebook, then spend time each and every day encouraging someone. Right a letter to your family members everyday. Write a note to your mom or your dad every morning before they go to work. Change up your normal routine and go out of the way to do something for someone other than yourself.
So think about it. If you’re fasting for the wrong reasons, you’re just giving something up for no reason. Don’t “add” to the righteousness of the cross. Instead, look to the cross as your source of strength to change up your routine, get out of your comfort zone, and do something you normally wouldn’t do… so that “your light will break forth like the dawn”!
(Oh and if your break your fast, don’t be so hard on yourself and give up. Pick up where you left off and continue. Finish strong. The cross isn’t simply forgiveness for failure… it’s also the strength to finish.)