Thursday, March 3, 2011

To Fast or Not to Fast

This next Wednesday (March 9th) is "Ash Wednesday." This day marks the beginning of Lent.

The practice of Lent (fasting for 40 days leading up to Resurrection Sunday) has its origins in the Early Church era (approx 100-300 AD). Resurrection Sunday (i.e. "Easter" Sunday) was a day when the Church most often held baptisms and so, for those wishing to be baptized into the Church, it was required that, in order to show their sincerity and dedication, they dedicate themselves to prayer and fasting leading up to their baptism day.

40 days was the chosen number due to it being the symbolic number of trials and testing (ie. Gen. 7:12; Ex. 24:14; 1Kg. 19:8; Jonah 3:4, 5; Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13; Lk. 4:1-14; Acts 1:3).

Of course, if you actually start counting from Ash Wednesday to Resurrection Sunday you'll realize that there are 46 days. This is because during Lent we don't fast on Sundays! After all, Sunday is a day for celebration and corporate worship; the first day of the week is set aside as "the Lord's day" (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:2, 9; Lk. 24:1; Jn. 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10) to commemorate His Resurrection. It is a day of celebration, not of fasting. So, while Lent actually lasts for 46 days, there are only 40 of those days that are days of fasting.

A lot of other, largely pointless and even counter-productive, traditions have been added to and mixed in with Lent (Mardi Gras, Fish Fridays, etc) but at the core of it, I think there's something good here.

After all, as we look ahead to the time when we celebrate the greatest moment in all of history, why wouldn't we take the time to demonstrate the sincerity and earnestness of our faith? Isn't that a significant part of what prayer and fasting are all about?

So, will you choose to fast? Why/why not?
What are some creative ideas of things we could fast from?

PS - I encourage you, as you ponder what you may want to give up for the next 40 odd days, to make sure that you are giving up something that is not only sacrificial, but also something that you are giving up for the right reasons: lent is not about you losing weight or about breaking that nasty habit. Lent is about you and God. If you happen to break that habit or lose that weight, that is just an added bonus.

The point of fasting in this type of situation is that whenever you instinctively want to do whatever you are giving up you force yourself to think on Christ. Take the time that you would normally be taking to do whatever you are giving up, and dedicate that time to Christ. Spend that time in a decidedly Godly way. You get the idea.


officehourthoughts said...

I just REALLY want to recommend the book "Fasting" by Scot McKnight. After reading it I was really challenged to take up fasting as a regular spiritual practice. It is a FANTASTIC book! One of the best I have read in a long time. And it is fast and easy.

Also. I got the link working on my blog :D

Timothy Braun said...

That book has been on my CBD wishlist for quite a while. Now I'm really going to have to pick it up. Thanks!