Hard Topics: Why I "LENT"

Being from the New Orleans area, I’ve always recognized Lent as a time when my Catholic friends wore ashes on their foreheads and ate fish on Fridays. Lent traditionally is the period of fasting leading up to the feast of Easter, recalling Jesus' 40-day fast in the wilderness. The current Catholic tradition is to abstain from one thing and eat fish only on Fridays. Since this is a simple intro to fasting during lent we’ll not delve into the history of why the Catholic church does what it does. The fact is that throughout the Jewish tradition there would be often nation wide fasts to know the Will of the Lord. Historically it is an amazing idea for the same Kingdom of God to continue doing this fasting on a yearly basis. The following contains excerpts from Celebration of Discipline By Richard Foster

            Throughout Scripture, fasting refers to abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. It stands in contrast to the hunger strike, or for health reasons such as dieting. Biblical fasting always centers on spiritual purposes.

Scripture Describes Different Types of Fasts

   The Normal Fast This involved abstaining from all food, solid or liquid, but not from water. In the forty-day fast of Jesus, we are told that “He ate nothing” and toward the end of the fast that “He was hungry” and that Satan tempted Him to eat, indicating that the abstaining was from food, but not from water. (Luke 4:2)

   The Partial Fast The Bible describes what could be considered a partial fast: that is, there is a restriction of diet, but not total abstention. Although the normal fast seemed to be the custom with the prophet Daniel, there was an occasion where for three weeks he “ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.” (Daniel 10:3)

   The Absolute Fast There are several examples in Scripture of what has rightly been called an “absolute fast”, or an abstaining from both food and water. It usually appears as a desperate measure to meet a dire emergency. Upon learning that execution awaited herself and her people, Esther instructed Mordecai, “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16) Paul engaged in a three-day absolute fast following his encounter with the living Christ. (Acts 9:9) It must be underscored that the absolute fast is the exception and should never be engaged in unless one has a very clear command from God, and then for not more than three days.

Is Fasting a Commandment?
Nowhere in Scripture do we find Biblical laws that require regular fasting, nor do we find a direct command to fast. What we do find are examples of many Biblical personages to whom fasting was a regular part of their lives: 
The list of Biblical fast-ers runs like a "Who's Who" of Scripture: Abraham's servant when he was seeking a bride for Isaac, Moses on Mt. Sinai, Hannah when she was praying for a child, David on several occasions, Elijah after his victory over Jezebel, Ezra when he was mourning over Israel's faithlessness, Nehemiah when he was preparing the trip back to Israel, Esther when God's people were threatened with extermination, Daniel on numerous occasions, the people of Nineveh - including the cattle (involuntarily no doubt), Jesus when he began his public ministry, Paul at the point of his conversion, the Christians at Antioch when they sent off Paul and Barnabas on their mission endeavor, Paul and others when they appointed all of the elders, and on and on it goes.
Many of the great Christians throughout church history fasted and testified to its value. Among them were: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, Charles Finney and Pastor Hsi of China.

Jesus gives instruction on fasting in the Sermon on the Mount. He states: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.” (Matthew 6:16) Jesus did not say “If you fast”, neither did He say “You must fast.” He seemed to make the assumption that people would fast, and what was needed was instruction on how to do it properly. The Purpose of Fasting; Fasting must center on God. It should draw us closer to God, where we will experience a deeper relationship with Him. Like Anna, in Luke 2:37, we should “worship night and day, fasting and praying,” when we’re in the midst of Lent.

Fasting reveals the things that control us. We tend to cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David said, “I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting.” (Psalm 35:13) Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear - if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. At first we will rationalize that our anger, for example, is due to our hunger. We will then discover that we are angry not because of hunger, but because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.

Fasting helps us keep our balance in life. How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives. How quickly we crave things we do not need until we are enslaved by them. Paul wrote, “Everything is permissible for me"--but I will not be mastered by anything.” (I Cor. 6:12) “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (I Cor. 9:27) David wrote, “My knees give way from fasting; my body is thin and gaunt.” (Psalm 109:24) That is not asceticism; it is discipline - and discipline brings freedom.

It's a Spiritual "Colonoscopy." - 
I think about Lent as my "yearly spiritual checkup." The reason any doctor has a patient fast is so they can see problems. Some of these may be "polups, tears, cancer, disease, etc..." With things in the way the Doctor can't see the damaged areas. Spiritual fasting is a time to let the Eternal Doctor examine our lives and point out to us problems areas. Then we beg of the Lord to lead us through the healing process. 

Choose how you’re going to Fast. As Foster mentioned above there are Normal Fasts, Partial Fasts, and Absolute fasts. I tell you now, I would encourage you to take serious consideration on what you believe the Lord is asking you to sacrifice for him, especially if you’re considering Absolute fasts, and Normal Fasts. Many of the Rabbi when doing a forty day fast would follow the model that Daniel and his friends set fourth in Daniel 10.
            I am a proponent to a partial fast for the Lenten period. I’d suggest that you fast not only food options, but also anything that takes up your time that you could or should devote to the Lord. This could be fasting, tv, secular music, online gaming, needless reading, or even being with friends. Whatever you fast it must be something that the Lord lays on your heart.

Replace the Fasted item with Focus on the Lord. We see our Catholic friends fasting during Lent, but they’ve lost the purpose of Fasting. Fasting is a time to grow closer to the Lord and to purify their hearts, minds and body. So, when fasting anything we’re to replace it with time with the Lord. For me personally when I fast food, I will spend that normal “eating hour” reading scripture. Other times throughout the day I’ll meditate upon the scripture for that particular day if I’m using a specific reading plan / Bible study for the period of fasting. Daniel was known for being dedicated to prayer, probably even during his fasting period. I’d recommend when doing the Lent fast, replacing fasted items with prayer, meditation, and or Scripture reading. 

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