Lenten Devotions 2015: To fast or not to fast?

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For centuries, fasting has often been associated with the Lenten season in various church traditions. I am often asked if one should fast during Lent. Therefore, I wanted to briefly explore this question today.

Fasting has been part of the biblical spirituality from time immemorial. Jesus himself fasted several times and spoke about genuine spiritual fasting as opposed to fasting as a show off of one’s religiosity. Jesus had no qualms about calling out people who showed off their fasting to others as hypocrites (Matthew 6: 16-18). However, historically speaking, there is no unanimity about fasting and the number of days one should fast during Lent. There is no divine or apostolic institution of Lenten fasting. The forty days Lent fast did not appear in the Church earlier than the 7th or even 8th century which was introduced by either Gregory the Great or Gregory II in the Western Church. So, Lenten fasting is a church tradition which evolved over the centuries. Even when early Church Fathers speak of fast, they clearly refer to different ways in which fast was observed. The time or days of fasting varied from forty hours to three weeks to six weeks or even seven weeks before Easter. However, most people in different church traditions did not fast for more than thirty-six days in total.

This is not to say that fasting has no significance during Lent. Even though the scriptures do not lay any demands on us to fast during Lent and God does not credit those who fast with extra righteousness or punish those who do not, fasting has its own spiritual benefits. God does not keep a record of how many hours, days, or weeks you fast nor does fasting in itself has any merit. It is not the duration that matters but it is the motive for and manner of fasting that is significant. The purpose of fasting is not to please God or to get any extra credit in our heavenly account; rather, the purpose is to use the act of fasting for our own sake; to devote ourselves to look within, to do penitence, to kneel in prayer, to meditate on God’s word, and to draw closer to God through this exercise. Though not mandatory, fasting could help us confess our sins, to ask God’s pardon and cleansing of our soul and body to be ultimately at peace with ourselves and with God, our Creator. Fasting has nourished the saints of old and it has the potential to nourish and edify us, too, in our life marred with tight schedules and stresses of all kinds. It is a true saying that “what can be done anytime is usually done at no time”; therefore, let us take advantage of this Lenten opportunity to do a sincere inner self-examination and deep cleansing with the powerful blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us use this provision of Lenten fast to grow in God’s grace and to be clothed anew in His holiness and righteousness without which no one will see God. Amen!

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Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 12.

Day 12, Tuesday, March 6, 2012

 Fasting is part of almost all religions in all parts of the world. So, what makes Christian believers’ fasting any different from others? Usually fasting involves going without food for a certain period. Now, food is one of the greatest blessings we receive from God, but it may also become one of the most common hindrances between God and us. Lack of discipline may easily lead us to be guilty of the sin of gluttony. Apostle Paul talked about some people whose belly had become their god (see Philippians 3:19). In fact, anything that takes the place of God in our lives may become our idol. Fasting aids us in overcoming gluttony and strengthening our dependence on God. By fasting we regain control over our most basic need—food—by surrendering it to God so that He

People gathered to break fastingmay help us place it in its rightful place.

 However, Christian fasting is different from other fasting in that it’s not just about going without food, especially during the Lent. Rather, fasting in the Bible is associated with repentance. For example, read passages like: Leviticus 16:29-34; Numbers 29:7-11; I Samuel 7:6; Joel 1:14, and Jonah 3: 5-9. These biblical cases remind us that fasting that’s not accompanied by genuine penitence over our sins and an honest readiness to mend our ways is not of much spiritual value. Unlike other religions, Christian fasting is not a way of self-punishment. The act of denying us food or drink alone does not make us holy unless there is remorse over sin in our lives and seeking God’s forgiveness. The Bible doesn’t teach that you have to fast in order to be saved. God in Christ Jesus has already completed the work of our salvation. So, God does not want us to hate or destroy our bodies. He loves us, we are precious in His eyes; therefore, God wants the best for us. He will never be pleased with any self-inflicted pain to our bodies. In fact, the Bible says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (I Corinthians 6:19). Therefore, God desires to purge His temple, that is, our souls and bodies, so that they become more suitable to worship the living God. Thus, let us introspect of our lives along with our fasting that we may benefit most from our fast this Lent. If we have no wish to repent and change after Easter, let us stop our Lenten fasting today. I promise God will not be angry with us! He desires mercy and honesty. Amen

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Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 11

Day 11, Monday, March 5, 2012

During Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness, though the Bible doesn’t clearly state, it’s believed that He fasted from food, but must have drank water during this period. According to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 4:2-3: “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’” Jesus could endure His long fast from food because He depended upon the grace and strength of God. God the Father was the source of His inner spiritual as well as physical strength. Indeed, the main purpose of fasting is to teach us complete dependence on God than on our own material power and resources. Just as the main purpose of wilderness experience in the Bible was to bring the people of God to a point where they could look beyond themselves and their own resources, and fixed their eyes upon God—the eternal source of power that will never run out. That’s why, God was distressed with the Israelites when, after settling down in the Promised Land, they built their own unsecured cisterns (gods and shrines) and forgot the eternal Cistern—Yahweh—as the source of their infinite power. It is clear in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah:

“Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord,

for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves,

broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:12-13).

If you find yourselves in the wilderness today, try fasting with prayer. Fasting in the wilderness, that is, in the time of your sufferings, troubles, pains, loneliness, abandonment, rejection, misunderstandings, etc., will help you assess your life and your dependence on your leaking resources. What are the cisterns in your life that you trust? Are they dripping? Do you feel the need to draw from the Cistern that is infinite and will never be depleted? If so, let us determine to depend upon God alone and He’ll help us in the rest of our journey and lead us victoriously out of it. I’m reminded of a story I read a while ago. Once, a boy and his father were walking along a road when they came across a large stone. The boy said to his father, “Do you think if I use all my strength, I can move this rock?” His father answered, “If you use all your strength, I am sure you can do it.” The boy began to push the rock. Exerting himself as much as he could, he pushed and pushed. The rock did not move. Discouraged, he said to his father, “You were wrong, I can’t do it.” The father placed his arm around the boy’s shoulder and said, “No, son, you didn’t use all your strength—you didn’t ask me to help.” Amen. 


Lenten Reflection 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 10

Day 10, Saturday, March 3, 2012

Jesus’ prayer in the wilderness was accompanied by fasting (Matthew 4:1-4). He gave up eating for forty days and forty nights in keeping with the traditional significance of the number forty in the Bible. Several important events in the life of Israelites happened in forty days beginning with the time of Noah (see Genesis 7:12; 8:6) to Moses (see Exodus 24:18), and finally, to the time of Prophet Jonah (see Jonah 3:4). The number 40 appears about 146 times in the Bible. Most often it symbolizes trial, testing, and/or probation of God’s people. Jesus set an example by fasting that we might follow in His steps. Along with prayer, fasting is one of the best spiritual disciplines one can nurture not only during the Lent but also as a regular practice. Like prayer, fasting teaches dependence on God and fortifies us spiritually to face the temptations of the devil. Fasting also makes it easier for us to listen to the voice of the Lord. Many believers, therefore, give up eating certain kinds of foods or meat altogether or partly during Lent. Some give up drinking alcohol or other beverages. In today’s culture where gluttony is not a sin anymore, we often sit down to eat and drink even when we are not hungry. In eating and drinking in this way, we tend to waste a lot of food, which is also not reckoned a sin anymore in spite of Jesus’ example of picking up the leftovers (see Luke 9:17). Let us give up eating and drinking out of just habit. And let us start honoring God and glorifying Him even in our bodies, as Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 10:31 (RSV): “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Moreover, what we often fail to recognize is that fasting shouldn’t be limited to just giving up certain foods and drinks. Since the purpose of Lenten fasting is spiritual and it should bring us closer to God, then, we should also be ready to give up a few other major things during the Lent. Some of them could be: our annual vacation, eating out often, superiority complex, our enemies, and inner desire to control stuff and people, slavery to time/goals/planning, unstated wish to be popular, narcissism, and so on. This list could go on and on, and I know it’s easier for many of us to give up food than to give up one of these things listed above. But if our purpose is to glorify God, and if we determined with prayer to surrender such things at God’s feet, He will strengthen us as He did His Son—Jesus Christ. Amen.