by Dorette Saunders
In this season of Lent, many will give some thought to fasting. While there is no biblical mandate to fast at this particular time, traditionally many view the 40-day period of Lent as a time to remember how Jesus resisted being tempted by the devil in the desert. Lent, then, became a time of fasting and repentance in order to get spiritually closer to God. Sadly, while many abstain from certain foods and behaviors, the practice of repentance seems to have fallen by the wayside. Yet, as we put purpose to our fasting, and look at the context of the times we live in, consider this biblical promise:
”If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV).
There is no question that our land, our world, needs healing right now. We need healing from war, strife, hate, and a multitude of sins we commit against each other, and against God. So the verse is appropriate.
Yet, some Christians think: “Oh no, not that again!” And so we stumble over God’s prescription for healing our land—humility, prayer, repentance—because we would rather have a panacea than a purge.
God is calling us to repentance – from the highest level office in the land to the person on the street; from the preacher in the pulpit to the parishioner in the pew. We have all sinned and need to confess, and with God’s help, turn away from the offending behaviors.
As Christians, when we fast without repentance, we miss the opportunity to become new wineskins, acceptable receptacles that carry God’s precious Word to others. We also miss the opportunity to gain new revelation of the depth of Jesus’ sufferings and to truly prepare for Holy Week and Resurrection Sunday.
The prophet Isaiah gives us an idea of what God expects our times of fasting should look like.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
(Isaiah 58:6-9, NIV)
So the objective of our fasting is not just about us, but rather our interconnectedness with those whom Jesus calls “the least of these” (Matthew 25:37-40). In fact, Jesus cautions us that when we fast, it should never be a broadcast of what we are giving up, but rather a personal, private commitment between us and God our Father (Matthew 6:16-18).
If we are choosing to be like the Lord, the prophet Micah reiterates some of the sentiments we’ve uplifted.
“And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
(Micah 6:8, NIV)
This type of “fast” is not a 40-day journey, but rather it is a lifestyle. It is a constant discernment of what God would have us do, and be. It is knowing that we exist and flourish within community. It is a fast that lasts. It includes everything that Jesus spoke of when he told us the greatest commandments were to love God and then to love our brothers and sisters as we love ourselves.
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, make us humble even as you showed us humility. Teach us to serve others, even as you served us. In this season, turn our hearts to true repentance and prayer. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.