We Really Don't Eat?
Each year our congregation has been encouraged to fast during Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday (March 1). Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount about giving, praying, and fasting as virtues of the kingdom people. Jesus does not say, “If you fast.” Rather he says, "And whenever you fast..." (Matthew 6:16a) Therefore, I invite you to fast with me during Lent.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline; it means abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Fasting and prayer go together. Therefore we devote the time normally used for eating to reading scripture and prayer. Furthermore, the feeling of hunger is a reminder to draw near to God. We remove our dependence from food and instead depend upon God. Doing so often leads to greater intimacy with the Lord and to hearing more clearly what the Lord is saying to us. While there are interesting physical things that happen when we fast, far beyond anything physical is the spiritual. This is a discipline that helps us hear from the Lord and be in the Lord’s presence.
When you eliminate food, your spirit becomes uncluttered by the things of this world and more sensitive to the things of God. Fasting stirs a hunger in your spirit that goes deeper than the temporary hunger you experience in your body. When you hunger for God, you will be filled. Fasting makes you more sensitive to the timing and voice of the Holy Spirit.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, advocated fasting on both Wednesday and Friday each week as a regular spiritual discipline. As time passed, however, Wesley fasted mostly on Fridays, which was the Anglican norm, and advocated Friday fasting for Methodists in August 1739 in his journal.
To Wesley, fasting was an important way to express sorrow for sin and penitence for overindulgence in eating and drinking. He believed it allowed more time for prayer and was more meaningful if combined with giving to the poor (see this for more).
How to fast? Wesley usually began a Friday fast at sundown on Thursday. This was in continuity with Jewish and early Christian tradition, which both marked the beginning of the day at sundown, not midnight. Wesley typically ended his fast at 3 PM on Friday, though some fast until supper on Friday. This would be an excellent way to fast during Lent. It’s how I plan to fast this year (see this for more).
Still, some people are not able to fast from food, such as those who are diabetic or pregnant. Wesley advised caution against extreme fasting and against fasting for those in fragile health. Please do not abstain from food if it is unhealthy for you. Alternatively, rather than fasting from food or something else, consider adding a spiritual discipline (habit, practice) to your life during this time. For instance, you could read through the Gospel of John with a small group during Lent. Or you could add service each week, such as reading to a child to help Change a Child’s Story.
If you choose to participate in this spiritual discipline or if you have any questions or need help with how to fast, please let me know. There is more detailed information here on my blog.