For Lent this year I am giving up smoking. And guess what, I don’t smoke. Confused? Let me explain. The point is this. For many, Lent has become an annual ritual. People chose something to give up or “fast” from for 40 days, if they can last that long.
It almost feels like the New Year’s resolutions people make. “I will give up fast food this year.” The problem is, like resolutions, many people have a hard time keeping the fast for 40 days. So, I ask, what is the point? When I am asked, every year, what I am going to fast from during Lent, I say I am going to give up something I don’t even do because then I know for sure I will succeed.
If you are still reading let me say thank you and let me go a little deeper. The observance of Lent, which began last Wednesday (Ash Wednesday), is not a biblical practice. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we must observe Lent. Even Ash Wednesday is not in the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church began the practice centuries ago and is still practiced today. Several denominations outside the Catholic Church also celebrate Ash Wednesday and Lent.
I have mentioned these facts above to many. In response, I have been told that by saying that Lent is not in the Bible, I am attacking the Catholic faith. This is not that case at all. My point is that it is not a sin to observe Lent and fast from something, but it’s also true that it’s not a sin to not observe Lent since it is not a commandment or one of Jesus’ imperatives.
Let me address the crux of the observance of Lent, which is fasting. Fasting is one of the spiritual disciplines that all Christians should practice when the reason to fast is to focus solely on the Lord. Throughout history there have been many people who fasted but not because they wanted to draw near to the Lord but they wanted personal gain or for others to see their piety.
In Zechariah 7:5, God asks this question: “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these 70 years, was it for me that you fasted?” The last part of the verse is key. Read it again, “was it for me [God] you fasted?”
God wants to make it clear that whenever you fast you are truly doing it for him and not because of rituals, which is what was happening in Zechariah 7 or for personal gain. Again, we see in Isaiah 58, which I recommend you read in its entirety but, specifically now for our purposes, let’s look at verses 3-5.
The people ask God “Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” and God responds “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?”
God lays out the question you must ask yourself when you fast during Lent or any period for that matter. Is your fast acceptable to the Lord? Because, if you are doing it out a desire to keep a ritual or for your own pleasure, then it is not acceptable to the Lord. So where does this leave us on this first Sunday of Lent? We should examine our hearts and make sure that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Lastly, examine what it is you are fasting from and giving up for Lent. The purpose of fasting is to remove something that is impeding your drawing closer to the Lord so that you can focus solely on Him. Therefore, ask yourself the question: Is what I am fasting from truly impeding my devotion to God? Is this getting in the way of Jesus being Lord of my life?
There is a good chance that what you are fasting from during Lent is something you should fast from beyond Lent if our goal is in fact to have Jesus at the center of our life.
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