What kind of fast are you doing during Lent?
Lent is the season of 40 days (not counting Sundays) that precedes Easter. Starting with Ash Wednesday (this year, March 5th) we add and remove things from our lives in order to get us ready to celebrate the Resurrection. This often includes adding things like prayer, reading the Bible, special worship services, repentance, and self-reflection… and removing things through fasting or self-denial.
For many people, those last two activities are the hallmark traits of a Lenten discipline. If you haven’t taken on a fast yourself, you probably know someone who regularly gives up something like chocolate for this month-and-a-half.
So: What kind of fast are you doing for Lent?
For Isaiah, there is only one answer: the fast that God desires.
It’s very possible to take on a fast that God has no interest in. One where the real goal is to drop a few pounds, with God serving as our accountability coach. Or one that leaves us feeling spiritually smug because we were able to go 40 whole days without a beloved sweet treat. These are not the fasts that God desires.
Here’s what Isaiah says God wants a fast to do:
“…to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke…
…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…” (58:6-7).
The point of spiritual disciplines is to mold us to be more like God and to shape our world to be more like God’s kingdom. So a fast that does anything less than either of those things is no fast worth doing.
To find a fast for you, start by identifying something you enjoy, where giving it up would be a real sacrifice. Then, after you’ve chosen an action you’ll abstain from, replace it with a (more positive) action. Such as…
- Giving up 30 minutes of your T.V. time each day, and spending that time picking up litter instead.
- Giving up Facebook and spending that time getting to know your neighbors instead.
- Giving up a spending habit – like clothes shopping – and donating the money you would have spent toward your favorite nonprofit.
- Giving up something like chocolate, and when you really want to have a piece, pausing to pray for someone who is truly suffering.
Whatever you choose to do – or not do – may God guide you to some way to grow in your knowledge of Christ. And as you come to know Christ more, may your whole life become the kind of fast that God desires.