The Lenten Season invites believers to take part in a corporate fast. The purpose of a fast is to become more aware of your powerlessness and to help you focus on God. I think of my fasts from food as a way I show myself and God that I am really serious about the focus of prayer. Of course as soon as the church gave a spiritual focus for fasting during Lent, we fallen humans found a way to focus on the food rather than the spiritual purpose. Thus most people know more about Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras that focus on anything but spiritual intimacy.
I first practiced fasting as a teenager with my youth group. I didn’t realize what a gift this was to learn to fast for a day or two combined with prayer. I connected this discipline with major decisions, and I often fasted before making major decisions for my life. It has always a spiritual victory in my life. I have participated in corporate fasts during election seasons on Tuesdays when invited by a pastor or spiritual ministry. I’ve fasted over church needs and decisions. In other words, I have experienced fasting as a positive and powerful spiritual discipline.
Therefore, when my church suggested that we use the Season of Lent to fast together as a church community, I knew it would be good for me. The plan is to fast on three days during Lent. We fasted on Ash Wednesday, March 19 and Good Friday. This seemed a no brainer for me. I was surprised by how bad I felt during my Ash Wednesday fast. I had a terrible headache and felt dizzy all day. I didn’t even get to attend an Ash Wednesday service as planned because I felt too bad to drive to church. What a strange day it was. I felt like a failure at fasting. Since I had a 4 p.m. appointment that afternoon, I asked God if it would be okay if I ate a peanut butter graham cracker because I didn’t think I could drive without some food in my stomach. I quit my fast one hour early, but it was exactly what God meant it to be for me. The spiritual lesson of failure at fasting was so clear and energizing. The point of the fast is to recognize my limitedness and realize His un-limitedness. It worked. I prayed for Him to give me the strength I needed to complete my fast as I had it planned. He could have done that. I believe He wanted me to see that I am finite and that His thoughts are far above my thoughts. Although it would have made perfect sense to me if God would have given me strength to complete the fast exactly as I had committed to Him at the beginning not stop early, He did not want to teach me the lesson that way. I’m sure it is because failing at fasting was so much more poignant. I learned the lesson well. I learned that I am finite and cannot even do a fast without His strength. I learned the freedom that is mine in Christ—that I can fail a fast, and it does not change God’s love for me one bit.
I love this Lenten Collect regarding fasting:
Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in these our supplications: and grant that, like at this fast hath been ordained for the healing of our bodies and our souls, so we may be in all godliness and lowliness observe the same.
God was faithful to mercifully assist me by healing my body and soul through my recent fast. I feel both the godliness and the lowliness from my own personal experience. Jesus said,
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
Failing at fasting has great rewards!