Fasting for Lent

How do you observe Lent?

In the Anglican church, it is common to hear someone ask, “What are you doing for Lent?” The answers are a mixture of giving something up and taking on something new. You often hear things like:

“I am giving up chocolate for Lent.”

or “I am cutting back on alcohol.”

or “I am going to read the Bible more.”

or “I am going to volunteer at the soup kitchen.”

The question often arises, why do we fast and take on disciplines for Lent? Is there something earth shattering about giving up chocolate? The answer is no. So why do it? Here are four simple but profound reasons.

Fasting for Obedience

1) The first reason is that Jesus asks us to do these things (see Matthew 6:1-18). It is about obedience. Of course, he doesn’t specifically ask for chocolate. That is not the point. Rather, it is part of a three-fold challenge from Jesus that gives focus to Lent. It is traditionally listed as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

These are meant to be serious practices, but not legalistic ones. Jesus wants us to pray because prayer is the language of our relationship with God. It is how we grow closer to God. Jesus wants us to fast because fasting allows us to find freedom from unhealthy habits. And Jesus wants us to give alms because it is an expression of care and compassion for people in need, and we need to practice doing that. Giving up chocolate or alcohol or whatever is an expression of fasting and doing without, not for its own sake, but for education and healing.

Learning through Fasting for Lent

2) Fasting is partly about learning. I don’t mean about facts, but about deep inner truths. It helps us realize that many people live in poverty and will never have what we are struggling to do without. We grow in humility as we see that we can do with less than we think we need, and that we have resources that can be used to help others.

In the book of Isaiah, fasting is closely connected with justice. The prophet criticizes those who fast and do other religious rituals, while simultaneously perpetuating injustice. He writes, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry…?” (Isaiah 48: 6-7a). Part of the purpose of fasting is to help us develop a heart of compassion, which leads to generosity of spirit.

Fasting for Reflection and Growth

3) Fasting for Lent also teaches us something important about our inner life: we need heart healing. This is Jesus’ main goal. He calls us to fast because he wants us to grow deeper in maturity. The problem is that we have many unhealthy habits and attachments in our lives. For instance, let’s say I fast from all sugar during Lent. It doesn’t seem big. But the reality is that I would find that hard. I am used to quite a bit of sugar in my diet. Therefore, when I find it hard, I need to ask myself, why? What am I learning about myself? What am I learning about what I serve?

Now let’s imagine that it is so hard that I find myself getting irritated at my kids or wife. Again, I need to really think about this. What is it within me that is struggling? This should be easy: just stop eating sugar. But why don’t I have the patience and strength?

In truth, it is not easy. And this is the point. We don’t mature and grow unless we push beyond what is comfortable. If everything is comfortable, we stagnate. Giving up chocolate or alcohol–or whatever–amounts to putting controlled spiritual and emotional stress on our lives. This is partly so that we can push through it. But the real reason is that it gives us a glimpse into our souls and shows us we need healing.

Fasting for Lent for Healing

4) Healing is the point. God is nothing but love, and looks with compassion on our struggles. God wants to heal our souls, and this doesn’t happen quickly. The New Testament doesn’t distinguish heart, soul and mind in the same way we do. They are a whole, and inside are a mixture of positive and negative emotions, impulses and drives. There is compassion, hospitality, courage, love, and a host of other good stuff. There is also anger, fear, lust, unhealthy hungers, violence, prejudices, and a host of other bad stuff. They are all mixed up together.

Part of the Good News is that Christ came to bring healing and wholeness to human beings. He brings grace, mercy, and love to transform our hard hearts into soft hearts. This is neither a simple nor a quick process.

We tend to hide our hurt, pain, and negative emotions. But if we bring them into the gentle light of Christ with honesty and humility, he will heal them over time. Sometimes we need to do this soul work with another person guiding us, be it a spiritual mentor or a psychologist.

Fasting for Lent helps us to find the areas of hardness in our hearts by surfacing what needs the most healing. The next step is to pray for God to heal those places. Spend time in prayer for your inner being. God wants to birth within you a new creation. This is the deeper meaning of fasting.

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 33: Epiphany and the Visit of the Magi

The Hope Canteen Podcast Episode 33: Epiphany and the Visit of the Magi
Epiphany and the Visit of the Magi

Matthew 2:1-12 tells of the visit of the Magi, mysterious strangers who follow a star to find the child Jesus. There, they offer him gifts that symbolize authority and holiness. This story brings into relief important insights about Jesus’ mission. It also foreshadows the conflicts his values will have with those who seek earthly power for power’s sake.

Epiphany, which means “revelation” or “enlightenment”, marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. Join us around the virtual table as we talk about God’s revelation in the feast of the Epiphany and the visit of the magi.

Keeping Awake: Discerning How God Speaks

Keeping Awake: Discerning How God Speaks

Welcome to the season of Advent, the time of preparation for the coming of the Christ child, the one who brings light and blessing. The message of Advent comes from the Gospel lesson we read last Sunday. Jesus says, “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:37) What does it mean to keep awake? There are different ways to answer this, but at the simplest level, keeping awake means listening to God and getting to know how God speaks.

What Being Blessed Really Means

Once, when Jesus was teaching (Luke 11:27-28), someone was deeply touched by his wisdom. She exclaimed how blessed Jesus’ mother must be for giving birth to such a child. I am guessing that the speaker was also a mother who wanted to express her gratitude. Normally, Jesus might have agreed that his mother was pretty special, but here he answers differently to make a point. He says, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it.” One of our most important tasks is to listen to the Word of God.

God is speaking to you constantly. Are you listening? This is the question that Jesus wants us to take seriously. God does not usually speak to us like we speak to one another. Because God uses a different kind of speaking, we have to develop a different kind of listening.

How God Speaks

First and foremost, God has spoken through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is why we call Jesus the Word of God (John 1:1-3). To understand what Jesus’ life says, we turn to the second most important way God has spoken: through the writings that tell the story of Jesus, that reflect on the meaning of his life, and that tell the story of his ancestors. These are the Scriptures. We listen to the Word by reading, praying and reflecting on them. God also speaks through history, including the events of your life and the people you know.

This way of listening may be unfamiliar to us, and so the meaning is not immediately obvious. For this reason, listening becomes what we call discernment: a considered, prayerful process of tuning our spiritual ears to God’s voice.

The Call of Advent

Advent is the promise that Christ is coming. He comes at Christmas, but he also comes every day. His grace and love is constantly active. Do we see it? Do we hear it? Are we a part of it?

This Advent, consider how you listen to God and how you discern God’s voice. God is speaking to you. Are you listening? Do you keep awake?

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 29: Welcome to Advent

The Hope Canteen Podcast - Advent 1
Episode 29: Welcome to Advent

After a couple of weeks off recovering from Covid, we are back to celebrate the church’s new year with a conversation about everything Advent. Find out why this week’s reading, Mark 13:24-37, is not actually as strange as it seems for the Christmas season. Join us around the virtual table as we talk about the themes and symbols that converge on these very special four weeks of preparation for the birth of Jesus.

What do you love most about Advent? Please join the conversation! Add your reflections in the comments below.