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.

Advent Traditions and the Incarnation

Advent Traditions & the Incarnation

At dinner time every evening, my children fight over who gets to light the Advent candle. This is one of our favourite Advent traditions. The desire to light the candle has little to do with piety and much more to do with the novelty of playing with fire. Nevertheless, I believe the simple act of delighting in striking the match over time anchors the deeper meaning of Advent. I hope that it at will sink in over years of lighting hundreds of candles. This is part of why I believe that physical traditions of Advent and Christmas are so important. Lighting a candle, putting up a tree, hanging lights, listening to Christmas music, giving to charity, baking goodies, wrapping presents, and more.

Traditions that Accent the Gospel Message

None of these are the Gospel message, but they accent it. They give us a concrete way to express the joy and wonder we experience as we meditate on the birth of Christ. God made us flesh and blood, not just souls. Jesus Christ did not just come as a proclamation. He came as a baby that his mother could hold and caress and physically love. The church has always recognized that we need to express our faith in physical ways. We break bread together in Eucharist, we adorn our church in beautiful colours and fabrics, we sing together, process with a cross, light candles, and exchange the peace. All of this helps us to embody the Gospel in our lives in simple and beautiful ways.

What are your favourite Advent and Christmas traditions? This year, consider renewing your appreciation of what they mean. For instance, when you light the Advent candles, meditate on the fact that fire represents the light of Christ. Or ponder the meaning of what hope or peace or joy or love might mean to you this day. When you put the star on the top of tree, let it remind you of the star that brought the wise men to Jesus. But even if you are not able to enter deeper into these truths this year, just enjoy the physical action of the traditions. They speak nevertheless.

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?

Book Study: Surprise the World! — LEARN Jesus

Surprise the World! - LEARN

In this series, we are looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World!, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe what this might look like. In our last three reflections, we looked at the first three letters, which stand for BLESS, EAT, and LISTEN. Today, we turn to the fourth habit: LEARN Jesus.

Frost talks about how important it is to LEARN Jesus Christ. He reminds us that everything we do as Christians is about Christ; it is built into our name. Jesus Christ is the reason for our hope. He is the one who has won our salvation and who teaches us what life with God looks like. Therefore, it makes sense that as Christians, we should know Jesus really well.

Catch the Jesus Wave

Frost tells the story of going to speak at a gathering of Christian surfers in Australia. He asked them who their favourite surfer was. They gave several different answers, but it was also clear that everyone was in awe of one superstar surfer: Kelly Slater. When Frost asked them to tell stories about Slater, the room erupted. People talked about all kinds of feats and awards.

Then he asked them to talk about Jesus. There was some silence, even though this was a Christian group. Some said things like ‘He’s Lord,’ or ‘He died for our sins.’ These doctrinal statements led to the point Frost wanted to make: what would it be like if they knew Jesus as well as they knew Kelly Slater?

Jesus is our teacher, our mentor, our guide, our saviour, our brother, and yes, our Lord. He did some amazing things, and taught profound wisdom. But if we are going to live like him and tell others about him, we need to know him as well as those surfers knew their hero.

Learn Jesus

Frost challenges us to spend some time once a week learning about Christ. The best way to do that is ‘a deep and ongoing study of the biographies of Jesus written by those who knew him best – the Gospels.’ Frost says that we need to not just read about Jesus, but to immerse ourselves completely in the Gospels, in the work and words of Jesus. In this way, we come to know Christ better and better, while we are drawn deeper into his life and are formed by him. This is our purpose. C.S. Lewis puts it like this:

In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw people into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.

Frost suggests three ways to know Jesus better:

1) Study the Gospels to Learn Jesus

Read, reread, and reread the Gospels. This doesn’t exclude other study, and you don’t have to do this all at once. But the Gospels are the heart of our faith because they tell of Jesus, the heart of everything. Set aside a period of time every week to learn Christ.

2) Read about Jesus

There are lots of great books about Jesus, both at a popular and scholarly level. Some suggestions:

Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright

Jesus the Fool by Michael Frost

King’s Cross by Tim Keller

The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright

3) Movies about Jesus

No movie captures everything about Jesus. By exploring a range of films, we can see how people encounter Jesus even today. Some of them, like Godspell, aren’t true to life, but seek to capture different aspects of Jesus’ character and action.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — Listen to the Holy Spirit

Surprise the World: LISTEN

In this series, we are looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World!, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe how this might look. In our last two reflections, we covered the first two letters, which stand for BLESS and EAT. Today, we are looking at the third habit: LISTEN to the Holy Spirit.

Listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit is crucial for our missional life. Frost tells us that we need to be attentive to the guiding of the Holy Spirit as we move out into the world to bless people and to eat with them. We need the Holy Spirit to help us in this crazy and complex world. We need the grace of the Holy Spirit to help us not to give into the two mission killers: fear and laziness.

It is easy to be afraid of what people will say when they find out that we are followers of Christ. Laziness tells us that we don’t have time and that we should take care of ourselves first. It is good to take care of ourselves as long as we don’t get stuck there. The grace of the Holy Spirit calls us into both/and rather than either/or.

We don’t just listen to the Holy Spirit for guidance. It is also about spending rejuvenating time with God. God’s call on our lives is more of a marathon than a sprint. To be effective, we also need to be centered. In his book Satisfy Your Soul, Bruce Demarest writes,

A quieted heart is our best preparation for all this work of God… Meditation refocuses us from ourselves and from the world so that we reflect on God’s Word, His nature, His abilities, and His works… The goal is simply to permit the Holy Spirit to activate the life-giving Word of God.

The paradox of living a missional life is that for the extraverts, being a blessing to people and eating with them is a real blessing, whereas the idea of sitting quietly seems like a drag. On the other hand, introverts can enjoy the silence but dread the effort of getting out and being with people. Frost writes that while he appreciates the dilemma, we need to be balanced. We need both the action in the world, and the nurturing time with God. For those who are not used to time in prayer, he suggests picking one significant period of time each week in the presence of God. In this way, we step outside the frantic and harried nature of life, and we will have something to give those around us.

Here are his suggestions:

1) Set Aside a Designated Time

Don’t try to do this on the run or whenever you find time. Set aside a block of at least twenty minutes to listen to God.

2) Eliminate Distractions

The quieter and less busy the room, the better. If there is a distraction, then your mind will go to it. Turn the phone off.

3) Let God In

Start by simply enjoying God’s presence. If you find your mind wandering, use a short prayer to bring you back.

4) Follow God’s Promptings

The Spirit might bring something to mind, like someone’s name or face. Pray for them and be on the lookout for ways to be a blessing to them. Learn to discern the movement of the Spirit in your soul over time. Frost writes, “As we become more familiar with listening to the Spirit as a kind of weekly rhythm, we’ll also find ourselves becoming more adept at hearing the Spirit in real time, in the midst of encounters with our neighbours, as we bless or share a meal or otherwise get in the way of the people around us.” LISTEN.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — Eating Together

Surprise the World -- EAT

In this series, we are looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe what this might look like. In our last reflection, we looked at the first letter, which stands for BLESS. Today, we are looking at the second habit, EAT.

Frost challenges his readers to try to eat with three people this week, at least one of whom is not a member of the church. Of course, this is much harder in the time of Covid. It might have to be a coffee or a walk outside. Even if we have to wait for Covid to end, it is still worth pondering why eating with someone is so important.

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Frost reminds us that eating and hospitality have a special place in Christian practice. Eating together was the one thing that Jesus told us to do when we meet. We are familiar with the Eucharist, but Christians also celebrated love-feasts, a time of eating and being together. The table with food is the central symbol of Christian gathering. Frost writes, “It represents hospitality, inclusivity, generosity and grace.” It may not seem like much, but in the ancient world, the Emperor Julian the Apostate complained that meals of hospitality were one of the central ways that Christians were ‘perverting’ the empire! There is power in gathering.

Eating Together to Change the World

When Frost encourages us to eat with other, he is not talking about the sacrament. He means a meal and hospitality. Why? Because there is something special about sharing a meal together. It has deep meaning in every culture. He writes, “The table is the great equalizer in relationships. When we eat together we discover the inherent humanity of all people. We share stories. And hopes. And fears. And disappointments. People open up to each other.”

His friend Alan Hirsch goes further: “Missional hospitality is a tremendous opportunity to extend the kingdom of God. We can literally eat our way into the kingdom of God! If every Christian household regularly invited a stranger or a poor person into their home for a meal once a week, we would literally change the world by eating!”

Eating Together as a Sign of Grace

As with blessing, we don’t invite people into our homes because we expect them to become Christians or come to our church. We invite them because we want to get to know them at a human level. But the act of inviting people in and showing them the love of hospitality is a sign of the kingdom of God.

Whether or not it leads to a conversation about faith, we leave that to God. In having fellowship, we don’t judge people’s lifestyles or eating (or drinking) habits. It is an act of grace to prepare food for another person and get to know them around a table. And who knows, you may learn something new and grow a new friendship. God can do lots of great things over a simple dish of food.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — BLESS

Surprise the World: Bless

In this series on Michael Frost’s book Surprise the World!, we are looking at missional habits. What is wonderful about this book is that Frost gives us an easily understandable way to faithfully live out the Christian life. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S., which stands for Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Sent. The idea is that while we are not each called to be Evangelists, we are called to bless the world through our life.

God calls us to point people to the Kingdom of God through our actions, and if needed, our words. We do this by living surprising lives, lives that make people notice that something is different in the way that we live. What are these habits that people notice?

Living Blessing

The first one is BLESS. Frost challenges every Christian intentionally to bless three people every week. One person should be from within the church; one person should be outside the church, and the third person could be either.

To bless someone is one of the simplest things we can do. The word ‘bless’ originally meant a few different things. It meant to speak well of someone or to praise them. It also meant conferring material or spiritual well-being upon someone. As the word has evolved, we now use it in the sense of building people up, filling them with encouragement so that they can increase in strength and prosperity.

Frost puts it like this: To bless someone else is “anything that relieves their burden in life. Anything that helps them breathe more easily. Anything that lifts their spirit or alleviates their distress. It can be a small thing or large.” Blessing can take a number of different forms. Frost gives us three common examples to start us off.

Bless with Words of Affirmation

This is the simplest way to bless someone. It is as simple as sending someone a note letting them know that you have noticed something about them or appreciated something that they did. You can pick up the phone, or just say something in passing. People really appreciate words of encouragement. Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” To affirm something about someone is to connect with them beyond the superficial.

Bless with Acts of Kindness

This is the simple action of doing someone a favour with no desire for acknowledgement or reward. There is an old Alcoholics Anonymous card which contains nine daily promises. One of them is “I will do somebody a good turn and will not get found out.” Obviously, it doesn’t matter if you ‘get found out,’ but the idea is to just do something nice as a principle. Is there a neighbour you can help? Someone in your family who is struggling? Is there somewhere you can volunteer? Everyone appreciates someone who gives.

Bless with Gifts

We all like to get gifts on a birthday or at Christmas. But Frost challenges to go one step further. How about random gift giving? At the heart of love is the act of giving. Giving a gift is a symbol of love; that is why they are special. A gift doesn’t have to be big, but it requires us to be on the lookout for what others need. Is there a struggling family who could use a casserole? Is there a book that someone has been talking about? Maybe just a balloon for a small child? Whatever it is, it will be a blessing.

Bless with No Ulterior Motives

Frost is encouraging us to lead surprising lives. But he also adds a small word of caution here. While we bless people as a way of living surprising lives, we have to be clear that we are doing this for no other reason than to be a blessing. There is no agenda. There is no expectation. For instance, if someone takes your gift and never thanks you and throws it in the garbage, that is not your issue. We only want to be a blessing because we have been blessed so richly in Jesus.

How have you been blessed yourself? How have you blessed others? Add your thoughts in the comments.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

Book Study: Surprise the World! by Michael Frost

Surprise the World book study

We have just finished a series on prayer; now, I would like to reflect on how our prayer life ‘spills out’ into our everyday lives. While prayer is always present in the Christian life, God is also calling us outward into the world to point people to the Kingdom of God.

This may sound like I am talking about evangelism. I am not, or at least not like we often imagine it. Michael Frost has written a splendid little book that is really helpful on this issue: Surprise the World. Frost is a missiologist from Australia and is one of the leading voices in helping churches understand their missional context. I am going to spend the next several reflections going through the main ideas in this book.

Being an Evangelist and/or Being Missional

The first issue he deals with is this question of evangelism and who is comfortable doing it. He knows that there are many evangelists who believe that everyone should be an evangelist. But he points out that “certainly the vast majority of Christians I know don’t feel much like evangelists.” He says that, contrary to popular myths, not everyone is called to this ministry, although some are. He goes on to say that if people ask about our faith, we should be prepared to answer. But most people are not comfortable intentionally striking up a faith conversation, and that is okay. That may not be your calling. And yet… to be missional is to point people to the Kingdom of God. How does that work?

Living Missionally

This is what he says: “Evangelistic mission works effectively when we are living generous, hospitable, Spirit-led, Christlike lives as missionaries to our own neighbourhoods – and when the gifted evangelists in our midst join us in sharing Christ with our neighbours.” For most us, the mission comes when we lead ‘surprising—and even questionable—lives.’ When I first read that, I did a double take because, for me, questionable means doing something that most people would disapprove of! Instead, he means that our lives should move others to ask why we live that way. The fact of the matter is that living a ‘fine, upstanding, middle-class lifestyle in the suburbs’ isn’t going to raise a lot of questions. It is just ‘normal.’

Surprise the World by Leading “Questionable Lives”

Frost considers the story of the rise of Christianity in the ancient Roman Empire. It is surprising that the faith should have grown at all because the Roman Emperors violently persecuted the early Christians. They expected that they could suppress the church so much that it would evaporate over time. Instead, they were shocked to find that it was growing by leaps and bounds. Many factors were responsible for this growth, but one of the key reasons was that Christians led ‘questionable lives.’

In the ancient pagan world, there was no concept of the dignity of every human being. The Emperors were quite content to have people starve and live in abject poverty. There was no charity as we understand it today. If the Emperor gave bread to the masses, it was to buy their support.

St. Francis caring for people with leprosy.

In this difficult environment, the Christians relentlessly out-loved the Empire. They fed the poor and invited them to their tables. They buried the dead whom others had left to rot. Christians took care of the sick when no one else would. When their neighbours saw that kind of love, they started to ask questions, converting by the thousands. The love of Jesus lived out was evangelistic because it pointed to the Kingdom of God.

Develop “Missional Habits”

Even though we inhabit a different time and place, Frost believes we can learn the same basic truth: we need to develop ‘Missional Habits’. These form the acronym B.E.L.L.S. (Bless others, Eat together, Listen to the Spirit, Learn Christ, understand yourselves as Sent by God into others’ lives), and they are a simple way to live out the Gospel in our everyday lives. In this way, we can live in a way that raises good ‘questions’ from those around us. We will look at each of these habits over the next five reflections.

Questions for Further Reflection

  • When you hear the words “evangelism” and “mission”, what comes to mind?
  • Have you known someone who leads a surprising, ‘questionable life’? How did they live that made you take notice?
  • How have you received and shown the love of Jesus?

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(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.