Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent, a 40 day span of time in which Christians everywhere abstain from something to grow closer to God. Each year, one of my friends inevitably remarks about what they’ve given up for Lent, and each year, I quickly change the subject before they realize I haven’t given up anything. To be completely honest, I’ve only fasted once during my Christian walk. It was during my freshman year of high school, and for some reason I believed going a day without food would persuade God to free some journalists trapped in North Korea. I spent 24 miserable hours consuming nothing but water, and by the end I felt no closer to God than when I started (those journalists were eventually freed though, so you’re welcome).
Looking back on that day, I suspect the real problem stemmed from my limited understanding of Biblical fasting. Amanda Edmondson, the blogger behind Gospel Taboo, recently explained how scripture depicts abstinence as a means of showing humility. She writes,
“Biblically, fasting is mentioned in both the Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament it was often a way of expressing grief or a means of humbling one's self before the Lord. In Psalm 35:13, David humbled himself with fasting. In the New Testament it was a means to grow closer to God through mediating and focusing on Him. In Matthew 4:1-2, Jesus went to the wilderness to fast for 40 days. In Matthew 6:16-18 we learn that we aren’t to look somber while fasting so that it’s not obvious to others when we are fasting. Throughout the New Testament fasting and prayer are often mentioned together. In Acts 13:3, ‘they had fasted and prayed.’ In Luke 2:37 a widow worshiped day and night fasting and praying.”
All too often, Christians (and I’m including myself here) use fasting as a ploy. We try to draw attention to ourselves, or a cause we’ve stepped behind, or we simply want to believe we’re spiritually stronger than we truly are. But a selfish heart will never yield humility. By its very nature, humility seeks no personal gain, but strives to put God first. That’s why so many attempts at fasting fail, because we’re secretly doing it for ourselves rather than Christ.
Edmondson concludes with these encouraging words for the days ahead,
“Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, ‘Fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose.’ This means that Lent is not a season to restart those failed attempts at your New Year's resolutions. It’s not time to try out a new diet or to cut something out for the sake of getting ready for spring break. It’s not a time to cut back on your use of social media because it causes you to be discontent. It means that if you choose to give something up to fast this season of Lent, the purpose should be to shift your focus from being on you and your needs, to being on the Lord.”
Tomorrow, I hope to begin my first real attempt at Biblical fasting. The next few weeks will no doubt be a struggle for many Christians, but in this struggle, let us turn our attention toward God. Let us strive to be humble. For it is only in humility that God is truly able to change our hearts and minds.
What about you? What are you planning on giving up for Lent? Leave your comments in the section below.
*Ryan Duncan is the Entertainment Editor for Crosswalk.com