Christians in the 21st century, in North America anyway, have really lost perspective on the Christian idea of sacrifice. For many of us, sacrifice is when we give up our cappuccino for a regular coffee with cream and no sugar. We think that we have really "suffered for Jesus" when we give a couple of hours to serve in a soup kitchen.
The discipline of fasting is almost completely lost among contemporary western Christians. We do not do it. We do not understand it. We do not see the need of it. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus assumed that all Christians would fast. He said, "When you fast," two times. There was no question. He did not say, "if you fast." It is a subtle, but important distinction.
Because of our inattention to fasting, there are several misconceptions about it. Let's dispel those right away.
- Fasting is a great way to diet and lose weight. This is wrong on so many levels. To begin with, fasting is intended as a sacrificial act of denying oneself. Dieting is a way to improve oneself. Dieting, in this way of thinking, is a selfish act whereas fasting is focused completely on God.
- Fasting is a way to bribe God so that I can get my way. Again, the motivation for fasting is to improve your relationship with God. Often this will mean that God tells you no. In fasting you open yourself to God's will, no matter what it might be.
- Fasting is a way to get spiritual "brownie points." You may be tempted to think that people will think you are a spiritual giant if you fast. But Jesus says that you should let no one know that you are fasting.
When you fast... you can fast anything that is important to you. Some people have fasted the internet, television or golf, for a season of time. All of these are good things. More traditionally, Christians fast food or drink. Some have fasted a single meal each week, for a day each month, or one item for an extended period of time.
(One note: Before undertaking a fast, you may want to consult a physician, especially if you have any medical conditions. It may be that you will not be able to fast food, but will need to give up secular music, talk radio or soap operas.)
Lent is a traditional time in which Christians give up chocolate, soft drinks, salt or meat. The items that you fast, and the period of time are less important than the attitude of your heart.
- Make sacrifices to remind yourself of the sacrifices that Jesus made for you.
- Make sacrifices to remind yourself that your spirit is more important than your body.
- Make sacrifices to demonstrate to yourself that you are in control of your desires and lusts.
Finally, when you are fasting, be sure to spend more time in prayer. If you fast a meal, take the time when you would have been eating and spend it with the Lord. You will be amazed at what a difference this will make in your spiritual life.
Prayer: Help me, o God, to get my body, my temptations and my desires to be in submission to you and your way. Lead me in an appropriate fast. Help me to know you more intimately and to let you know every part of me. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.