When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18
For most of us the question is if we fast more than when we fast. Giving up food for spiritual reasons is not something we see much of anymore, especially in places where food is easy to get. Many of us are living life too fast to give up much of anything, but always seem to be seeking to add more to our already too busy plate. Taking a break from one or more of those things may be the best prescription, and help us realize that less can be more beneficial.
“Well, you know, I’m actually giving up watching TV commercials for Lent, that’s why I’m going to binge season 4 of my favorite show.” “Oh, really, I’m giving up chocolate on Tuesday nights.” While some things may seem trite, whether we give up any type of food, entertainment, social media, or other indulgence, only we know the degree to which the sacrifice we make is meaningful in our lives. Bragging about what we are giving up kind of misses the point of the verses we read in Matthew. If we want our spouse or a friend to hold us accountable, that may be helpful if we need encouragement. We can believe any small or large sacrifice to be significant, but only God knows our hearts true motive, regardless of what others think.
We are reminded by Richard J. Foster in Celebration of Discipline about the point of fasting or any other spiritual discipline: “We must always remember that the path does not produce the change; it only places us where the change can occur.” So, the process of fasting is to create a greater hunger for God in our lives, not just to check fasting off our list of spiritual things to do. We might say, I would never intentionally stand in front of people looking ragged and seek their attention when fasting. But don’t we do the same with our words, when we seek the attention of others? That is what Christ was addressing when he talked about prayer, fasting, and other spiritual practices, as they were more matters of the heart, not just outward appearances. When we try to make fasting easy, we miss the whole point. It is difficult, a sacrifice, which makes it significant.
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4
I would encourage you to give up something for Lent, even if for the wrong reasons. Hopefully, you will grow closer to God through the experience, and be challenged when you evaluate the reasons for what you do and the decisions you are making. I already know I am overdue for an inventory, and giving up some meals over the next 40 days will only serve to help me accomplish that. May you be blessed in the small and large sacrifices you make each day, and in doing so, may you grow in love toward Christ and each person you encounter from one hour to the next.
Strength and Courage in Christ,