The purpose of Lent is to open our hearts to God's refining grace through prayer and fasting for the 40 days before easter.

Mark 8:34 “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

When Jesus said this, the cross was not a symbol of redemption and forgiveness. It was a torture device that represented pain and suffering. Sometimes our cross is forced on us, sometimes we need to pick it up ourselves. Fasting is a way to deny ourselves to offer our whole body to God, to grow in our holiness, and to participate in a small way with the suffering of Jesus.

While culture says to pursue our desires, Christ says to deny ourselves. Our bodies and minds are constantly getting told how to act. Commercials, social media, movies, news, and cultural norms are directly or indirectly telling us to follow the way of the world. We need to actively oppose these pulls on our desires.

Fasting is one of the most essential and powerful of all the practices of Jesus and, arguably, the single most neglected in the modern Western church. In fasting, you are literally praying with your body, offering all that you are to God in worship. As you yield your body to God, you are breaking the power of the flesh to control you and opening up to the power of the Spirit in its place. John Mark Comer, Practicing the Way, 201-202.

One of the primary ways to break the pull of our desires is through fasting. Jesus said in Mark 2:20, “The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.” Notice he doesn’t say, they might fast. He expected his followers to fast.

The epitome of fasting is to go without food. Jesus and many others have done this throughout Christian history. But lent doesn’t just have to be fasting food, it can also be honoured through abstaining from other things. These may be sinful things, but often they are neutral or even some good things that have a strong pull on our desires.

Consider what God is inviting you to fast for Lent this year to break the power of your flesh and open up to the power of God in you.

Here are some questions to consider what Lent looks like for you:

  1. Pray and invite the Holy Spirit to show you what he wants you to abstain from for Lent. Here are some ideas: TV; social media; movies; music; games on your phone; a specific food like sugar, meat, coffee, or alcohol; or food altogether for 24 hours a week or a meal each day. These are some questions to consider what to fast.
    1. What is something that takes a lot of my mental real estate? What do I find myself thinking about when I have nothing to think about?
    2. What do I go to when I have had a hard or a bad day?
  2. Ask God how much he wants you to abstain from these things, it could be a partial fast, like you can only do these things after 7 PM, on a specific day of the week, or a complete fast, where you won’t partake in them at all until Lent is over.
  3. Ask God what he wants you to fill your time and thoughts with instead of those things. Maybe he is inviting you to go on a prayer walk in your neighbourhood each night, to read through the New Testament, or to serve those less fortunate than you.
  4. Who can you tell to keep accountable and to encourage you? We are built for community. You may consider talking about this with your group if you are a part of one.

 Tips from Practicing the Way

  • In your dedicated times of prayer, or each time a hunger pain comes, you may want to pray Romans 12v1-2, or simply, “God, I offer my body to you in worship. Please transform me.”
  • As you go about your day — your morning commute, caregiving, email, errands — just enjoy God’s company and attempt to open your heart to him all through the day.

Practical Tips for fasting food

  1. Drink tons of water to stay hydrated (unless you choose to do a total fast, no food or water).
  2. If you normally drink coffee to wake up, you may want to still have coffee to avoid a caffeine headache, but just have it black. Coffee is 99.9% water and will not keep your body from entering the fasting state.
  3. The more time you can give to prayer and reflection, and the less busy you are that day, the better. Make it your goal to slow down the day you fast, and be present to your body, and God, as much as you possibly can. You may want to find a park on your lunch break or take a few short walks throughout your day. Give as much attention to God as is doable.
  4. Resist the urge to judge your experience. Release thoughts like, “I liked it; I disliked it.” “I felt close to God; I didn’t feel close to God.” Just let the experience of fasting be what it is, and offer it to God in love.

Additional Resources

Book: God’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis

Podcast: Rule of Life Fasting practice episodes