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:
Tips from Practicing the Way
Practical Tips for fasting food
Book: God’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis
Podcast: Rule of Life Fasting practice episodes