Fasting for Lent

Are you starving for love? Maybe you are hoping to get flowers or chocolate or at least a card today, since it is Valentine’s Day. Maybe you are heartbroken, torn by death or distance. Maybe you are just wondering if you’ll ever know what it’s like to be beloved. Most of us are looking for love in some way, shape or fashion.

There once was a guy who had found love, and then walked into a desert alone because of it. He went without food and water for forty days. He was not protesting a spurned love, nor was his love tormenting him. Rather, he was demonstrating love, but without sonnets, flowers, or a diamond ring. Instead he almost died. And right when he was at the brink of death, he refused to eat because if he had he would have broken the heart of his beloved. His going hungry drove him deeper into love. And in that deep place of great need and great Love, where just licking a lip cost precious energy, the mouth of God whispered the life-sustaining words through parched and cracking lips:

Bread alone will not satisfy,
but true life is found in every word,
which constantly goes forth from God’s mouth.” (Matt. 4:4 TPT)

His name was Jesus. He faced the deceiver in great, emaciating hunger so that His strength and love would meet us in ours.

When we are hungry, be it physical or spiritual, we are sorely tempted to fill it with anything. This is the great temptation of hunger: end it, and end it now. We become generalists, making do with anything that promises to fill us, rather than enduring the pain and discomfort to be filled with the particular, life-giving nourishment we need.

I eat at the slightest hint of hunger. For a few months I was on a strict diet and I had to learn what it felt like to be hungry, and push myself to endure it for an hour (just an hour!). I learned how to be aware of my “hangry” mood and not let it gain control, and I learned the joy of being filled with nutrition after being empty. Sometimes I have to force myself to pass the drive thrus that line the road home, saying no to instant gratification so that I can say yes to healthy food at home and yes to my health.

Sometimes I have to say no to drive thru prayers and make myself sit in God’s presence for fifteen minutes, an hour, to feed my soul. It can be too easy to read a Bible passage for two minutes and call it good for the day. It’s not that it’s not good, it’s just that that’s like grabbing a lollipop for a sugar high when I need a solid meal.

There is a lot of deception in quick things: quick prayers, quick devotions, quick food. Soul growth is slow growth. There is no quick way of the soul. It is a quality endeavor, one that requires deep nourishment, and deep hunger.

We need to do without, like Jesus did; to hold out for the good stuff, like Jesus did; to bank our very lives on the very best, like Jesus did; then we will taste and see that the Lord is good, that His feast awaits us and it is the very best. It takes a monumental amount of trust to lay back down into emaciation and deep hunger when one has the power to fill the terrible emptiness. So, rather than grabbing my Bible to scan through a Psalm, I wade back in to the wrestling prayer, the waiting prayer, into the places where He is challenging my understandings. I take the hours to reflect, listen, question and worship.

When we refuse to stuff our souls with the equivalent of cotton candy – feel good quips and quick answers – we are exercising our trust that God will fill us with something more satisfying — Himself. And that He will, for He, the bread of life, withstood temptation in near starvation so that you and I could be nourished.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and traditionally a time of fasting. Lent is representative of Jesus’ forty-day temptation in the wilderness and begins with the account I wrote of above. Only God can fill our spirits with hearty nourishment, and if our bodies need to go without in order to grasp that, then follow into the fast.

Christians around the world for centuries have practiced fasting in order to stimulate the spiritual appetite. It is to make us aware of our actual poverty, which so often goes unnoticed in our lives of bloat.

If the Lord is leading you to fast, whether from a particular food or a meal a day or some other way, meet Jesus in this simple act of faith, trusting his nourishment of your soul and your body as you do so. As you experience physical hunger, may its sharp pains trigger your remembrance of Him who endured forty days out of love for you. He went through it to protect you, to rescue you, to show you his love. He let his own hunger for restored relationship drive him to demonstrate his love in self-sacrifice.

Some cautions regarding a fast:

  1. For some a fast can be dangerous – for example, if you suffer an eating disorder. Or if you are tempted to prove your faith with a fast. Be honest and do not undertake a fast if these apply to you. Do not be ashamed if this is you! The Lord wants your heart and your healing, and he will lead you in grace. For some a fast would be chains and slavery, not the way to freedom. So listen to the Lord in this, and follow accordingly.
  2. Being hungry is not a sign that God has forgotten you, left you to your own devices, or no longer cares for you. Quite the opposite, being hungry is a sign that He wants to meet you in weakness, that he wants to fill you with truth, and that you can rely on him.
  3. Just because you are led to fast does not automatically mean you will have mountaintop experiences with the Father. You might, but you might not. Jesus had thirty-nine days of increasing agony, and three great temptations before the angels were sent to minister to him. But when we fast, when we are led into our hungry wildernesses, we do go with him who is with us all the time, and we go with our hunger guaranteed to be met.

Fasting is a soul strengthener, a road to finding true nourishment. May you walk it in the company of grace and find the nourishment of your soul. I leave you with the words of Psalm 107:1-9 (TPT):

Let everyone give all their praise and thanks to the Lord!
Here’s why—he’s better than anyone could ever imagine.
Yes, he’s always loving and kind, and his faithful love never ends.
So, go ahead—let everyone know it!
Tell the world how he broke through
and delivered you from the power of darkness and
has gathered us together from all over the world.
He has set us free to be his very own!
Some of us once wandered in the wilderness like desert nomads,
with no true direction or dwelling place.
Starving, thirsting, staggering,
we became desperate and filled with despair.

 Then we cried out, “Lord, help us! Rescue us!” And he did!

 He led us right into a place of safety and abundance,
a suitable city to dwell in.
So lift your hands and thank God for his marvelous kindness
and for all his miracles of mercy for those he loves.
How he satisfies the souls of thirsty ones
and fills the hungry with all that is good!

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