I remember the first time I fasted. My church youth group was raising funds to take part in the 30-Hour Famine to help hungry children. I was 13 and had rarely (if ever) missed a meal in my life, so I was rather fearful, scared that the long hours would drag on endlessly.
But as with most spiritual disciplines, that fast taught me something about God and about myself. Some friends and I were engaged in a Bible study during the fast and we were studying Acts 13 when the Apostle Paul and Barnabas were sent out on one of their missionary journeys.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Ã¢â‚¬ËœSet apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them offÃ¢â‚¬Â (Acts 13:2-3).
The leader then asked, Ã¢â‚¬Å“What do you think the purpose of fasting was for these disciples of Jesus?Ã¢â‚¬Â
It was then that I realized something: fasting prepares us for hardship. It is more of a gift than a lack of something, because, through denying ourselves a basic need, we are inclining our hearts to seek God and to recognize the need that we have had for Him all along, but which we so easily drown out through the busyness of life and taking for granted access to food and other necessities.
Fasting is an ancient spiritual discipline, as seen in the passage in Acts. In an article for Relevant Magazine titled Ã¢â‚¬Å“Does Fasting Even Matter Anymore?Ã¢â‚¬Â author Levi Carter also gives the biblical examples of Moses and Jesus himself. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jesus and Moses began their earthly ministries by spending 40 days alone in the wilderness with God,Ã¢â‚¬Â writes Carter.
Fasting can seem like a lost practice today–perhaps something not relevant to our Christian faith in the modern world, but as long as we are tempted to fill our lives with other things that tend to crowd Christ out, there will be a need for such spiritual disciplines as fasting.
Fasting is perhaps particularly relevant at this time of the year when we are in the season of Lent–a time that begins with Ash Wednesday, a reminder of our mortality and our need for the Savior, whose death and Resurrection we celebrate at Easter.
During these 40 days of Lent, many people give something up: sweets, social media, caffeine, or food. What we are saying through fasting from these things is that we know only Jesus is enough for our cravings–for food, for friendship, for fulfillment.
Carter provides two particular purposes of fasting.
First, fasting is for returning–returning to the initial joy and dependence we had when we first knew Christ.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When I think back to my early days with Christ, I think of the raw and honest prayers I prayed. I think of how I dug deep into the Scripture, not to pass some religious test, but because I desperately needed the sort of truth that could set me free. I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t escape the feeling that the wilderness of first love was his favorite season with me, nor can I escape my own ache to return,Ã¢â‚¬Â writes Carter.
Secondly, fasting is for pruning. God desires to make us holy so that we may walk in relationship with Him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jesus taught that it was the pure in heart who would see him. God is making me holy, not just for a purpose, but for proximity. God doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hate sin because heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s vindictive, God hates sin because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the only thing that stands in the way of him and his kids,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Carter.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When we take away a basic need like food, a union with Christ is forged,Ã¢â‚¬Â he continues Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are saying, I need You more than my most basic human needs. This posture of humility creates a lean in our hearts. Where we no longer lean into our own understanding or ingenuity to produce, but rather lean unto His heart.Ã¢â‚¬Â
During this season of Lent, of wilderness, of fasting and prayer, may the Lord be preparing you to be ready for the miracle of Easter.
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