Fasting for Fullness
As I mentioned in last week’s exhortation, the liturgical calendar is built on seasons that ebb and flow. A season of darkness followed by a season of light. A season of sorrow followed by a season of celebration. A season of fasting followed by a season of feasting.
This past Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of Lent. Lent is one of those seasons of descending darkness, sorrow, and fasting. It’s a season of self-examination, repentance, and sacrifice as we reflect upon the effects of sin — from the universal to the deeply personal. It’s a season of lament over death, destruction, and suffering. It’s a season of honest evaluation. All is not well. All is not right.
And as people of the resurrection, that can be an uncomfortable place for us to land.
There’s a good and understandable impulse for us who know that Jesus is going to return to quickly run to his promise that all will be well, all things will be set right. But, if we run there too quickly — failing to enter in to pain, survey the devastation of sin, and deeply feel the grief and agony of true loss — we lose much of the depth and weightiness of Jesus’s promise to return and make all things new.
Church, he will return. He will make good on his promise. But he hasn’t returned.
And we know it. The whole world knows it. Which is why we weep bitterly over heinous evil that remains, like the horrific high-school shooting last Wednesday in Parkland, Florida. We mourn because it is painful. We are confused and angered because evil doesn’t make sense — there is no adequate explanation for why.
And, until Jesus returns, until all things are made new, until there is everlasting freedom from the bondage the entire world is under because of sin, we will — as Romans 8 says — groan.
And part of our groaning — our reckoning with the broken state of our world and our personal lives — is fasting. And Lent is a season of fasting.
So, church, here are three things to remember as you fast this season:
- Jesus expected his followers would make a practice of regular fasting after his ascension and until his second coming. Jesus clearly implies this in Matthew 9 when confronted by the Pharisees for why his disciples did not fast. He replied to them saying, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9.15).
- Jesus himself fasted. Luke 4.1–2 says, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.” Think about that — the Creator of the Cosmos was hungry. In your fasting, remember, Jesus entered this broken world. Jesus went hungry, too.
- Lastly, we fast in order to be filled with that which will truly satisfy us. In general, we are so quick to quench every hunger with a trip through the nearest drive-through, which causes the hunger to subside but fails to nourish us. Similarly, whenever we feel sadness, loneliness, or any other unpleasant emotion start to creep in, we unlock our phones and mindlessly scroll through our social media timelines in order to distract ourselves from the hungers that lurk within our hearts. By contrast, intentional fasting teaches us to feel. To feel deeply. To feel rightly. It is appropriate to feel hunger when you have not eaten. But, how many of us experience that same visceral longing for our neighbors to know Jesus? How many of us can say we’ve truly hungered for righteousness? Compared to your appetite for lunch, how strong is your appetite for deeper communion with Jesus? We are integrated people — body and spirit, which is a blessing, not a curse. God has given us our bodies, given us the sensation of physical hunger to teach us what it means to spiritually hunger. So, this Lent, as a church, let us leverage our bodies to benefit our souls through the discipline of fasting. And, as we do, may God meet us and mysteriously satisfy us with himself, with the peace and hope that comes from knowing Jesus, and with renewed clarity and fresh vision for what it means to be his people on his mission in this world that so desperately needs his Good News.
To this end, would you pray with me?
Prayer of Confession
Merciful Father, we need you more than we know. We are far more dependent upon you than we realize. This morning, we confess that our affections are more dulled and our emotions more numbed than they ought to be. And we confess that they are dulled and numbed because we have not trained them well. We have not trained ourselves to feel rightly nor a deeply as we ought when we are confronted with pain.
Instead, we are quick to run to distraction, to easy answers, and to lies that make us feel better for a moment but cannot truly take the pain we experience away. We’ve not trusted that there is more of you to be had when we press-in to our sufferings, so we’ve shied away from appropriately grieving over loss and over our sin, and in doing so we’ve missed out on your promise, the experience of you drawing near to the brokenhearted. Our turning to distractions, failure to trust you, and the dullness of affections for you and the things you love are all great evils. And, we know that if we in the church regard sin in our midst our prayers will be ineffectual, so we silently confess our individual sins to you now:
Thank you, Father, for Jesus, who is our great High Priest, the one who is able to sympathize with all of our weaknesses. Thank you that he tasted hunger so that we could be eternally satisfied. Thank you that he suffered so we could be saved from eternal suffering. Help us, Father, in this season of Lent, to train our affections, making them stronger for Jesus as he becomes more real to us in our temporal hungering and sufferings, until the day he returns. We pray this all in Jesus’ name, amen.