by Kristin Huffman, Mission Advocate
I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and each year, everyone in my family “gave up” something for Lent. As a child, I understood that Lent was a season of preparation for Jesus’ resurrection, and was taught that I was supposed to fast from something that wasn’t good for me up until the Easter holiday. I typically gave up chocolate, since it made my face break out. On Easter, my mom would give me a whole bag of Hershey’s Kisses—I’m not sure this was a good idea, but at the time I loved it!
Throughout Christian history, followers of Jesus have practiced fasting as a way to grow in faith and become more aware of God in their everyday lives. Fasting is still a beneficial and common discipline for followers of Jesus today. Most often, when someone talks about fasting, they are referring to abstaining from food. However, it can also include sacrificing a whole host of other activities or behaviors to focus on God, confess sin, prepare one’s heart or simply devote time to prayer.
Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, says this: “More than any other single discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting, these things surface.”
Both the Old and New Testaments reference fasting and its benefits for us in connecting with God. Joel 2:12 says, “‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’” The Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke show Jesus fasting for forty days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13). Jesus also gives instructions and encouragement to fast in Matthew 6:16: “When you fast…” When we intentionally make space for God—in our hearts, souls, minds and bodies—through fasting, we can often listen more intently for God’s voice and hear Him with renewed clarity.
Members of other religions also practice the long-standing tradition of fasting in various ways. Buddhists will often fast in accordance with the lunar calendar, while Hindus may fast in connection to a particular god or deity. In the Jewish tradition, certain holidays such as Yom Kippur are dedicated as days of fasting and include a total cessation of food and drink. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars around which Muslims live their lives. In fact, the observance of Ramadan begins this Wednesday (March 22), when Muslims around the globe will begin a month-long time of fasting, community, reflection and prayer. To pray for our Muslim friends throughout this holy season of Ramadan, download our “Ways to Pray for the Muslim World” prayer guide.
This week, consider fasting from something. You can abstain from food, drink, technology, Netflix or anything else that captures your attention. As you fast, notice the moments of absence and direct your focus towards God. In your intentional times of prayer and reflection, intercede for the world’s least-reached peoples. Ask the Holy Spirit to make God’s Kingdom known in the hearts of peoples from every religion, caste, culture and context.
To read more from our 2023 Lenten series, click here.