Numbers 1:1-2:34; Psalm 44:1-10; Romans 15:22-16:27
Today is the beginning of Lent.
When I was growing up what that meant was that we were supposed to give something up, but really it wasn’t a big deal so none of us actually participated in it.
We didn’t talk about fasting much and to be honest. To me, as I grew up, prayer and fasting were all about getting God to do what I wanted Him to do.
Richard Foster says this, however, concerning fasting: “it is sobering to realize that the very first statement Jesus made about fasting dealt with the question of motive (Matt. 6:16-18). To use good things to our own ends is always the sign the false religion. How easy it is to take something like fasting and try to use it to get God to do what we want… [Rather,] fasting reminds us that we are sustained “by every words that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Food does not sustain us; God sustains is. In Christ, “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). Therefore, I’m experiencing fasting we are not so much abstaining from food as we are feasting on the word of God.” (Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1998. 54-55)
So fasting, really is about setting our focus upon God by taking our focus off of other things.
In our daily reading this morning, in Numbers 1-2, God commands Israel to have a census taken and then orders them to encamp around the tabernacle (the earthly dwelling place of God with Israel) in a particular order.
But what stuck out to me as I was reading that passage, was the reality that while God had warrior companies all around the tabernacle, they were not facing outward in defense of an attack. They were facing inward toward the tabernacle, toward God’s physical dwelling place with all of humanity.
I’m sure that Israel has some look outs in case there was an attack.
But the fact still remains, God commanded Israel to order their dwellings so that they would be facing God’s dwelling place. They were to set their hearts towards God and worship him.
So what does that have to do with Lent and fasting?
Fasting is the practice where we abstain from specific cravings in the practice of reorienting our hearts to worship Jesus.
Whether it’s coffee, steak, candy, social media or even a particularly enjoyable hoppy beverage, by practicing fasting we abstain for the purpose of focusing on God.
How does that happen exactly though?
Well, two things I’d like to mention:
1) When we abstain, we actively fight against our fleshly passions and cravings that often go unnoticed in our lives. It’s taken me a while to recognize that when I’m stressed out, I run to sugar. I crave it. It’s a way I supply myself with instant gratification in attempt to alleviate my stress and bring myself comfort. We do that with a lot of things and sometimes unhealthy things too.
The early Christian monks saw fasting from food as a key to growing spiritually. Not because fasting made them holy. Rather they figured that if they could control and deny their bodies food for periods of time, they would learn to deny their flesh the sin it was craving to taste.
Fasting is a discipline God has given the Christian to grow in one’s ability to deny self: both in physical and in spiritual matters.
2) If we stop there, then really we are only setting out to accomplish only a small portion of what fasting is geared to accomplish.
We give up something so that we can take up something greater, namely the worship of God.
We give up something like food, sugar, coffee, alcohol, social media, etc. so that we can replace that time with worshiping and setting our focus upon God.
That, in my opinion, is the greatest part of fasting.
You see, what you inevitably do, is you start to associate that craving with the worship of God.
So if I am fasting from lunch every day of Lent, I ought to replace the time I would spend eating in prayer, reading God’s word, or worshiping him directly in some other way.
What that will do over the next 40 days of Lent is create a habit, a spiritual habit, where when lunch time comes around you’ll more naturally want to worship God, open your bible, feast upon him and find your sustenance in Him.
Lent is a great time to start a spiritual discipline of fasting so that we can grow in our hunger for God and learn to feast upon Him as we anticipate the coming of Easter and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow’s reading: Numbers 3:1-4:49; Psalm 44:11-26; 1 Corinthians 1:1-31