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O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the season of the church calendar comprised of the 40 days (minus Sundays) leading up to Easter. Most people, if they are aware of Lent at all, know that traditionally some people give up something like ice cream or Facebook for Lent as a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. But I believe that most people have a deficient understanding of the heart of fasting. So, before you decide to stop eating chocolate for Lent, consider this perspective:
I do not believe that giving up chocolate for Lent is Biblical fasting. That is called dieting. However, if chocolate is something that you turn to because of the joy it brings you, or to bring you peace when you are anxious, then replacing chocolate with time spent with God IS fasting. What if, when you feel the craving for chocolate because you know it will bring you joy and satisfaction, you resist the urge and instead turn to God and pray, “Lord, I really want chocolate right now, because I believe it will satisfy me. But Lord, I believe that YOU are my true joy, and that you can satisfy me in a way that chocolate never will. And so right now, God, I turn to you, to worship and praise you”? What if, when you feel anxious and really want to find peace in a carton of ice cream, you instead turn to God and say, “Lord, I am so anxious right now, and I want ice cream because I believe it will soothe me. But Lord, I believe that the peace that passes understanding is found in you, and that you can calm my anxious heart in a way that food never can. So, Lord, I turn to you right now, to worship and praise you”?
Similarly, giving up Facebook for Lent is not Biblical fasting. That is called taking a break from social media. However, if Facebook is something you turn to because of the thrill it brings you at learning what is new in the world, or because of the affirmation you get from others, then replacing Facebook with God IS fasting. What if, instead of automatically clicking on your social media apps when you are bored or when you want to know what others are talking about, you resist the urge and turn to God, praying “Lord, I really want to go on Facebook right now, because I’m craving the thrill of finding out what other people are thinking or doing. But Lord, I believe that the greater thrill will come from knowing what YOU have said and what YOU want to do in my life. And so, Lord, instead of going on Facebook, I choose to spend this time in your Word and in prayer. Lord, please share your heart with me.” Or, if Facebook is a source of affirmation for you, what if you stayed away from it and instead prayed, “Lord, I am craving the attention and affirmation of others right now, because I believe that it will give me the self-worth I long for. But Lord, I know that the approval of the crowd will never fill me up the way your approval does. And so, Lord, I turn to you instead. Help me to find peace and joy in your great love for me.”
Fasting is an essential and powerful discipline for the follower of Jesus, and Lent is an excellent time to put it into practice. I would encourage you to take stock of your life, and consider what it is that you are turning to most regularly for your joy, your approval, your strength, or to bring you peace. What would it look like for you not just to take a break from that thing, but to declare to God through your actions that HE is your joy, HE is your approval, HE is your strength, and HE is the only one who can bring you true peace? I truly believe that you will find there is nothing you can give up that the Lord will not replace with something one hundred times better: His presence. As you consider what to fast from this Lent, I encourage you to take to heart these powerful words from Jonah 2:8-9:
“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.”