PASTOR'S PEN: How should I fast?

Ash Wednesday is a day when many congregations will gather for worship and various members will make a commitment to give up something until Resurrection Sunday or Easter.

Some will rid themselves of food bad for them or all food while the sun is up. Others will set aside television or internet or video games for 46 days. Some may give up shopping or non-Christian music. Whatever each one decides to give up or fast, the spirit should have a central theme – looking to God.

The idea of fasting isn’t just to give up food, for example, so you can lose weight. The idea is to give up something that takes time out of your day and to use that time to focus on God.

In the Bible many people were known to fast: Nehemiah, Moses, Esther, the nation of Israel, Paul, the Pharisees and the city of Nineveh, just to name a few. It is a proven concept in the Bible that Jesus even talks about in Matthew 6:16-18. He said, “When you fast”, noting that it is an assumed discipline many will do, though not a requirement; “do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.”

This can bring into question the idea of ashes upon the forehead, which many do on Ash Wednesday. Is this wrong since it shows you are fasting? Well, it depends more on motivation and your heart than the actual act. Many in Scripture put ashes on themselves to show their sorrow and repentance. Think of Mordecai in Esther 4:1 or Daniel in Daniel 9:3.

If you are doing so humbly then freely do put ashes on your forehead, but also feel free to keep yourself from that tradition.

If you fear it will make you prideful, thinking you have done this and others have not so you must be better than they, then by all means do not do it. And I would think that is a very significant possibility for most of us, for I know how prideful I can easily become.

So freely fast in secret and tell no one but God what you have done. But if choose to put ashes on your forehead, do it humbly and tell others of how sinful you are and your need to fall before the mercy of God.

And when you fast, even in secret, be certain to do so with a repentant heart before God. Israel is told in Isaiah 58 about their sin and rebellion. God says there, “Day after day they seek Me out; they seem eager to know My ways.” The people sought God and fasted, but God did not seem to notice them.

Why? He answers that at the end of verse 3, “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”

Fasting is beneficial, but we must follow God, loving Him and loving others, throughout the day and not just in those moments when we fast.

So, perhaps fasting is something you are considering. Look at your life and see what takes up large portions of your time. Sacrifice some of that each day from now until Resurrection Sunday and spend that time with God.

Ask Him to show you the sins you need to turn from. Ask forgiveness for those sins and then stay far from them. Spend time worshipping Him, reading Psalms and singing praise to Him. 

Write a sentence or two each day about what God teaches you. And spend time in prayer for others to also stand strong in the Lord and for God to show you how you can serve them and others around you. If you choose to fast during this Lent season, don’t do it to show how disciplined you are; do it to recognize how much you need Him.