Fasting is a practice of our faith that is not common among us. Yet, fasting is something Christ encourages. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives instructions for fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). In answering a question about fasting from the disciples of John the Baptizer, Jesus assured them that the day was coming when His disciples would fast (Matthew 9:14-17). In the early church fasting was practiced regularly among the congregations (Acts 13:1-3, Acts 14:21-23). Paul suggested fasting (from marital relations) as a way to devote oneself to prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5). And of course there is Christ’s forty days in the wilderness when He fasted while being tempted.
The season of Lent is forty days long and appropriately draws to mind this temptation and fasting of Christ. The season is a penitential season which draws to mind our sorrow for sin, our regret, and our brokenness. Part of our Lutheran tradition to emphasize this is fasting from Alleluias and the Hymn of Praise during our services. The season of Lent is also a preparatory season. In the early church the season of Lent was the time when those learning the faith and preparing to be Baptized would have intense preparation leading up to the Baptismal service traditionally held during the Easter Vigil.
This Lent I encourage you to fast. This ancient practice encouraged by Christ is an opportunity to take a step back from the “have-it-all-right-now” mentality we typically operate under these days. Fasting can be from a food item, from meals, from activities, even marital relations as Paul suggests in 1 Cor 7. Whatever your fasting involves, it should be something that you do purposefully, focusing yourself on prayer and study of scripture during the time when you would typically indulge yourself.
The Lutheran Study Bible (p. 189) gives a good suggestion for daily fasting that I am going to use in lent (and beyond).
Fasting is not something that we have to do, but much like prayer it is something that we get to do. And it is not something that we should only do at certain times, such as Lent, but throughout our life of faith. Certainly our Father provides our daily bread for us, giving us all we need. In fasting we are taking a break from the continual taking in order to return thanks and praise and trust in our Father.
As we approach the season of Lent, consider the calling Christ has given you in Baptism. He has given us a new life to live in Him. Thanks be to God.
More reading on Fasting (and Lent):