Please don’t give up chocolate!

Have you given any thought as to how you could make the most of Lent?  Are you planning on giving up something this year?  If so the interesting question to me is not what, but why?  What benefit do you hope to derive from it?

There are all sorts of good reasons that people have for giving up the traditional unhealthy luxuries – chocolate, alcohol and so on – but are you doing it for the best reason?  Lent is traditionally a time when some people choose to fast, because it’s a time that remembers Jesus’ time of fasting in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), but what really is the point of fasting?

The easiest way to describe the point of fasting is that we fast in order to feast.  We fast from earthly treasures in order to feast on our treasure in heaven.

In Matthew 6 Jesus’ teaching on fasting (vv. 16-18) is immediately followed by him saying

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (vv. 19-21)

The point seems to be that when our lives are rammed full of treasures on earth, the earth is where our hearts will be, and we’ll be oblivious to a far greater treasure in heaven.  The point of fasting is to clear our some of the earthly treasures, that get in the way, so that we might better appreciate our heavenly treasure, which is nothing less than Jesus Christ himself.  We fast in order to feast on Christ.

So a question to consider is whether what you’re thinking of giving up is actually going to help you appreciate Jesus more.  Personally I’ve never found that avoiding chocolate or the like much changes how I think about him, and therefore I’d question its value.

Where I’ve found fasting really helpful is when it doesn’t just deprive me of some trivial luxury but it actually frees up time in my day that I can spend in God’s word and in prayer.  It’s interesting that the majority of occasions when the Bible talks about fasting it goes hand in hand with prayer – so often it speaks not just of fasting but of ‘prayer and fasting’.  Fasting should enable us to pray more.

There have been times when we as a staff team at St. Mary’s have agreed to forgo lunch on a particular day (or a particular day of the week for a number of weeks) and to spend the time when we would have been eating praying together instead.  But of course it doesn’t have to be food – it could be anything that regularly takes up your time.  A favourite TV program? Facebook? Paul even advocated couples fasting from sex on occasion (1 Corinthians 7:5).  The idea is that it will clear out space in our overcrowded lives for our relationship with Jesus to grow.

I am a bit of a Modern Family addict, and I was thrilled to be given the box set of seasons 1-5 for Christmas.  My Lent is going to mean me not watching it, and using the time that frees up to follow a series of Lent readings devised by a friend of mine.

The point of fasting is not to make us miss out on things we like, but rather to stop us missing out on something even more precious.  If you’re going to give something up this year will you be fasting in such a way as to help you feast on Jesus?