Why do Christians fast for Lent?

A major religious observance is happening, and many of us probably never noticed.

Lent is the six-week period leading up to Easter. If you’re not familiar with what Lent is, you’re not alone. A nationwide study found that only about 17 percent of Americans practice the tradition of giving something up for Lent, and the younger someone is, the less likely they are to know what Lent is. Only 57 percent of Millennials — those born between 1984 and 2002 — are aware of Lent, according to the Barna Group.

Christians have celebrated Lent for nearly 2,000 years as a way to commemorate Jesus’s death and burial before celebrating His resurrection. One of the main ways people celebrate Lent is through fasting, the practice of abstaining from something you enjoy for a set amount of time.

Why Not to Fast

Fasting is not something we do to make God love us more. No action or attitude can change the depth of Jesus’s love for us, so we shouldn’t try to use spiritual disciplines to gain God’s approval. Neither should we use fasting to gain other people’s approval. God wants our commitment to Him. He doesn’t want an intimate spiritual practice like fasting to become an external show of religious pride (Matthew 6:17-18).

Three Reasons to Fast

The Bible mentions fasting throughout the Old and New Testaments. Jesus fasted for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-4). Nehemiah fasted when he asked for God’s forgiveness and direction (Nehemiah 1:4). Daniel, Ezra, Moses, the people of Israel, the early Church, and many more fasted (Daniel 9:3, Ezra 8:23, Exodus 24:38, Judges 20:26, Acts 13:2-3).

Fasting helps us practice saying “no” to our desires and saying “yes” to Jesus.

Looking at the Bible’s examples, here are three good reasons to start a fast:

1. To Connect with God

In the Bible, fasting is a way to grow a deeper connection with God. It’s a way we show our submission to Jesus and repent for things we’ve done (Joel 2:12-13). Fasting is almost always paired with praying because when we give something up for a set time, we can exchange the time spent preparing a meal and eating with time spent talking and listening to Jesus.

2. To Focus on God

Fasting is about remembering that God comes first in our lives. It helps us practice saying “no” to our desires and saying “yes” to Jesus. When we give something up for Lent, we are more focused on God than things that may distract us. Rather than focusing on a craving for food, we should hunger and thirst for what's good and true (Matthew 5:6).

3. To Depend on God

Fasting is an opportunity to place complete dependence on God. We have the luxuries of running water, easy access to food, and so much more. We can intentionally step away from something we regularly enjoy to remind ourselves that Jesus provides for all our needs. God is a generous God, and fasting is one way to remember how good He is to us (Philippians 4:19).

Jesus gave Himself to save us from our sin. We can give up a luxury for a set time to remember God’s goodness to us. As we near Easter, let’s remember to set our focus on Jesus and let go of everything that distracts us from Him.

March 1, 2016

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