A guest blog by Eric Anthony
May the word of the Lord be in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts.
Come Holy Spirit…..
I wish a blessed and holy Ash Wednesday to you all. This begins the Lenten season, the 40 days of spiritual preparation for Easter.
Some Christians do not participate in Lent, or at least not in the sacrificial way that most are familiar with. They might take part in receiving ashes today, and might do something for Good Friday, but in between it’s pretty business-as-usual for some Christians. So, why do so many of us engage in sacrifices for Lent, such as fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and giving something up in our lives for the 40 days in between? (Sundays are a perpetual feast day as the Sabbath, so the sacrifices of Lent are not done on the Sundays of Lent.)
Well, the concept comes from Holy Scripture, inspired by the acts of Jesus, Himself, and then His Apostles.
Matthew 4 (NIV)
The Temptation of Jesus1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’a”5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:“‘He will command his angels concerning you,and they will lift you up in their hands,so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’b”7Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’c”8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’d”11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
MATTHEW 6:16-18 (NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, ©2011)
(This is Jesus speaking)
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Luke 2:37Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer.
Acts 13:3So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way. (NLT)
Acts 14:23Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (NLT)
As you can see, the practice of fasting is very common theme in the New Testament. But the sacrifices of the 40 days of Lent are directly inspired by Christ’s very own experience in the desert, where he did not eat or drink for 40 days and was tempted by the devil afterward.
If Christ, Himself, who is perfect and without any sin, was lead by the Holy Spirit to fast for 40 days and be tempted, who are we sinners to think we do not need the same spiritual practice? He then goes on to instruct how we are to fast, by appearing as if we are not fasting, so that only God knows what we are doing.
We also see that whenever the Apostles needed wisdom, they fasted and prayed, first.
Both Christ and the Apostles engaged in this sacrifice as preparation for something bigger, and to strengthen themselves, spiritually, for their service to the Lord.
And Matthew 6:16-18 shows that God clearly is pleased with us when we fast for Him, for He rewards us for doing so, says Jesus.
During the 40 days of Lent (the 40 days, of course, are to mimic Jesus’ time in the desert) most people do not literally go without food and water. The number 40 in the bible is used repeatedly to mean a long period of time. It is not likely exact. While Jesus was divine, He was also human, and no one can live that long without water, and no food would be pushing it. (Even if Jesus miraculously did literally survive 40 days with no water or food, which is always possible, we cannot.)
Instead, we usually will fast on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, and Good Friday, the end of Lent. Most churches definition of fasting includes water, but limits us to one regular meal, with 2 snacks, during those 24 hours.
But, you’ll notice that the Apostles didn’t just fast, they also prayed at the same time. Lent is the perfect time to increase your praying, or your bible reading, or maybe increasing your almsgiving. After 40 days of this, your new spiritual practices will have become a habit, and your spiritual life will be better for it, and the Lord will be pleased.
And this is what the end result of the Lenten season is about. Increasing our spiritual life, strengthening our spirituality, increasing our love and service for the Lord, and pleasing God as Christ asked us to do.
After Lent comes Easter, the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and our new life! The introduction of life after death (eternal life) is manifested for the first time thanks to Christ’s resurrection, hallelujah! But our spiritual life does not end there. We must prepare ourselves for the miracle of Easter, and, more importantly, prepare ourselves for the spiritual warfare against Satan, who will constantly tempt us, just as he did to Jesus following His time fasting in the desert.
Even Jesus, the Son of God, needed those 40 days to prepare Himself for the temptations of Satan and to continue His public ministry. We, who are sinners, are in even greater need of this spiritual exercise if we are to resist the devil and his temptations in our lives. Lent is here to not only please the Lord, but to make us spiritually stronger.
How does it do this? It brings us closer to God, by eliminating anything that gets in the way of our relationship with Him. He becomes the focus of our days, He becomes our solace, not food, television, etc. Those worldly things cannot do for us what God does, and we should rely on Him more than things such as those. What else might stand between you and God? Gossiping? Swearing? Complaining? Resentment? Lent is a perfect time to “fast” from those things, as well. The barrenness of Lent, just like the barrenness of the desert, eliminates anything that could possibly stand between us and God, and thereby bring us closer to Him and more reliant on Him, rather than worldly things.
After reading all the scripture references to fasting, and reading about Christ’s 40 days in the desert, no Christian should be able to say, “I don’t practice Lent.” Jesus practiced the first Lent in the desert. None of us can claim we don’t need to, ourselves.
On this holy Ash Wednesday, please consider fasting, and consider giving something up in sacrifice to the Lord for the next 40 days between now and Good Friday. And increase your prayers and bible reading, as well. Help our brothers and sisters in this world who need it the most. Start new habits that will stay with you the remainder of the year. (And hopefully the rest of your life.) It is a spiritual exercise that even our Lord went through, and encouraged us to do, and His Apostles also did. How much more do we need the benefits of the sacrifices of Lent? To think we don’t need to, when they did, is arrogant. Or to simply “not want to” is spiritual laziness. Maybe that arrogance or spiritual laziness is something we need to give up for Lent this year. It’s a good start.
Godspeed during this holy Lenten season.