Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What are we fasting for?

For anyone observing Lent in any way, chances are you have given up something for this 40 days. One of the most common ones I hear is chocolate. "I'm giving up chocolate for Lent".
Growing up I either I've forgotten, I was oblivious at the time, or the churches I went to didn't observe or promote Lent. Whatever the reason, it was only last year that I actually talked to people who were giving something up and found out what this Lent thing was.
My first thought was, what exactly has giving up chocolate got to do with anything?  
But that got me thinking about fasting in general. What is it for? Why do we do it? And how are you meant to do it right? 
Is it just denying yourself something to practise piety and self control? Is it a trade  - "God, I'll give you this time of fasting, and you give me what I'm praying for. Deal?"
I think not.
The Bible puts it rather well, as it tends to do:
Isaiah 58:6-7
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"
Ah, so that's the reason. But what's chocolate got to do with it?
I think if you give something up on Lent, it's got to be about more than yourself. You could give up food entirely for the whole 40 days, but if you turned your back on your neighbours, neglected your family, focussed entirely on yourself - what is it for?
Fasting is not for your gain. That should be obvious, since it's about giving something up - but ironically many people think of it in terms of what they can get.
Give up something like chocolate for Lent if you want, but more importantly, give up something of yourself. Put aside your own needs for the good of others. For the glory of God.

"...then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” 
            The mouth of the LORD has spoken.       (Isaiah 58:14)

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