Giving Up Something for Lent?
Matthew 4:1-11

Pastor Todd BuurstraMom, what are you giving up for Lent? came the question at our Ash Wednesday supper table. Suzy is giving up chocolate said one. Yeah, Jim is going to give up being mean to his sister said the other. That’ll be impossible! came the reaction. Lent.

Historically we Protestants have not given up anything for Lent in order to sacrifice year-round for Jesus. Yet this Lent the pastoral staff is asking the healthy adults among us to give up food for one day, possibly Good Friday. Until then Mark, David and I will be teaching on the ancient spiritual discipline of fasting on Sundays and Wed-nesdays. Richard Foster’s chapter on fasting in Celebration of Discipline will assist us.

Fasting is a very odd spiritual discipline in our fast food world. Typical American eating habits include chips, a couch and TV. We’re a rather indulgent society. Want some? Interesting that the very first image that appeared when I googled fasting is this guy…who may be no stranger to chips. Even more sadly is the fourth googled image under fasting is this poor creature. O LORD, help us! We’re eating ourselves alive!

Since more Americans have eating disorders on the indulgent side let me work from that. Why do you and I (and believe me, the Spirit convicts me of this too) overeat? There may be many reasons, but I most often hear the Spirit convicting me of trying to fill the empty spaces within with chips. I don’t believe that I’m alone here. I think that many of us succumb to the temptation to believe: Man lives by bread alone. No wonder fasting seems so strange? Why would we empty ourselves of the very substance of life?!

But Jesus said, Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Remember that Jesus said this after fasting from food (not water) for 40 days! Living in a man lives by bread alone society we would think how dare Satan tempt Jesus to turn stones into bread in such a weakened state! Ah, but that’s because we have not experienced the power of fasting. Jesus’ body may have been famished, but through fasting Jesus’ spirit was in touch with spirit food—God.

And Jesus is only one of many examples of fasting in the Bible. In the Hebrew Testament: Moses fasted; King David fasted; Prophets Elijah and Daniel fasted; Queen Esther fasted; indeed the whole nation fasted on Yom Kippur and in other emergencies. In the Christian Testament: Prophetess Anna fasted, Jesus fasted, and Paul fasted!

Lest you think that fasting is just a Judeo-Christian practice: Persian Zoroaster fasted; Chinese Confucius fasted; The Yogis of India fasted; the Greeks Plato and Aristotle fasted. The father of the Hippocratic oath, Hippocrates, fasted. Muslims fast.

Well and good that all of those ancient people fasted, but didn’t fasting go out about the time that the dude on the Quaker Oatmeal box retired? I was fascinated to rediscover on this President’s weekend that both Washington and Lincoln called for fasts in national emergencies. Another emergency was when the Bostonians mixed English tea with the waters of Boston Harbor in 1773. In retaliation England pledged to close off Boston’s port on June 1, 1774. So the House of Burgesses called for a day of fasting for divine intervention. George Washington’s diary entry for June 1, 1774 reads: Went to church and fasted all day. Stay tuned for what happened. At the height of the Civil War Lincoln proclaimed April 30, 1863 a National Day of Fasting. His proclamation reads:

So while fasting may be odd in the modern world it had an important place in the biblical world and even in 18th and 19th century America. Then if we are to rediscover the power of fasting today we need to know what it is. Fasting isn’t a dieting or a hunger strike. For dieting is forgoing food for a physical purpose; a hunger strike gives up food for a political purpose, but fasting is giving up food for a spiritual purpose.

What is that spiritual purpose? While I’m getting a little ahead of myself in this series I want to give you two:

spiritual power and spiritual awareness.

One could say that God blessed the Boston Tea Party fast with spiritual power. Although God did not intervene to stop England from choking off Boston’s port, that Bri-tish action did strengthen American resolve to rebel and after much bloodshed become free. On your Good Friday fast we’re going to provide you with prayer requests for God’s power to be upon our church plant because in this boldest evangelistic effort in our 182 year history Ignite is invading Satan’s territory in young lives. We need God’s power to protect us from attack and to ignite the next generation with passion for Christ!

I believe that if America had sincerely heeded Lincoln’s call that God could have blessed the Civil War fast with spiritual awareness of sin within the North and the South to heal our land sooner. It’s only taken 140 years to get an African American presidential candidate. My monthly fasts make me aware that Todd doesn’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. We need that reminder desperately.

So to those adults of us who are healthy enough to do so, will you commit to a 24 hour fast from food during Lent, or on Good Friday? Will you become more aware of your hunger for God and seek power for our spiritual battle through Ignite? Amen.