Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period, concluding the day before Easter. This is a time for us to draw closer to the Lord through prayer, repentance, self-denial, and honoring Jesus’ suffering and death. In a world where material and personal wants can be quickly satisfied, Lent is a time to focus more on Jesus Christ and what he has done for us, rather than ourselves.
People will often fast during Lent. What exactly is fasting, though? The dictionary says it is “abstinence from food and/or drink as an element of private or public religious devotion.”
The Bible gives several reasons why we should fast:
To become Christ-like: In Luke, Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights while being tempted.
To repent of our sins: Samuel urges the Israelites to turn back to God (1 Samuel 7:3-6).
To seek God’s wisdom: Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted for the elders of the churches before committing them to the Lord for His service (Acts 14:23).
To strengthen time of prayer: Luke 2 tells the story of a prophetess named Anna, “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”
The Bible also teaches us how we fast. Types of fasting include:
Regular fast: A regular fast usually means refraining from eating all food. People may still drink water or juice.
Partial fast: A partial fast means refraining from certain foods and drink or a particular meal. Daniel 1:12 says they restricted their diet to vegetables and water: “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.”
Full fast: A full fast means abstaining from all food and drink. Acts 9:9 describes when Paul went on a full fast for three days following his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus: “For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” This type of fast is usually done with caution and not done for a long period of time.
What did Jesus say about fasting?
During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said:
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your father who is in the secret place; and your father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Fasting is a time to focus and rely on the Lord for strength, provision, and wisdom you need. It is not something to boast about, and it doesn’t mean that God will answer your prayers the way you want him to. God only promises to fulfill our prayers if they are according to his will. 1 John 5:14-15 tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.” Having a dedicated time of prayer and fasting, especially during the 40 days of Lent, helps us take our eyes off ourselves and puts them on Jesus Christ, the one who suffered, died for our sins, and rose again so that we too may have eternal life.
Fasting and Praying for Mission
This year, would you consider fasting and praying for missions around the globe? Perhaps there is a particular SAMS Missionary on your heart. You can sign up for the SAMS E-Messenger to receive prayer requests from your SAMS Missionaries. Maybe there is a particular region or country God is calling you to pray for. Operation World has facts, figures, and prayers for every country.
Matthew 9:37 says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Would you pray in the morning and/or evening at 9:37 for missionaries to be called into the field? May the Lord draw you close to him during this Holy Season.