A Faster Way To Become More Like Jesus
I know it feels like we all just celebrated Christmas and the New Year, but it’s time to gear up for the next big moment on the calendar, and that is Easter! Because the date of Easter changes every year, I like to get out ahead of it and let everyone know when it is. This year, Easter is on April 9th.
I know what you’re thinking, it’s not even March yet! If Easter isn’t till April 9th, shouldn’t I wait another month or so before sounding the alarm? The reason I’m talking about Easter NOW is because the season of Lent starts Ash Wednesday, which is THIS month, February 22nd.
I grew up in upstate New York, and most of my friends were Roman Catholic, and every Lent, they would give something up. I didn’t understand WHY they did this, but they did, every year. I did not make a habit of observing Lent until about ten years ago or so. In this article, I want to explain why observing Lent is a good idea, and I will tell you what I plan to do for Lent, and I will challenge you to consider joining me in this season leading up to Easter.
The inspiration for Lent is the 40 days of fasting of Jesus that preceded His public ministry. While Lent became an official observance of the church around 325 AD, there seems to be some evidence that Irenaeus, who was a third generation disciple after the Apostles, observed some variation of Lent, and he noted that it didn’t originate with him, but “in the time of our forefathers.”
All that to say, Lent is almost as old as the church itself. But what is it for? Fasting is considered a spiritual discipline, it is a tool at the disposal of the follower of Jesus to lean into the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome sin, temptation, and sometimes deeply ingrained patterns in our lives that don’t align with Jesus.
John Mark Comer, in his excellent book “Live no Lies” says that spiritual disciplines are “spiritual warfare. Put another way, the practices of Jesus are how we fight the world, the flesh, and the devil.” In many of the Apostle Paul’s writings he talks about the “power of the flesh” even in the life of the believer. Spiritual disciplines are those regular practices that open our minds up to the Spirit and close them off to the flesh giving us the ability to experience a life more closely aligned with Jesus.
There are lots of spiritual disciplines, but none seems more overlooked in today’s world of excess than fasting. Back to John Mark Comer, he says, “To be clear, your body is not evil…it is a gift. But your body, like the rest of your soul, has been corrupted by sin. As a result, your body often works against you in your fight with the flesh. Fasting is a way to turn your body into an ally in your fight with the flesh rather than an adversary.”
Richard Foster wrote that “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.” When you fast, it’s common to feel sad, anxious or just plain hangry. But when practiced consistently, these feelings mostly go away and are replaced by joy, contentment, a sense of intimacy with God, and spiritual power.
What am I doing for Lent?
I feel drawn toward observing Lent in the same manner as the early church. For me, there is power in connecting with a tradition that has its origins with the early Jesus movement, and observing Lent in the same way that Irenaeus and Polycarp might have.
In digging around on the history of lent, I found all kinds of variations in its observance. Here is what I’ve landed on for me. I plan to have one vegetarian meal per day. On Sundays, I will not be fasting, but will be pescatarian (not eating meat, but eating fish).
There are a couple of occasions during this time of Lent that I plan to break the fast because of travel. It’s important not to turn fasting into legalism. Elmer Towns, the co-founder of Liberty University, once told me that what you fast isn’t as important as doing what you commit to in the fast. If going into the season of Lent you know that you won’t be able to observe Lent on a particular day, or you plan to fast from one thing and not another, that’s fine. Commit to it and then follow through on it.
The goal isn’t the successful completion of the fast. The goal is to draw closer to Jesus.
What will you do?
There is nothing “super spiritual” about the way I am observing lent. The goal of fasting is that those cravings for food will prompt the person to call out to the Lord in prayer and eventually those cravings for food, will be replaced with the peace and strength of The Spirit.
Fasting is about food. Abstaining from social media is a great idea, but it isn’t fasting. Abstaining from things is a good discipline to incorporate into your life, but a Lenten fast is about giving up some food. Maybe you will choose to fast one meal per day. Maybe you will give up some indulgent food that you regularly enjoy. You have a little bit of time to decide what you will fast from. Take some time to consider it.
I would also encourage you to observe Lent WITH someone. There is power in community. Observe Lent with a friend, your family, your begroup, or your impact TEAM.
I’m excited about this time of fasting. I would love for you to share with me what your plans for Lent are. Just reply to this email and let me know.
This week we are continuing our Re |Engage series and I’m excited to gather with you and your friends for another GREAT Sunday at Believers!