“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.” Matt 6:17-18
I must admit I wasn’t a fan of Lent, initially. Though I was very unfamiliar with the practice, I was certain that any practice reserved to a particular time of year was not beneficial for the long haul. Certainly, my understanding of this season has grown tremendously, especially since my entrance into the PCUSA.
Much of my Christian experience has been in churches where Lent was not observed, but fasting was routinely practiced. In the Holiness church they taught us as little children to fast. We often fasted as a community and it was common for us to be aware of the adults who were fasting at any particular time and for no particular reason, apparent to us. In the Baptist church we fasted, but normally as a community in an effort to accomplish something or to see the power of God exerted in a particular way towards the accomplishment of a particular spiritual endeavor. I can truly say it was not uncommon for individuals in the community to see God’s power on display in powerful ways during the fasting period, especially as we moved deeper into the fast.
Those familiar with Lent, particularly with the Protestant tradition of practice, recognize that it involves more than fasting. It is a time of prayer, penitence, generosity, and fasting (mortifying the flesh) as we make our way to Resurrection Sunday, better known as Easter Vigil. During this time, which starts on Ash Wednesday, we follow in the footsteps of Moses (Exodus 34:28), the Prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), and Jesus (Matt 4:2).
We (Presbyterians), I have learned, are very faithful when it comes to prayer, and maybe even penitence and generosity. However, mortification of the flesh or fasting challenges us. Rarely, in my PCUSA experience, have I been asked to broach the subject of fasting or been in any PCUSA circle where fasting was a focus of the conversation. Maybe this is so because we are faithful to Jesus’ teaching on fasting in Matt. 6:17-18. We are taught here to fast in such a way that it is obvious to no one. If this is the case, then glory be to God. However, I am very cautious about this being our reality.
When called upon to fast I wonder how many of us choose that which is convenient, that which is easy. Remember, we are to mortify the flesh and this sounds quite uncomfortable. Certainly, not easy. Do we press ourselves so that our flesh is truly mortified, resulting in us growing in our faith? Do we fast and plunge into the presence of the triune God? Do we truly feel literal discomfort in our members or do we go about this like we do so many other faith matters, casually?
My challenge to us during this Lenten observance is for us to reflect on what we have given up for our faith, what we are in the process of giving up for our faith, and what we are unwilling to give up for our faith. I believe if we want to grow in the discipline of fasting, we should start with what we are unwilling to give up for our faith. What are you unwilling to give up for your faith? Start there this upcoming Lenten season.
By Rev. L. R. Small, Sr.
Editorial Note: Focus of Faith weekly devotionals will return after Easter. Lenten devotional will be sent via email. If you don’t currently receive devotionals by email but would like to, please contact the church office (email@example.com or 964-3700).