As we are nearing the middle of the Lent season, I felt I needed to write at least one blog pertaining to the idea. Last year was the first year I ever even recognized Lent. However, I still did not participate in the traditional sense. 

This year is not much different. While I believe Lent can be a beautiful time of sacrifices to help focus more on Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice on the cross, I think that modern day lent is comprised more of ritualistic traditions and obligatory fasting. Now I realize this is a generalization, but I see a lot of people, especially college age, who reluctantly give up soda, social media, etc., and maybe even ‘cheat’ on Sundays. I commend their giving up, but to me, this isn’t fasting.

When I think of fasting, I think of giving up something that matters so greatly that you will have to turn to Jesus to continue on. After all, isn’t getting closer to God the point?

I know what’s not the point- to “give up” something because your church says you must and to make sure everyone knows what a big sacrifice you have made. Lent is not about you.

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. {Matthew 6:16-18}

However, the former is a bit more complex. While fasting is an awesome practice and should be encouraged by the church, it should not be obligatory. Fasting does not earn your favor with God. Many times, people try to sacrifice as much as they can to somehow earn God’s approval. I hate to break it to you, but nothing you could ever do will alone be enough for God. Don’t make fasting a “good work” in an attempt to get to heaven. It doesn’t work that way.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. {Ephesians 2:8}

No amount of fasting or good works will earn you any more grace, love, or favor than you have already received through Jesus- which brings us back to the real focus of Lent. It is not the routine, but the relationship. Through Jesus and the grace we receive through His death on the cross, we are more than enough. 

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. {1 John 4:9-10}

Let’s take a look at what the Bible defines as true fasting:

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ 

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.  Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 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 them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness  will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

{Isaiah 58:3-10} emphasis and spacing mine

These themes and commands flow throughout Scripture. So according to Isaiah, fasting looks like:
freeing and caring for the oppressed {Isaiah 1:17}
loosening burdens {Matthew 11:28-29}
feeding the hungry {Matthew 25:35}
providing shelter for the homeless {1 John 3:17}
clothing the naked {Luke 3:11}
taking care of family {1 Timothy 5:8}
not gossiping or blaming others {Ephesians 4:29}

So throughout the rest of the season, let’s take our eyes away from ourselves and fix them them on the love and mercy of Jesus. Let’s challenge ourselves to see what we can do to extend and to show that same grace, love, and peace to others who we encounter.

If we are willing to omit Instagram, would we be willing to defend the cause of the helpless? If we are willing to give up drinking soda, would we be willing to share our food with the hungry? If we are willing to give up bad habits, would we be willing to stand up for the Truth?

I urge you to spend a lot of time in prayer, thanking Jesus for His mercy and asking how you can share that same grace with others.