Fasting during Lent

The vast majority of Methodists do not fast. The vast majority of Methodist clergy (I strongly suspect) fast only rarely, if ever. Yet, last June, before I was finally approved for full ordination as an elder, one of the “historic” questions the bishop asked us—which John Wesley used to ask of his preachers—was, “Do you fast?” (The correct answer is “yes.”) And, “Will you teach your parishioners to fast?” (Again, the correct answer is “yes.”)

In that spirit, I did preach about fasting last year in my sermon series “Putting the Method in Methodist.” On this blog, I also shared some helpful information from Richard Foster’s essential book on the spiritual disciplines, Celebration of Discipline. (If you haven’t read it, you should order it now—don’t delay!)

Wesley emphasized regular fasting as a means of grace alongside prayer, worship, Holy Communion, Bible study, and service, among others. He also believed that it was for everyone—certainly all good Methodists—not just for the superheroic saints among us.

But we in our modern age think we know better than Wesley and the vast majority of saints through two millennia who have routinely fasted as one part of their spiritual growth and development. We think we have “science” on our side, which tells us—we imagine—that unless we have at least three square meals each day, with ample snacks in between, we will drop dead from malnutrition.

Needless to say, this isn’t true. Wesley himself died at 87, without the benefit of modern medicine, and he fasted at least once, often twice, a week his entire adult life.

So I encourage you (and me) to fast. Given that Lent is fast approaching—this Wednesday is Ash Wednesday—what better time to start practicing the discipline than now? See my earlier posts or read my sermon for tips.

In my sermon yesterday, I talked about a common sight in the Holy Land—the Bedouin, a nomadic people who are often seen grazing sheep and goats on dusty, barren mountainsides throughout the Middle East. They have almost nothing by our Western standards. And the terrain on which they live is harsh and rugged. It seems highly unsuitable for supporting human life and livestock. Yet these Bedouin have been living this way, immune to the trappings of modernity, for thousands of years—and flourishing.

Bedouin grazing livestock is a common sight in the Middle East

How is that possible?

Their example challenges me. It makes me face the fact that we human beings really require very little to live. We usually live as if we require a great deal. Their example also helps me to see how faithful our heavenly Father is in providing for us. Maybe during Lent—through fasting or the more common practice of “giving something up”—we can learn that we, too, can live on a little less. And that we can trust in God a little more.

4 thoughts on “Fasting during Lent”

  1. Hi Brent, thanks for your comments on fasting. I have also shied away from it in the past, but am thinking about giving it a real shot now.

    While I think there is some good in the modern kinds of Lenten fasts that we do – giving something up which may or may not be food related, taking on a new discipline or activity – I am also a bit skeptical. There can be value in choosing our own fast, but there is also the temptation to do what can fit easily into our lifestyles without giving us much difficulty or forcing us into too much change.

    Case in point: last year, I gave up sweets for Lent. It was much harder than I had imagined, but it is still pretty fluffy as fasts go. While it felt like a sacrifice, was it really?

    I’m still praying over what this Lent will mean. Thanks for your thoughts. God bless!

    1. I’m willing to give it a go. My main sacrifice this Lent will be giving up eating out. It seems like every time I want to try fasting I either have health problems or I’m pregnant and too scared to. The other times I’m just too lazy too. It is definitely a discipline.

  2. I don’t like fasting, mostly because it’s hard. What I learn from doing it is that I depend on food in a sinful way to make me happy. So much for “Man shall not live by bread alone…” I like living by bread. I get really grumpy when I don’t have it. But as Foster says in his book, the grumpiness (or whatever other attitude problems we have) is already there beneath the surface. That’s what we need to deal with, and fasting helps us do that.

    I’m going to fast once a week during Lent. That means 24 hours—skipping two meals, basically.

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