A New Tradition: New Adventures in Fasting

A New Tradition Celebrating The Old Story

New Adventures in Fasting

(Giving Instead of Giving up)

Our long walk through the long story of grace  is well under way. But I don’t want you to be mistaken. This story is no fairy tale, no pep talk, no entertaining distraction. This is a story to live in. A story to live out. A story that just might reshape our lives if we let it… and this has nothing to do with the writing, but everything to do with Who the writing is about. 

As you may know, a time honoured tradition during Lent is the spiritual discipline of fasting, the practice of giving something up for forty days just as Christ fasted in the desert for forty days. Usually small things are given up, like wine, television, mayonnaise or chocolate, the peripheral treats that we treat ourselves with normally.

But this Easter season, I’m putting something new on the table. I’m inviting you into a different sort of fast, a new way of ’giving up’, an upside-down, inside-out way of fasting. A new adventure.

I’m going to suggest that Instead of giving up something for Lent, we might simply give, give to God, not just an absence of something, but a presence. Our presence with Him. Our presence partnering with Him in this world.

Instead of creating a small absence by abstaining from something in our own lives through fasting, what if we were to bring the presence of Jesus into the absences around us in the lives of others?

Instead of the spiritual tradition of abstaining and absence lets practice the spiritual discipline of presence. Presence with God. Presence with one another. Presence in the grieving, lonely places in this world that have sat in darkness too long.

Instead of giving something up, what would happen if we were to simply give? Give to God something He truly wants this Easter season…

“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?” 

Isaiah 58:6-7

Christmas has often been called the season of giving, but so much of the lavish giving we do at Christmas remains among ourselves… family, friends, and those within in our circle.

Let’s make this Easter season, Lent, the season when we give beyond our circles, beyond ourselves, when we cross the line into the lives of others, the lives of those on the list above from Isaiah 58, the brokenhearted-close-to-breaking ones whom God carries close to His heart. Let’s fast the way God longs for us to… by giving up ourselves to be used by Him.

Just to get you started here are five suggestions of simple ways you might begin the spiritual disciple of ‘giving up’ by giving this Lent, this Easter Season…

1. Let’s give up treating ourselves and instead give a blessing to the vulnerable.

Over the forty days of Lent, instead of the treat filled advent calendar that we use to count down the days until Christmas, create a ‘Lent’ calendar in the form of a basket set in a prominent place in your home. Every day for the forty days, instead of getting a treat, place a blessing into the basket: food products, Easter treats, practical supplies, toys or school supplies for children. 

And as you ‘give up’ by giving, pray as a household through the list in Isaiah 58:6-7.  Listen to God about who your gift will be for. And then deliver it together on the Saturday before Easter.  

(I can’t claim complete credit for this idea… it was inspired by this BBC story… here.

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2. Let’s give up seeing people as an inconvenience or a stranger, and instead give them space to exist in our hearts. Let’s give up isolating distance from others and give them space to be seen, loved and deeply heard. 

These days we so often live such isolated lives, moving around in the bubble of our own worlds. This was true before the pandemic, but it is doubly true now. But we are surrounded by lonely people (and sometimes we are the lonely people). Let’s give up staying in our bubble of safety, preoccupation and distance from human beings this Lent. Let’s give time, time to reach out, if only at first with just a smile; a smile that could be the beginning of a bridge. A smile-bridge that might just become a conversation, long or short; a conversation-bridge that might then become a listening question. A question like “What is life like for you at the moment?” or “How have you fared during this pandemic?”. This question that might become a deeper listening-bridge, the opportunity and privilege to listen long and hear deeply the experiences of another. A privilege that forms a bridge strong enough for you both to walk on, as they walk you through their life, their fears, their concerns, their joys, their hopes and their sorrows. 

Let’s build bridges this Lent, particularly with the lonely and unloved. The struggling and estranged. Let’s practice the spiritual discipline of seeing people, people close to us and people far, the stranger and the estranged, the lost and the losing. Let’s give up our time by giving it to them, the gift of being seen, heard, known; the gift of loneliness lifting this Easter.

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3. Let’s give up annoyance with others, and instead give people around us strength through encouragement.

Let’s give up harsh words for Lent. Let’s fast from words that tear down and bring tears and discouragement. But not just this, let’s also fast from the absence of strengthening words we speak. Let’s give up this absence of affirmation and give words that build others up and encourage others all around us. Let’s practice the spiritual discipline of looking for ways to strengthen other human beings. Let’s practice the spiritual discipline of affirmation. Let’s make this Easter Season a time when no human leaves our presence without in some small way being strengthened.

In the words of Paul of Tarsus…

‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ Ephesians 4.29

Jesus God YHWH

4. Let’s give up social isolation this Lent, and instead let’s practice the spiritual disciple of partying like Jesus partied! Let’s fast by feasting!

Oh my. Did I just write that?! Yes I did! Jesus fasted. But He also partied. So much so that He was criticised for it. And He answered His critics this way…

“Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them.” Mark 2:18-19

“I’m here” He was saying, come join in the party! Celebrate! God is with us and walking among us. We have Him with us. Let’s be with Him this Easter season.  Let’s fast by feasting! Yes- its a strange thing to say, but hospitality is both a spiritual discipline and a scriptural imperative (Romans 12:13). 

Let’s make this the season where we practice hospitality. Where we invite people into our homes and around our tables. Let’s give up eating alone. And give food and fellowship to one another and the other. 

Let’s party for Jesus!

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5. Let’s fast from God being squashed into a corner in our lives, and give up anything that keeps us from Him.

If we fast from anything this Lent, let’s fast from the absence of time with God, let’s fast from rushing though our days without Him and draw closer to Him instead. Let’s give up loneliness for Lent. Let’s give up spiritual emptiness for Lent. Let’s give up our fear that we are alone in this world and draw near to the one person who can fill our lives with peace. 

Instead of reaching for our phone first thing in the morning to check our messages, let’s reach for Him and the messages in His word. Instead of idling away hours scrolling through social media, or watching Netflix, let’s give all our surplus time to God, reading His word, praying with Him for this world, listening for His voice, talking over His story with others.

Let’s fast from leaving an empty seat at the table of God this Easter season. Let’s linger over the dishes with Him and walk along the road with Him on His journey towards the cross. 

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Let’s find new refreshment in Him this Easter season, staying in the long story of grace; this old story that makes everything new…

…this story that just might reshape our lives if we let it.

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