Easter used to sneak up on me.
Growing up in a Protestant pastor’s family, I was grateful for Jesus’ death and resurrection. But my soul was overwhelmed by the noise of my life, and I struggled to enter the narrative of His victory. I imagine many people in your pews feel the same way.
Observed by Christians since at least the 300s, Lenten fasts offer us the opportunity to experience spiritual transformation in at least three ways as we encounter the Living Bread of Life.
Lenten fasts reveal what controls us
“Do you love Me more than sugar?” The words were almost audible, but I knew no one else was in the room. So began my very first 40 day sugar fast, begrudgingly but obediently, and I was surprised how often I wanted to run to the cookie jar instead of the cross. Sugar was my savior, not Jesus.
As Richard Foster explains in Celebration of Discipline, a fast surfaces what’s deep in our hearts. At first we rationalize that our anger, bitterness, jealousy, or fear are caused by fasting, but in time we realize they were there all along, conveniently covered up by our daily comforts. Peter warned, “A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Peter 2:19). Whether food, emotions, or sin, let us become aware of those things that control us.
With fasting comes the rare gift of clarity and honesty–with ourselves, with God, and with each other. As we confess our sins in safe relationships, they lose their power over us, and we are free to turn from sin to obedience. Which leads to the next benefit of Lenten fasts.
Lenten fasts break strongholds
Sin thrives in secrecy, making us feel like we’re alone in our struggle. But a corporate fast during Lent, paired with prayer, has tremendous power to break strongholds in our lives once and for all.
Jesus came to free us from sin and death, but too many of us live in defeat, ensnared in our race of faith. We know from the account in Matthew 17 that certain demons can only come out with prayer and fasting. Wouldn’t the same hold true for the sins that entangle us today?
Imagine the chains of pornography, greed, addiction, anger, and gossip falling off the men and women in your pews. I’ve seen it happen as a missionary kid in Romania, and I’ve seen it happen in the thousands of women who have joined us for our annual 40 Day Sugar Fast, turning from sugar to God’s Word.
Which leads to a third transformative aspect of Lenten fasts.
Lenten fasts stir up a hunger for God
When our daily comforts are stripped away, we can either fill the gap with other distractions (like Netflix, online shopping, and gaming), or turn our hearts toward God’s Word.
The truth is few of us truly hunger for God. We are stuffed with good things and have no room for the great, much like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, as John Piper notes in his book A Hunger for God.
As much as we fear physical hunger, God often uses it to teach us spiritual truths: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna […] to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut 8:3 NIV).
We could all use some humbling, and wouldn’t it be better for us to do it voluntarily than be humbled forcefully? Be honest with God. If you don’t really hunger for Him, confess that apathy, and ask Him to stir in your heart a greater desire for Him and His Word. Urge your people to do the same, and cling to Jesus’ promise that those who hunger and thirst for Him will be satisfied (Matt 5:6).
Encourage your congregation this season to prayerfully consider these questions: “Where do I turn for comfort? What sin makes me feel trapped? What’s keeping me from spending time in prayer and God’s Word?” And then invite them to join you in a Lenten fast. It may just change your church.
ASHERITAH CIUCIU is a bestselling writer and speaker, wife to her high school sweetheart Flaviu and mama to three spunky kiddos. She grew up in Romania as a missionary kid and studied English and Women’s Ministry at Cedarville University. Her passion is helping overwhelmed women find joy in Jesus through creative and consistent time in God’s Word. Discover your creative Quiet Time personality at www.OneThingAlone.com.