16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matt. 6:16-18).
This is the most common feature of the Lenten season. Once people hear the word lent what comes into their minds immediately is 40 days fasting. This is why the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday is called Shrove Tuesday (from the word shrive – confess), Mardi Gras/Carnival (removing meat), Pancake Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, which is a day people are expected to use up anything fatty in the house that they are not going to use during the 40 days of lent and also indulge in whatever they like most because they are going to miss doing such during the 40 days of lent. It is also a day to bring to mind the penitent sinfulness before God for confession. Technically, the days of abstinence that must be observed in lent include Ash Wednesday, all the Fridays of Lent, and Good Friday.
Fasting, like prayer, is one of the beloved disciplines of many Christians today, yet it is also misunderstood and misapplied altogether. This challenge of misunderstanding and misapplication has been for a long. Evidence of such misunderstanding and misapplication abound in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (Isa. 58; Joel 2; Matt. 6:16-18). Fasting is not a hunger strike; it is a spiritual discipline of abstinence and total surrender to God Almighty who knew the man before he was born. Whatever takes the time and pleasure that is due to God is expected to be abstained from during the period of lent. Note that it is ‘whatever’, not just abstinence from food. Isaiah 58 speaks about the kind of true fasting God honours. Jesus Christ also buttressed the same and more.
6“Is not this the fast that I choose: to lose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isa. 58:6-7).
The fasting of the penitent during lent can be encouraged through fasting from the following:
- watching television – reduced frequency of watching TV,
- social media – Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram etc,
- electronic and all the related issues – phone call, text, chats, email, internet, etc,
- foul language and negative talks about things and people,
- entertainment – music and sport,
- a favorite junk, snack or drink soda (coke),
- shutting the ears with earpiece,
- frivilous shopping,
- loose the bonds of wickedness,
- undo the straps of the yoke,
- free the oppressed and break every yoke,
- share your bread with the hungry,
- feed the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your house and cloth the naked,
- do not to turn your face against someone in need,
In conclusion, it is important to emphasize the fact that, whereas the season of Lent and Lenten disciplines are expected to be observed during the period of lent; the Holy Scriptures has warned us sternly against acting based on seasons and times: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Col. 2:16). Our Christian testimony must not come under any judgment based on seasons and times (Rom. 8:1). By implication, the real and true Christian life springs daily, since we are expected to die daily (Luke 9:23). To that effect, lent is expected to inculcate in us the daily discipline of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting that goes far beyond 40 days to 365 days. As a matter of fact, the Christian life is expected not to be away from Lent (spring), for that time that the Christian life miss spring, it means the Christian is dead! Dear brothers and sisters, this day you are called to live a lenten life all the days of your life (Psa. 90:12).