The observance of Lent is one of the oldest celebrations of the Christian calendar. It lasts roughly six weeks, beginning on Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 2nd this year, and ends on Easter Sunday, April 17th. Even with its complicated history, Lent is undoubtedly ancient in origin. And “its purpose has always been the same,” writes historian Ted Olson, “self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter.”
Traditionally, the church has pursued this purpose with an extended period of fasting and reflective prayer during the weeks leading up to Easter’s celebration. These practices are no less needed today. Their aim is to wean us off bad habits and unhealthy patterns – perhaps newly cemented by the strange, lonely rhythms that COVID has brought upon us – and direct our attention to our great and glorious Lord.
I don’t know about you, but I have spent more time on screens since the start of pandemic than I have ever before. We’ve all been very distracted. I’m reminded of what the infernal Screwtape tells his demon apprentice and nephew, Wormwood, in C.S. Lewis’ classic tale of spiritual warfare:
“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things in their minds; in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
As celebrated poet Mary Oliver writes, “attention is the beginning of devotion.” In order to pull ourselves away from the many demands that occupy so much of our attention, and set ourselves before God, attuned to His presence and Word, we will need daily to take deliberate action. Fasting is one such time-honored action, directing our attention away from our usual distractions toward God and his scriptures, in order to more deeply enter into His presence. Fasting is finally for the purpose of spiritual feasting. In August 2018, we called the congregation to a month long fast that included both social media and food/drink. And following the footsteps of great saints who’ve gone before us, the elders would now like to similarly call us all to a time of fasting and self-examination during the Season of Lent:
As a first level, we are asking everyone to prayerfully consider significantly limiting their time on screens (both social media and electronic forms of entertainment such as Netflix or video games)
As a second level, we are asking everyone to consider giving up certain foods (sugar, carbohydrates, meat, alcohol, etc.) and/or certain meals throughout the week (intermittent fasting).
As with any endeavor worth carrying out, it helps to plan ahead. Consider your daily and weekly rhythms as you plan your fast. Take note of when you are most likely to binge on screens. Make plans now to involve someone else in an activity during those times. Maybe take a walk around your neighborhood and plan to talk with at least one person on your street. Maybe print off a list of the members of your small group. Instead of turning to Instagram or Disney +, pull out your list and pray for the members of your group. Don’t merely fast. Feast on something else – Christ, Scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship with other Christians, etc.
What will you fast from?
How will you do it?
How and when will you share the challenges and benefits of your fast with others? (Consider designating some time within your small group gatherings to share together regularly?)
In addition to practicing self-denial, Lent is also a deliberate season of self-examination and reflection. How might you begin your days with a moment of sustained reflection? How might you end your nights with self-examination? In order to aid you in this time of reflection and prayer, consider using this model of prayerful contemplation and self-examination as a weekly practice during Lent:
For some other helpful tips on this, see David Mathis’ Fasting for Beginners from Desiring God. In addition, we’re excited to offer an equipping hour series during the course of Lent on six classical disciplines of the faith, beginning Sunday, March 6th at 8:30a. You can learn more and sign up here: rvrsd.org/disciplines