A Lutheran Fast

Written by Karlis R. Zikmanis on . Posted in Jesus

"It was not Christ's intention to reject or despise Lent... it was His intention to restore proper usaged." Martin Luther

gavenis 3The attitude toward Lent varries. Some adhere strictly to it, others ignore it while some see it as a violation of the freedom of the Gospel. Christ said clearly, “When you fast...”. Jesus didn't say, “if you're going to fast.” He predicted that Christians would fast. Many biblical heroes and other people like Martin Luther and the Reformation Fathers regularly fasted. It is not a compulsory, but it is a sacred discipline.

Fasting is present in all religions and cultures of the world and has different objectives. Whether it would be self-despising and flagellating oneself (as in the Middle Ages); or a way to reach enlightenment and appease your god; whether it is politically motivated, as in a hunger strike; people – Christians and non-Christians – often lack a great deal of understanding about fasting.

Fasting is closely associated with baptism – when the catehumen were preparing for christening at Easter, they and the congregation would fast.

The most important thing to bear in mind is that the Christian fast is in no way a means of appeasing God, gaining His kindness, or earning His mercy. The centre of Christian life is Christ, not the person himself, his ambitions or goals. Nor is it a way to polish your Christian image. It's a private thing – you and God.

Christian Lid targets at least three. First: Because sin came into the world through eating, we limit our eating habits. Second: Lent has always been associated with sin remorse and prayer. Third: We are deliberately focusing on donating, near-term mobility and doing good works.

The fast begins with divine service on Ash Wednesday and concludes at the Easter service. Then, during the Easter season, you should not (ought not) to fast because Christ is risen. Allelua!

Talk to your doctor before you fast and see if your condition allows it. There are different kinds of fasting, too.

REFRAIN FROM FOOD. Fasting is a denial of food, NOT WATER! A person can survive relatively long without food, but without water, a man can die after three days. So, you might give up candy or anything you really desire, and refrain from it all 40 days of the fast; such as chocolates and candy, coffee, carbonated drinks, alcohol, etc. You should not fast on Sundays, for Christ was raised-up on this day. But do not use this custom to overeat.

Certain groups of food, such as meat, eggs and dairy products, should be discouraged and things that give a sense of “satiation” and instead eat fish and seafood, vegetables, etc. You might also limit how many portions you eat, so you don't overeat with second and third portions, or you wouldn't be really fasting, if you put on your plate only one, but a giant helping, and you call it your “only serving.”

You could decline any particular meal, such as not eating lunch or dinner. Because the period of fasting is so long (six weeks), it is not recommended to give up all meals. However, you can choose to fast all meals on specific days – traditionally on Wednesdays and Fridays.

You can fast from other things, such as smoking and drinking and other bad habits, or electronic devices – not to sit on facebook or Twitter all day, but to use your smartphone, or computer, etc. for work and business purposes only. Or from TV – anything that “steals” your time.

Instead (for the time that it took for cooking and enjoying your meal, refraining from electronic devices, etc.) we devote time to praying and reading the Bible. Fasting without praying is a diet.

PRAYER AND REPENTANCE. The second discipline, which should be given more attention during the fast, is prayer and repentance. For this purpose, an examination of conscience is very good. One can be found in Little Catechism, on the Internet, or simply use the 10 commandments. Read the examination slowly and with prayer, and listen to what the Holy Spirit reveals to you. You can write it down so that when you confess your sins (recommendedly to the pastor), you can confess it sequentially, repent and then receive forgiveness, and then destroy the list. Don't worry if you forget anything, because “about confession it is taught that all sins are not required to be accounted for, and that your conscience should not bear the burden of accounting for all sins, because it is impossible to describe them all at all, as the psalist “Who is aware of your transgressions” (Ps 19:13) suggests.

Christians should already have their own prayer lives – regular times for praying to God. If you don't, start this Lent! If you already have one, deepen it. It's not about duration, but about quality. Some pray in the morning, others at noon, evening or before bedtime. If you pray at one of these times, maybe add another. Not to pray more, but to make it part of you and your daily routine. Others spend time with God in a “state of prayer.” It's like breathing – constant. It means you are doing what needs to be done at home, at work, with an understanding that God is with you and you and with Him. You can pray “arrow” prayers: “Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy!", or "Lord Jesus Chris, Son of God have mercy on me, a poor sinner,” and so on.

Reading the Bible also goes hand in hand with prayer. Look for some reading plan and follow it. The ELCL website provides for daily readings. The ELCL magazine “Svētdienas Rīts” also has a reading plan. You can also read the Bible chapter by chapter in succession. It is recommended that you start with the New Testament and the Gospels. Again, quantity is not important, but quality. It's better to read less and understand it and to contemplate it, than to read for hours, but not to remember anything. You can use “Prayer Service for Families or Small Groups” on page 1042 in our (ELCL) hymnal to pray alone or with the family.

GIVING AND GOOD JOBS. The third thing that is linked to fast affects our attitudes and behaviour. As little children, when something affects our possessions and time, we scream, “It's mine, mine!” Donating a portion of your earnings (10% recommended) is a Biblical principle. It is not only sobering but also liberating – I control my property (money), not my property controling me. Why 10%? Because it's enough to be felt, but enough to not be a burden.

As Lutheran, we are scared of the word-connected “good works” because Paul says “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” In God's eyes, we earn nothing with the Lenten fast. In fact, without faith, fasting makes no sense. The Book of Concord says that the works of love are not to be abandoned. Sequence is important. First, faith, then good works (works of love) done in faith, as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Luther said, “God doesn't need your good works, but your neighbor does.”

So in this time of Lent, let us remember the three-part nature of this time – fasting, praying and giving.

God bless us.

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