UMC.org has a short article on what the UMC says about fasting. I’m not sure that fasting for spiritual reasons is practiced much among United Methodist laity. I’m not sure it is practiced much among the clergy either. Here is a section from UMC.org:
Fasting has been a part of Methodism from it’s early beginnings. John Wesley considered fasting an important part of a Christian’s life and he personally fasted weekly. To Wesley, fasting was an important way to express sorrow for sin and penitence for overindulgence in eating and drinking. He believed it allowed more time for prayer and was more meaningful if combined with giving to the poor. Wesley did advise caution against extreme fasting and against fasting for those in fragile health.
via What does The United Methodist Church say about fasting? – UMC.org.
If your health permits I do recommend fasting for a few reasons: 1) It is biblical, 2) it is part of a Wesleyan tradition, 3) it is part of our Christian tradition, and 4) it teaches us to say no to our desires. I’m sure I could come up with a few more reasons.
Wesley practiced fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. Later in life he just fasted on Fridays. Whatever day you choose, make sure to keep in mind that the fast is “unto the Lord.” Fasting is not some merit badge. If we fast for any other reason than to seek God then our fast is misguided.
For most of us, food is readily available. Fasting can be a powerful practice within a culture that focuses on the fulfillment (even immediate fulfillment) of desires, nutritional or otherwise.
Over the past month or so I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to deny myself during Lent. In the past, I’ve given up chocolate, pizza, pop (soda), or other things I’ve enjoyed. This year it has been a difficult decision. I haven’t been eating that much chocolate. I stopped drinking soda (pop) over the summer. I’ve slowed down on the pizza intake. So, what should I give up?
Well, there really was only one thing left and it is going to be difficult to give up. I’ve posted before about my love of McDonald’s Sweet Tea. It is the nectar of heaven and I’ve realized after much thought that it is the only thing that would be a real sacrifice (as far as food and beverages go).
Continue reading “A Lenten Sacrifice”
First Wesley voices his concern that Methodists are not fasting like they did at one time:
14. It would be easy to show, in how many respects the Methodists, in general, are deplorably wanting in the practice of Christian self-denial; from which, indeed, they have been continually frighted by the silly outcries of the Antinomians. To instance only in one: While we were at Oxford, the rule of every Methodist was, (unless in case of sickness,) to fast every Wednesday and Friday in the year, in imitation of the Primitive Church; for which they had the highest reverence. Now this practice of the Primitive Church is universally allowed. “Who does not know,” says Epiphanius, an ancient writer, “that the fasts of the fourth and sixth days of the week” (Wednesday and Friday) “are observed by the Christians throughout the whole world.” So they were by the Methodists for several years; by them all, without any exception; but afterwards, some in London carried this to excess, and fasted so as to impair their health. It was not long before others made this a pretence for not fasting at all. And I fear there are now thousand of Methodists, so called, both in England and Ireland, who, following the same bad example, have entirely left off fasting; who are so far from fasting twice in the week, (as all the stricter Pharisees did,) that they do not fast twice in the month. Yea, are there not some of you who do not fast one day from the beginning of the year to the end? But what excuse can there for this? I do not say for those that call themselves members of the Church of England; but for any who profess to believe the Scripture to be the word of God. Since, according to this, the man that never fasts is no more in the way to heaven, than the man that never prays. (John Wesley from CAUSES OF THE INEFFICACY OF CHRISTIANITY Sermon 116)
I wonder what he would say to us today….
Today is Ash Wednesday and I find myself wondering what to do. Over the past few years I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the whole “giving things up” mentality of Lent. I have this ongoing conversation with my wife and she says giving things up has to do with identifying with Jesus and his sacrifice. Yet I find giving up chocolate, caffeine, or whatever else I might choose pales in comparison and truthfully, isn’t that much of a sacrifice. I also find that ‘giving up stuff’ can even feed my pride. I find myself fighting the temptation to say, “Hey, I’m giving up this for Lent and I really like this and it is really hard to give it up.” When I’m able to give things up…I feel like I’m somehow a success.
So, now I’m struggling to figure out what exactly to do. If Lent is a time to reflect on my life, my mortality and whether I’m ready to “meet my maker” I’m not sure that giving up chocolate is a very effective way to do it.
While there has been a strong tradition in the church toward fasting during Lent (perhaps the reason we tend to give up stuff like sweets is because that is much easier that the fasts of meat and meals of the past), there is also a tradition of refocusing on prayer and scripture, and reorienting our lives. I find that I don’t always see the connection between giving up items such as sweets and a reorientation of my life.
So now I’m focusing on two things: One, finding activities that I can add to my life during Lent that will make me more aware of God and two, giving up activities that distract me from my relationship with God. My hope is that this two-pronged approach will better enable me to reorient my life around Jesus and God’s kingdom.
The point of Lent, for me anyway, is that I will be more open and receptive to God. Lent is a journey toward Easter; a journey of moving away from self and toward God. It involves reflection and repentance which can lead to renewal (Easter). My prayer is that what I practice during Lent brings me to a place of resurrection on Easter.
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