We now find ourselves within the first week of Lent. Many of you have chosen to fast from something and I hope that’s going well so far. As far as our house is concerned, we’ve opted to fast from television for the 40 days of Lent. However, we have also hit a bit of a snag.
We’ve all been sick.
So, as much as I’d like to report that our fasting from television has gone well, I have to confess that we have all watched a TV show or movie during the first few days of Lent. As you know, nothing helps push back the icky feelings of being sick like a good movie or a Dr. Who episode (in my case at least). Our Lenten fast is off to a great start. The reading for this week gave me a bit of encouragement. It is the well known temptation that Jesus goes through before embarking on his ministry.
Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”
Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God .”
Matthew 4:1-4 (CEB)
Fasting for forty days from food, I can not even imagine how hungry Jesus was. I am not sure I would have resisted the temptation to turn a few stones into bread like Jesus did. Jesus, being Jesus and all, is a better man than I and deftly resists and responds to the accuser’s temptation. I noticed something interesting reading this very familiar passage over again.
The accuser tries to tempt Jesus with selfish, self-edifying, self-glorifying things.
Jesus responds by directing all things back to God so that we are reminded who should be getting the glory.
The accuser asks Jesus to prove he is the Son of God by turning stones into bread so that he can feed himself. Jesus responds with, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God .” Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3 which reminds the people how God provided manna in the wilderness.
The accuser then tempts Jesus to prove he is the Son of God by jumping off the top of the Temple so that angels will come save him. And, probably, putting on quite a display in the process. Jesus responds with, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God .”. Jesus again quotes from Deuteronomy here (6:16) which was a reminder to not test God as they had done while in the wilderness when they were thirsty and Moses had to hit a rock to provide water.
Finally the accuser shows Jesus all the kingdoms and armies of the world and promises to give them to him if Jesus would just bow down in worship. Jesus again quotes Deuteronomy (6:13) by saying, “You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him .” Again, as most of Deuteronomy is, reminding the people to worship God, the Lord, who freed the people from slavery in Egypt and to not worship other gods.
Now, this verse might serve as a bit of a downer for my family because we have not been as successful in resisting temptation during our Lenten fast. We have not been as resilient as Jesus has been. However, I was encouraged in reading this passage again when I noticed how Jesus kept turning the accuser’s temptation to focus on Jesus’ needs and Jesus’ glory and responding by turning everything back to God and God’s glory. This showed me that…
Our fasts are not about us, they’re about God.
Lent is not about what we give up or take on, it’s about God providing for us.
Lent is not so much about testing our resilience, but about testing our focus and reliance on God.
Lent is not about our failures, it’s about God providing for us in spite of our success, failure, disagreement, doubt and testing.
When we choose to fast from something for Lent we can get so focused on sticking to it that Lent becomes all about that “thing” we’ve given up. If we make it the full 40 days we’ve proven to ourselves that we could do it. If we stumble our way through the 40 days we can feel like a failure because we did not stick to it. Instead, we should focus all our attention on God who has blessed us so extravagantly that we have the option of fasting from something. We should focus on the God who provides for us in our weakness, does not give up on us when we stumble and sticks by us even when we may deny him or his provision.
Stay focused on the God who empowers Jesus to say, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Have you given anything up for Lent? How has it gone so far? How can you make your fast more about God rather than what you are fasting from? Has anyone asked you about your fast? How have you responded? Can you find ways to direct those questions back to God and away from you and what you are fasting from?