As a church we do not emphasise lent as a period of fasting. This is largely because it does not appear in the Bible and whilst it can be helpful, it can encourage us to public boasting about fasting, which Jesus encourages his people not to do. In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says “When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Jesus assumes his disciples will fast as he assumes his disciples will pray, but he teaches us to do so in secret. So this is why public fasting in lent is problematic for those who want to follow Jesus’ teaching in this area. Does his teaching mean that there is never an appropriate time to fast and pray publicly? Jesus teaches us to pray privately, but also the early church prayed publicly together. So in Acts 13:2-3 we read “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off”. We need to be careful in using Acts as a pattern for us as a church, but given that Jesus expects his people to fast and that it was clearly not wrong for the church to fast and pray under the leadership of Paul, one can assume that it is not a wrong thing to do. You will be aware that there have been times when I have suggested that we have a time of prayer and fasting. I believe we have arrived at a time when we need to spend time seeking the Lord and that we would have wisdom to apply the word of God to our current situation. So why am I suggesting we fast and pray? Many of you will be aware of the real challenges we face in the Diocese. In our next 2 PCC meetings we will be taking decisions that are key to our future as a church family. So, those of us who can, in secret, let’s fast and so be reminded to pray and we can particularly focus this on our next prayer focus meetings on March 8. Be careful not to fast if you are ill or need to take medication with food, the Lord sees our heart and we can fast in ways that fit with our need for food medically. Similarly, we are not to feel guilty for not fasting. This is not a law like the Pharisees instituted, it is an expression of our need of Christ and humbling ourselves before him.
With much love in Christ, John.