The 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday give us a beautiful opportunity to implement some spiritual practices as we prepare our hearts for renewal.
By Jillian Morrison, Associate Pastor, Glendora, California
I’ll admit that even as a Christian and someone who grew up going to church, I’ve often underestimated the profound significance of the cross and resurrection of Christ, and how it defines me and my life forever.
If not for his willing death and surrender to the Father’s will, I would still be dead in my sins. If not for his resurrection, I would have no hope of eternal life with God and no hope of experiencing Christ’s resurrection life here and now.
This amazing truth is worth meditating on, even for as long as 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. What a beautiful opportunity we have each year to set apart a period of time dedicated to coming honestly before the Lord and preparing our hearts for renewal.
As you observe the Easter Preparation season, consider a fresh approach to fasting and other spiritual practices to help you grow deeper in your love for and identification with Christ.
Fasting (and prayer)
According to Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in her book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, fasting during this season “reminds the church of how Jesus gave up everything – even his life – for us.” She explains:
Fasting is not a magical way to manipulate God into doing our will; it’s not a way to get God to be an accomplice to our plans. Neither is fasting a spiritual way to lose weight or control others. Fasting clears us out and opens us up to intentionally seek God’s will and grace in a way that goes beyond normal habits of worship and prayer. While fasting, we are one on one with God, offering Him the time and attentiveness we might otherwise be giving to eating, shopping or watching television.
Many people fast during the days leading up to Easter. Instead of just fasting, fast and pray. Better yet, invite others to join you. Invite your pastoral team, church members, family members, and friends to join you in your Easter Preparation journey. Share with one another what you’re fasting from and what prayer requests you have during the 40 days, and touch base with each other once a week.
Observing Easter Preparation with other believers will not only make the journey more enjoyable, but will also give each of you the accountability to persevere by lifting one another up in prayer and affirmation.
It’s important to keep in mind that fasting doesn’t necessarily mean fasting from food or entire meals. Be sure to listen for a nudge from God if you are to fast specifically from food and refer to health guidelines before starting a fast. We may ask God to help us fast and be free from unhealthy habits like busyness, comparison, worry, greed, self-pity, self-sufficiency, resentment, complaining, bitterness, envy, pride, and the list goes on.
The spiritual desire behind fasting is “to let go of an appetite in order to seek God on matters of deep concern for others, myself and the world.”
We don’t fast in order to seek after our own will, but to seek the will of God and his heart to heal our world.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?” (Isaiah 58:6-7a NIV)
We fast to identify with the complete surrender of Christ to the will of the Father. From the 40 days in the wilderness to the agony of Gethsemane, we have Christ as our model and our strength to say, “Father, not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
The spiritual practice of fasting can include:
- Seeking strength to persevere, obey and serve
- Repenting and waiting on God
- Overcoming addictions, compulsions and cravings
- Addressing excessive attachments or appetites and the entitlements behind them, and partnering with God for changed habits
- Abstaining from food, drink, shopping, desserts, chocolate, etc. to intentionally be with God
- Abstaining from media like TV, radio, music, e-mail, cell phones, and computer games to allow space for listening to the voice of Jesus
- Abstaining from habits or comforts in order to give God undivided attention
The God-given fruit of fasting can include:
- Keeping company with Jesus in complete surrender
- Praying for needs in the body of Christ
- Identifying with and fellowshipping with Jesus by choosing to follow his sacrificial example
- Freeing up more time for prayer
- Repenting of self-indulgent, addictive, or compulsive behaviors
- Letting these small deprivations remind you of Jesus’ great sacrifice on your behalf
- Seeking strength from God for obedient love and service
Here are other spiritual practices to consider during Easter Prep:
- Slow down – Limit addiction to busyness, workaholism, and hurry; learn to savor the moment and stay present with Jesus.
- Practice gratitude – At the beginning or end of each day, share with God three things you’re grateful to him for. Share them with your spouse, children or friends. You may wish to keep a gratitude journal if you prefer to write it down and keep a record to come back to.
- Celebrate – Listen to, sing, dance, or make music about the cross. Sing and dance with your children or grandchildren. From traditional hymns to recent Christian hits, meditate on the lyrics and the powerful truth they proclaim about Christ and the cross.
- Read through the accounts of Jesus’ life on earth in the Gospels.
May God bless you with renewed passion and transformation as you identify with Christ this Easter Preparation season!