One good reason to starve yourself for 40 daysPublished 10:58am Saturday, March 15, 2014
by Brandon Robbins
When Jesus began his ministry, it started with trouble.
After being baptized, Jesus headed out into the wilderness. This was a barren wasteland where Jesus was without food or water for 40 days. I have no idea what he did for those 40 days, or how he survived. But I have a feeling that there was a lot of praying involved.
Towards the end of the 40 days, however, things became even more difficult for Jesus. Suddenly, he had company: the devil. And the devil wasn’t just there to chat. Three consecutive times, the devil tried to tempt Jesus to serve him. He knew that Jesus was weak, vulnerable. And he preyed on it.
But Jesus wasn’t to be swayed. When the devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, Jesus replied, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on the very Word of God.” When the devil challenged him to throw himself off the top of the temple that the angels might save him, Jesus responded, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” When the devil offers to give Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will worship him, Jesus retorts, “Away from me, Satan! It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him’” (Matthew 4:1-11).
No matter how great the temptations and how much Jesus wants to give in, he calls upon the power of scripture to give him the strength to resist. And when he does for the third time, the devil leaves him alone.
What’s even more exciting, though, is what happens once Jesus leaves the wilderness.
Shortly after recuperating from his exhausting ordeal, he heals those who “who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed” (Matthew 4:24).
What an amazing way to kick off his ministry! Just imagine how word began to spread about him! Clearly, his sacrifice paid off! The prayer, the meditation, the fasting, all of it was used by God to give power and influence to Jesus’ early work!
Well, I believe the same can be true in our lives as well. Just as Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness, we are in the midst of 40 days of fasting. We call it the season of Lent. It’s a period of the year when we, as Christians, remember the suffering of Christ, the power of his sacrifice, and the way in which it can impact our own lives and ministries.
For this reason, last year, my wife and I decided to follow Jesus’ example and fast during the season of Lent.
From breakfast on Sunday until breakfast on Monday, we went without food. This was one of those humbling moments where you realize for certain that you are not Jesus.
While Jesus fasted for 40 days, I barely made it through 40 minutes before having to apologize to my aching stomach. It’s hard to realize how much you rely upon food until you are forced to go without it. And while I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed the experience, I do cherish it.
By forcing ourselves to go without food for 24 hours each week, we realized just how precious and valuable food is. We could more honestly pray words like “give us this day our daily bread.” And we gained a greater sense of empathy for the billions of people around the world who go hungry each and every day (though it would be naive and foolish to believe that we tasted even an ounce of their pain).
At the end of the Lenten season, we could tell that we were changed by our experience. The act of fasting had truly deepened our relationship with Jesus, helping us to better understand and live out his teachings. We understood his salvation in a new way, and even more so our responsibility to offer that salvation to others. For the truth of the matter was, at the end of Lent we could return to our lives of food security while others would never have such a luxury. To truly honor the transformation the Holy Spirit had done in our lives through this experience would require that we not only understand that Christ sustains us, but to embody that for others – to be Christ for them, offering what we had been given.
More than any prior year, last year truly opened my eyes to the power and importance of Lent. It showed me just how wonderful it is to have this time of year where we can reflect on Christ’s sacrifice and be transformed in our relationship with him. And it caused me to realize just how much I had been missing all of those years when I had not taken it seriously.
Fortunately, each year the churches in our community come together to help people experience the true impact of this holy season. In the town of Courtland, we do this through Lenten Lunches. Each Wednesday, a church in the area hosts a 30-minute worship service followed by a delicious lunch. The service begins at noon and everything is finished by 1 p.m. The purpose is to inspire people to realize the joy and excitement of this time of year, while also encouraging them in their pursuit of spiritual transformation.
Next Wednesday, March 19, our church, Courtland United Methodist Church, will be hosting the weekly Lenten Lunch. The following two weeks, the lunches will be at Courtland Baptist Church. And the week after that, it will be at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Courtland.
To follow Jesus is not simply the act of believing in him while sitting still. It is an active pursuit to make him Lord of your life, sacrificing in order to surrender to him, just as he sacrificed everything in surrendering his life for you.
So may you realize that it’s not too late to embrace this wonderful season called Lent. May you surrender yourself more deeply to Jesus, allowing him to transform you inside and out. And on Easter, may you find that you are no longer the same person you are today, but made new in the image of the one who rose on that glorious morning…
BRANDON ROBBINS is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.