For most of my life, I’ve not done anything for lent, as I’m not keen on depriving myself of things I like just for the sake of tradition. I think there’s little point doing lent unless it brings you closer to God. There are a lot of benefits to fasting, but much more so when you teem it up with prayer. I’ve done some fasting before, particularly last year, & I found that the feeling of intentional physical hunger somehow releases a deeper spiritual hunger for God. It also increases the power of our prayers & our ability to hear from God, as it shows God that we mean business! It’s a declaration that God is more important to us than our cravings & needs! But generally lent has not been too helpful for me, probably because it’s difficult to keep the focus on God for that length of time, & the focus becomes the thing I’m giving up instead. But this year, I hope things will be different.
In the bible, there’s a challenging passage about true fasting, which is basically about getting the focus right. Fasting is useless when our hearts are not right, & it should go hand in hand with fighting against injustice:
“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift your voice like a trumpet; declare to My people their transgression…Yet they seek Me daily & delight to know My ways, as if they…did righteousness & did not forsake the judgement of their God…they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why have we fasted, & You see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, & You take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, & oppress…quarrel & fight. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?…Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, & to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry & bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, & not to hide yourself from your own flesh (& blood)?” Isaiah 58:1-7.
I think this is quite a fitting wake up call for the church. Many Christians can make themselves look very holy & pious; they may seek God daily, even delighting to draw near to Him. But that doesn’t mean much to God if they’re fighting amongst themselves & oppressing others. A lot of people who call themselves Christians anger me, as they are judgmental & intolerant, & just generally self-centred & arrogant. This goes against the overriding message of the bible, which calls us to love others as much as ourselves. Later the passage calls us to take away pointing fingers (verse 9), which is the opposite to what many people do. I know many so-called Christians have done a lot of harm to people, & it really saddens me. This passage challenges us to not only refrain from contributing to injustice, but to actively fight against it. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by all the injustice in the world & feel that we can do nothing, but the little that we can do can make such a difference.
One reason that fasting could be linked with fighting injustice is because it allows us to have some empathy with those who are hungry, as those of us who are privileged may have no idea what it’s like to hunger. But I think the main reason is the link with prayer: in order to fight injustice effectively, we need God’s power backing us & His leading & insight for how to go about doing it. It is mainly through the power of prayer that we can break yokes & set people free. Fasting also can be an opportunity to get closer to God, so God can use times of fasting to expand our hearts for the oppressed. Though prayer & fasting has a lot more power than we realise, it is still important to take action as well. We’re called to ‘pour ourselves out’ to satisfy the desires of the hungry & afflicted (verse 10), so God wants us to get serious about fighting injustice. The passage gives some examples of practical things we can do to help those suffering, & goes on to give the great benefits that will come when we commit to this. It says that we’ll experience light instead of darkness, speedy healing, righteousness going before us, God’s glory following us, answered prayers, continual guidance, strength & continually satisfied desires (verses 8-11).
Recently I read a book called ‘Broken by beauty’ by Joy Farrington, which I highly recommend. This book has set me off thinking about injustice, & has moved my heart to do what I can to fight for justice. The book is the autobiography of a young women who has a heart particularly for the prostitutes & sexually trafficked, & it talks about her experiences & struggles. A lot of the experiences described in this book really broke my heart, but it also describes how God can redeem our brokenness. She mentions that restoration can be a long, messy & painful process, but through it God creates a beauty that far exceeds that which we previously carried.
I found the book difficult to read at times, as I get quite affected by the suffering of the world, so I have a tendency to avoid thinking about it. But one quote that really spoke to me was one from William Wilberforce, which said ‘you may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know’. So I realised that God was wanting me to stop looking away from injustice but to face it head on, so that He could expand my heart for justice. I’m currently reading Ecclesiastes, & finding that it hits quite close to home, as Solomon is describing how he’d become cynical when seeing so much injustice in the world. The more he sought knowledge, the more weary he became, as he saw more of the dark side of human nature. I’m in a similar place at the moment, as I’m getting lots of insight, but also more questions, & my pursuit of answers can be wearying at times. But Ecclesiastes is a warning to me to not become cynical, but to keep holding onto God, as I believe He’s the only hope for our broken, suffering world.
So how can we go about fighting injustice? I’m currently feeling quite overwhelmed with my increased desire for justice, as I don’t know what I can do when I’m *meant* to be fully focused on my PhD at this time. I seem to be losing my passion for my PhD again, & I’m finding it quite a restriction on my time & energy. I feel I’m not making as much of a difference as I would like to. So I was encouraged to read in Broken by Beauty that ‘sometimes our presence is more powerful than words; it impacts beyond knowledge & speaks to the soul’. Joy also mentioned that our mission can be to simply affect the atmosphere of the environments we go to, i.e. to be a light in the darkness. So this gives me hope that I’m making more of a difference in people’s lives than I realise. Another thing that spoke to me was the importance of affirming people; to ‘call out the gold’ that they can’t see in themselves. I’m good at seeing good in people & loving them the way they are, but I’m not very good at articulating the good I see in them. But this is something I wanna work on, & over lent I wanna start to develop a habit of affirming people more.
“I pray that when I look at people I would see Jesus in them. I pray that I would then tell them what I see.”- Joy Farrington, Broken by Beauty.
Joy also talks about the vital importance of prayer & seeking God’s presence when fighting for justice. She says that “prayer needs to be at the foundation of every step that we make & is the bow from which our arrows of justice should be released.” Taking time to value God’s presence allows His fire to burn hotter within us, & this brings purity of heart & mind, & increased vision, insight & boldness. Prayer is the way to partner with God to see justice rule on the earth; it is the fuel behind our outreach, enabling us to keep pouring into others without running dry. Prayer also is the means of gaining protection from spiritual powers, dispelling our fears & releasing God’s supernatural power to back us up & bring breakthrough.
So now I feel inspired over lent to commit to pray against injustice in the world. My plan is to pray against a different aspect of injustice every day during lent: to pray for the church’s response, cry out for justice & to seek God about what I can do practically. I also plan to fast from meat in order to intensify my prayers. This year my church is encouraging us to do lent together, which I think is very exciting. I believe unity, especially when it comes to praying & fasting together, is very powerful. I anticipate that this will be a time when God starts to move more powerfully in us & through us to bring change in Sheffield & beyond.
“Seek first His kingdom & His righteousness, & all these things will be added onto you.”