The season of Lent, which leads up to Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, is nearly upon us. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on March 9. Traditionally, this is a season of preparation, introspection, and repentance for Christians around the world. This year, the Church of God is observing Lent in a unique way: it’s called “Focus 40.”
For the forty days leading up to Easter Sunday, the entire Church of God movement is being encouraged to spend time in prayer and fasting for the sake of seeking the Lord’s direction for our movement and for our congregations. This is an exciting opportunity for us to participate in a unifying event with our brothers and sisters in Christ. To date, over 400 congregations in the United States and around the world have signed up to participate – including us!
Now, I’m not calling for any of us to spend the entirety of these forty days in prayer and fasting. In fact, it’s not a good idea to go on a forty-day fast without your doctor’s permission, because that’s a long time to go without food. But perhaps you would consider fasting for a day or for a meal, once or twice or three times during the 40-day period. And certainly I hope you will consider praying consistently for Mt. Haley Church of God, for our sister churches in the area, and for the Church of God as a whole.
Prayer is a no-brainer for most of us. But why fast? Historically, prayer and fasting have been the means by which God’s people have expressed their deep desire to be in relationship with him. Fasting occurred in the Old Testament during times of distress, confession, repentance, and seeking God’s will (Ezra 8:23; Nehemiah 1:4; Psalm 35:13; Daniel 9:3). In the New Testament, prayer and fasting went together as a means of determining the will of the Lord in selecting missionaries and church leaders (Acts 13:1-3 and Acts 14:23).
When we abstain from eating food for a certain length of time, we are reminding ourselves of our weakness and our dependence on God. Hunger pains remind us that we depend on God for life itself and for our daily bread; with that in mind, we can also remember that we depend on God for guidance, health, safety, leadership, and answers to prayer. Fasting is a method of practicing deep spirituality that has stood the tests of time.
We also have the opportunity to practice our unity with fellow believers through a shared program of daily devotionals. Each day during this 40-day season, we will share in a devotional thought written by someone in our movement to help us unite our thoughts and prayers around a specific request or idea. These devotionals will be available on our church website and on Facebook in early March, and paper copies will be made available soon as well.
I invite you to join me and thousands of other Christian brothers and sisters as we ask the Lord to move mightily through our congregation, community, nation, and movement in the upcoming season of Lent.