Formation in the image of Jesus for the good of others. This is the goal as we grow and serve at City Church.
Throughout the liturgical year, we have the opportunity to see this formation take place. As we live out the story of Jesus, we invite you to participate in a communal practice and a personal discipline for each season change. A communal practice is a habit that is done in the context of community while a personal discipline is a habit done on your own. We are constantly being [de]formed by the world around us. Step into these intentional rhythms that are designed to form us into the image of Jesus instead.
For Lent, our personal discipline will be fasting. We are also building our Communal Practice around the concept of fasting.
“More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately…Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear–if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.”
- Richard Foster
Fasting is one of the least practiced disciplines among modern Christians. That was not the case for most of church history. Jesus himself assumes that his followers will fast (See Matthew 6 - Jesus says “when you fast…” not “if”). While there is no command to practice fasting, we should at least consider a practice that so many followers of Jesus throughout history have used to grow in their relationship with him.
“ And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” - Matthew 6:16–18 (ESV)
Fasting is not unique to Christianity. Many religions practice fasting in some capacity, and it has recently grown in popularity for its many health benefits. However, fasting is not Christian fasting unless it is done for a very particular purpose. Fasting, for a follower of Christ, is the voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. It must be rooted in a relationship with Christ and practiced with the desire to become more like Christ.
Why do we fast? Simply put, the goal of fasting is to turn ourselves from worldly things and set our minds and hearts fully on God. It is not a way to manipulate God or coerce him to hear and answer our prayers, but rather it acknowledges our complete dependence on him. Fasting awakens us to the reality that we are so often driven by our fleshly desires and appetites. It humbles us and awakens us to our great need for and reliance on God.
How do we fast? Fasting is simple, but it is really hard. Many of us have been conditioned to believe we need three meals a day with a few snacks in between. The thought of skipping a meal, let alone several, seems radical, strange, unhealthy, and possibly insane. To begin, you designate a certain time period (12 hours, 24 hours, 36 hours, etc) during which you will not eat. The traditional fast is to abstain from food only. Most people who practice fasting will allow for water, coffee, or tea during the designated fasting period. During your fast, you are encouraged to use the time typically reserved for eating to practice other disciplines (prayer, Bible reading, etc). In addition, as you go about your day and experience the results of fasting (cravings, stomach growling, headaches, etc), take a moment to remember why you are fasting and to pray about and reflect upon that purpose.
Here is our encouragement to you during the season of Lent: Choose one day each week during Lent (February 14 - March 28) in which you will practice the discipline of fasting. As a means of practicing this discipline corporately (Communal Practice)***, we are encouraging everyone to practice fasting each Wednesday of Lent. Whatever days you settle on, decide the length of time that you will fast on those days and commit to it. Do what seems right for you - you can skip one meal, fast for 24 hours, or even commit to what’s been called a monk fast (36 hours - this is a wonderful way to experience a secondary benefit of fasting - identifying with the poor. There is something about going to bed with an empty stomach that further amplifies this practice). Use the time you would normally spend preparing and eating meals to seek the Lord through prayer, Bible reading, and/or other spiritual disciplines. Pay special attention to what you notice about yourself as you experience hunger.
***As you fast, prepare for the All Things New Offering coming this spring - Sacrifice is a theme of Lent. Throughout the history of the church, Jesus’s sacrifice has often been marked in this season by his people fasting and praying in anticipation of God’s movement.
This year we encourage our members to pray along with our new city partner, For Cleveland, as you experience bodily hunger:
1. God, may your Church across Cleveland hunger for righteousness -
abounding in good works of justice and mercy
2. God, may your Church in Cleveland be unified
even as the Father and Son are unified, so all may know Christ
3. God, may your Church throughout Cleveland experience your Kingdom,
and pour out stories of hope in a hopeless place
A FEW NOTES
What about other types of fasting? For the purists, fasting refers only to abstaining from food. However, Christians have found periodically abstaining from other things that tend to cause our hearts to stray from the Lord to be extremely beneficial (Netflix, social media, video games, etc). Whether you choose to call this fasting or not, that is not our focus here. However, Lent is a great season to practice these things, so you are certainly encouraged to combine this with fasting from food if you believe it would be helpful.
Fasting is not recommended for everyone. If you are diabetic or suffer from other kinds of health issues, you should definitely check with your doctor before fasting. If you have struggled in the past, or if you currently struggle with eating disorders, fasting may not be right for you. We would encourage you to speak with a therapist or counselor before participating in this practice. Finally, if you are prone to legalism or if you have experienced hurt in the past due to legalistic religious practices, it might be wise to talk to a pastor before beginning this practice.
Keep this practice between you and the Lord (and maybe your immediate family if they need to know for planning purposes and your Growth Group if you are participating together). This discipline will not be effective if you use it as a means to “look spiritual” or to get attention from others.
Finally, start slowly and build up to longer and/or more regular periods of fasting. And give yourself some grace! Fasting is hard. You will learn some less than flattering things about yourself in short order. When you mess up or things don’t go well, don’t beat yourself up. Learn and move on. Fasting can be a potent practice in your journey to formation in the image of Jesus and is worth the effort, but don’t expect perfection.
“We fast in this life because we believe in the life to come. We don’t have to get it all here and now
because we have a promise that we will have it all in the age to come.
We fast from what we can see and taste, because we have tasted and seen the goodness
of the invisible God–and are desperately hungry for more of him.”
- David Mathis
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES : LENT 2024
HEAD: The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Christ - Fleming Rutledge examines the various themes and motifs used by the New Testament writers to explain the meaning of the cross of Christ. She mines the classical writings of the Church Fathers, the medieval scholastics, and the Reformers as well as more recent scholarship, while bringing them all into our contemporary context.
HEART The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter - Bestselling poet and Anglican priest Malcolm Guite chooses a favorite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive reflections on it. A scholar of poetry and a renowned poet himself, his knowledge is deep and wide and he offers readers a soul-food feast for Lent.
HANDS Consider setting aside money you save while fasting for the All Things New offering (Easter / Pentecost). Money received goes to support our partners in the city who are serving the poor and spreading the gospel.
KIDS: Understanding Sacrifice and Atonement - In this Bible Project video, God is on a mission to remove evil from His good world, along with all of its corrosive effects. However, He wants to do it in a way that does not involve removing humans. In this video on sacrifice and atonement, we trace the theme of God’s “covering” over human evil through animal sacrifices that ultimately point to Jesus and his death and resurrection.
Prayer & Practice Book - A City Church book of common prayer. With short daily liturgies, planner pages, and collections of breath prayers, blessings, and more, this is intended to be a daily resource to help us integrate the many pieces of our lives. Download PDF here or email us for a printed copy.
The liturgical calendar follows the life of Christ and, in its cyclical rhythm, invites us to enter the movement of his life on a yearly basis. As we observe each season, we can observe Christ. We pray that as you allow the seasons of the church year and anchor your life to the life of Christ, you’ll discover that a fuller joy and vitality marks your days.
Lesslie Newbigin writes, “the business of the Church is to tell and to embody a story, the story of God’s mighty acts in creation and redemption and of God’s promises concerning what will be in the end. The Church affirms the truth of this story by celebrating it, interpreting it, and enacting it in the life of the contemporary world.”
Each Sunday we see the arc of God’s story rehearsed and embodied (God is Holy, We are Broken, Jesus Saves Us, Jesus Sends Us)... but how do we “enact it in the contemporary world” of our homes, where we can create culture and habits that form us.
The church calendar, much like Sunday Service, moves us through a story. Specifically the story of Jesus with his incarnation in Advent all the way through the sending of the church in Pentecost.
ADVENT - the future hope of Christ
CHRISTMAS - the joyful birth of Christ
EPIPHANY - the perfect manifestation of Christ
LENT - the temptation and death of Christ
EASTER - the world-changing resurrection of Christ
PENTECOST - the renewing Spirit of Christ