#ThursdayThought​: Lent Week 2 “A Simple Journey”

Simplicity: Freedom From Distractions

Welcome to Thursday Thought, a short devotional series which compliments our Sunday services as we journey though the season of Lent, based on material produced by Engage Worship. To begin, take a moment to be still, to be in the presence of God, and to ready yourself to hear from Him.

Today, we reflect on the theme of Simplicity: Freedom from Distractions. Our Scripture Reading is Acts 13: 1-3, 14: 21-23:

1Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

21They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said. 23Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. Amen.

The Old Testament has much to say about fasting. The only day the Lord commanded his people to spend fasting was the Day of Atonement, a holy and special day of seeking God’s forgiveness. But there were also voluntary times in the Old Testament, where God’s people fasted as they repented, or sought God’s attention for particular issues.

In the New Testament, Jesus himself and the leaders of the first church fasted, but the advice is much less prescriptive. We have already read Jesus’ command to secrecy – when you fast, do not show off about it. Beyond that, there is little in the way of practical advice to be found. The focus is more on the heart than the acts themselves. Food is presented as a spiritually neutral matter (see for example Col. 2:16-17, 20-23 and 1 Cor. 8:8). The way to the Father is through Christ, not through skipping meals.

Spend a moment, reflect on these questions: How have you experienced fasting in the past? Has it ever been a source of guilt, or trying to force God to do something for you? Talk to him about this.

Among other reasons to fast, the issue of distraction is worth bringing up in this context. In our passages from Acts today we see the early church leaders seeking God concerning serious matters. Who would be sent out as a missionary? Who would lead this newly planted church? In those decisions, there is a need for focus and attention to the Lord’s voice. Fasting would have removed the distractions of mealtimes and prolonged the time of prayer. You have to remember that life 2000 years ago did not involve three-minute microwave meals. For many, their whole day was taken up with gathering, trading, preparing and cooking the meals, as well as cleaning and clearing up afterwards. Fasting released extra time to seek God.

Practical steps: What distracts you from coming to God? What can you do this week, or this period of Lent, to reduce the number of distractions encroaching on your life with God? This could include:

  • Cutting down internet or smartphone use.
  • Switching off the TV more often.
  • Choosing simple food requiring less time in the kitchen.
  • Skipping some meals to take time to pray.
  • Taking more walks instead of driving.

Fasting is also a physical reminder of our need to trust in God. We have seen this when thinking about the Israelites in the wilderness, and when Jesus resists the devil by reminding him that “man shall not live on bread alone” (Luke 5:4). Saying “no” to one thing – even a good thing like food, technology, social interactions and possessions – is a way of saying “yes” to the deeper satisfaction of knowing God and trusting in his provision. It equips us to live with healthier attitudes towards these things.

Finish by making this prayer your own: Jesus, teach me to occasionally live with less, to fast those things which distract me or in which I am tempted to put my trust. I know that you have the best for me and are leading me in the way of everlasting, abundant life. Amen.