In our diocese, we are resuming the practice of fasting and praying for the mission of the church on Wednesdays during the Trinity season. To fast means to abstain from or reduce our intake of food or some other pleasure or activity. We ask people to pray The Litany for the Church and Evangelism. Thus, the discipline is some form of fasting and a particular form of prayer.
Fasting should take into account our health, stage of spiritual growth and practical circumstances related to our daily work or activities. Some may be able to fast all day until Evening Prayer or Communion. Some may fast one meal. Some may abstain from snacks and eat in a simpler manner. Electronics ought to be included; turning off the radio and practicing silence; avoiding non-work related computer and social media usage. We should fast from our main pleasures. Fasting (at least) a day a week from our main enjoyments helps us not to become captive to them. Our fast may adjust and grow from week to week as we listen to the voice of God and learn to enjoy our separation from things.
We can contrast the ongoing Trinity season fast with the Lenten fast. Lent is a focused season of fasting with the defined goal of Easter. Our Trinity season fast deals with habits of life over a longer period of time. Lent is the intense workout. Trinity is the sustainable program. We should adopt a practice we can continue for an extended season, but that also challenges us to grow. If we practice this fast for the next half year, it will cultivate in us detachment, self-control and contemplation.
The Bible expects us to fast (Matthew 6:16), but fasting is an under-practiced discipline. In our overindulged culture, people get trapped in compulsive and addictive behaviors. Fasting, combined with prayer, is the main tool God has given us to combat excessive appetites. The only way to learn self-control is to practice going without the things we enjoy. Fasting creates a space; Christ enters that space through prayer and fills our emptiness with himself (Philippians 4:11-13).
How is personal growth in self-control and virtue related to the mission of the church? It is, in fact, the essential thing. Our mission is to bear witness to Christ; this means to bear witness to what Christ is doing in us. Unless we are experiencing the power and grace of God in our lives through prayer and the practice of spiritual disciplines, we will have little to show. This is the main problem in contemporary evangelism. There is too much talk about Jesus, but not enough experience of God’s power—too much intellectual explanation and too little growth in holiness and virtue.
The practice of fasting during Trinity is an opportunity to grow in our main areas of struggle. What is your main area of weakness? What is your most besetting temptation? Make this a focus of fasting and prayer during Trinity. If you persevere in it for this season (and beyond) you will experience progress. Your growth will add to the story of what Christ is doing amongst us.