Focus Scripture: Isaiah 58: 3-6 (NLT)
The Prophet Isaiah addressed this passage to Hebrew exiles that were just beginning to return from Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem somewhere around 537 BCE. After being held in Babylonia for 70 years, those coming out of exile had expected immediate and glorious restoration, but instead, they found themselves frustrated by many hardships. As we can imagine while they were in Babylonia, and even after leaving their place of captivity, they tried to hold onto their religious traditions, one of which was fasting.
What were the purposes of fasting for the newly freed Hebrew exiles?
First, fasting was meant to prepare them. It was meant to put the exiles in a proper attitude, allowing God to conform them to God’s purpose and God’s will.
Second, fasting was meant to cleanse them. It represented a purging for the physical body, ridding it of impurities.
Third, fasting was meant to strengthen them spiritually. It was meant to help them think more clearly about the spiritual challenges they were facing and those they were about to meet as they made their transition from Babylonia to freedom.
Today, fasting during the season of Lent serves many of the same purposes. The Lenten season consists of forty days, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending on the Saturday before Easter. The season excludes Sundays because every Sunday is considered to be like a little Easter. During Lent, Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting to grow closer to God.
During an Ash Wednesday service, a minister marks the sign of the cross with ashes on a person’s forehead. The sign reminds us of our mortality because, when we die, our bodies eventually decompose and we return to dust. The symbol also represents repentance because, long ago when people felt remorse for something they did, they wore sackcloth and put ashes on their heads as a way of confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness. The ashes remind us of our mortality and sin, and the cross reminds us of Jesus’ resurrection. The Lenten season commemorates the experience of God’s forgiveness of our sins and our renewed commitment to Jesus, our Redeemer.
Eternal God, humble us. Help us to make this journey, fasting and praying along the way. Prepare us, cleanse us, and equip us to know your will and to serve you in righteousness. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
 Stanley, Charles (2001-01-16). Charles Stanley’s Handbook for Christian Living: Biblical Answers to Life’s Tough Questions (Kindle Locations 9881-9882). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.