Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of Lent. It occurs exactly 46 days before Easter Sunday, allowing for 40 days of fasting, minus the weekly Sunday feast days.
Forty is a significant number in the Bible. It rained and poured for 40 days and 40 nights in the Great Flood, cleansing the earth of sin, before God placed a rainbow in the sky as a promise that He would never destroy the whole earth again. Moses fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before receiving the Ten Commandments. Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert before overcoming Satan’s temptations and launching His earthly ministry that would end in His death and resurrection.
Marking our skin with ashes is an outward sign of inward repentance: “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.” Daniel 9:3. It is also a sign of mourning, both for the loss of our loved ones, and for our sin. We acknowledge that we need the sacrifice of Jesus on Good Friday for redemption from that sin. Thus, the cross of ashes that many Christians display on their foreheads today is a beautiful beginning to the season of Lent when we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus in a renewed way.
According to the encyclopedia Brittanica, "Lent has been observed since apostolic times, and prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises. In the early centuries fasting rules were strict, as they still are in Eastern churches. One meal a day was allowed in the evening, and meat, fish, eggs, and butter were forbidden. The Eastern church also restricts the use of wine, oil, and dairy products.” Britannica.com
Fasting, like meditation, is yet another Biblical practice that has been proven physiologically beneficial. Fasting from food:
Improves brain function
Kills cancer cells
Promotes weight loss
Regulates insulin levels
Makes your body work more efficiently and cleanly at the molecular level
Increases stem cell regeneration
Enhances your body’s overall performance
Fasting also enhances our prayer life, our gratitude, our ability to experience God’s miraculous healing and deliverance, and our practice of the presence of God. Our hunger pangs remind us of God’s grace and provision, and as my husband Ryan often says, “What we focus on, we get more of.” Whether we are fasting intermittently, removing an indulgent food, beverage, or entertainment, or displaying a cross of ashes on our foreheads today, we have the opportunity to join together with believers around the world in penitent anticipation of the joyous celebration that will take place 46 days from today.