Jesus assumes that his followers will fast. There is real benefit to foregoing food for a time in order to focus on prayer. Even the hunger pangs themselves can serve to remind us of our poverty before God and his rich abundance to provide all that we need, whatever the situation we are facing. True fasting is good for God’s people and honoring to him. It is not about manipulating God or trying to earn favor with him.
That said, 3 troubling things about Lent. Giving something up for Lent is not fasting. Fasting is giving up food altogether for a period of time. So not eating chocolate or no soda or not watching American Idol for 40 days is not fasting. Second, telling everyone what you’re giving up for Lent (and how hard it will be/is for you) goes against what Jesus teaches regarding fasting. After warning against those who fast to be seen by others, he says in Matthew 6:17-18, "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." And finally it smacks of trying to earn favor with God and trying to pay for our own sin by our own "suffering" – things we cannot do and don’t need to do because Jesus has accomplished all that we need before God. As we approach Good Friday and Easter, let's focus on Christ and his perfect work.