Photo by Jeremy Keith
Fasting is often overlooked in the church, probably for many reasons. Sometimes I think it is because we don't understand it and don't see many people doing it. But, I also think it might be because we are addicted to our appetites. Not just food, but entertainment, comfort, caffeine, work... we stuff our face and our minds and our lives with things that in the end don't satisfy us (or satisfy us for a short while and then leave us hungrier than before). Fasting then becomes a way for us to say no to ourselves, and yes to God. It allows us to cut our dependence on our stomach and trust solely in God's provision for us. Jesus after fasting for 40 days said, "man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." He quotes Deuteronomy where God tells the Israelites that the manna that he provided for 40 years every day was to remind them that their entire hope, all of their sustenance was dependent on God. They needed God more than they needed bread.
As part of Jesus' sermon on the mount, he talks in Matthew 6 about three disciplines: giving, prayer, and fasting. Putting fasting into this context helped me to better understand why to fast. In giving we loosen our grip on our money, in prayer (among other things) we admit we're not in control, and in fasting we recognize that our deepest need is God. Our pastor Jamie tied all three of these to Galatians 5 where Paul says "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh." So prayer, giving, and fasting become three disciplines, three tools to crucify our flesh -- to turn our heart to God and be more like him.
The Bible is so poetic, because at the height of Jesus' ministry when the people are looking for another sign and point to the manna provided in the wilderness, Jesus says "I am the bread of life." Of course, like us most of the time, they didn't get it. They thought the point was the bread, when the point had always been God. If we feast on Jesus we are deeply and wholly satisfied.
As I was fasting this week, this prayer formed:
Give me a distaste for food,
and an affection for your Word.
Give me a distaste for things that go stale,
and a taste for things that last.
Give me a distaste for earthly things,
and give me a desire for heavenly things.
Give me a distaste for what leaves me hungry,
and fill me with what always satisfies.
Oh God, would I taste the honey of your Word, hear the whisper of your voice, touch your daily mercies, smell the aroma of your grace, and see your glory as my reward.If you've never fasted before, ask God what that might look like for you. I probably wouldn't start with a 40 day fast, but try 36 or 48 hours. There are numerous fasts in the Bible from Daniel's fast (that was a diet of fruits, vegetables, and nuts) to Ezekiel's fast (with bread and oats), to a juice fast. It's amazing how many promises you'll find in the scriptures that are tied to fasting. Isaiah 58 talks directly about fasting and has been pouring over my soul this week. God says after fasting in a way that honors him, "Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I."