Fasting is a lost discipline in our culture. In many ways we are simply too busy to fast or we misunderstand the concept and purpose completely.
I’m not talking about skipping meals so you can fit into your skinny jeans. That is a diet.
Fasting without the intention of seeking God is simply asceticism and anyone with a little willpower can do that.
Denying yourself to attain righteousness leads to pride as the pharisees showed, or to despair, if one cannot do it perfectly. Our natural tendency is to vacillate between moralism and liberalism. We are legalistic or hedonistic.
We do grace so poorly. We do not understand gospel. We add a cost to it when it’s free, or we cheapen it when it was such a high price to pay.
Denying yourself to cast your weakness wholly into the realm where God’s grace is required to sustain you is another matter entirely. Worship and prayer are essential to fasting.
It’s not optional.
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, Matthew 6:16-17
When, not if we fast. When. Quite the same as ‘when you pray…’ or ‘when you give’ It’s expected as part of our relationship with God.
But why fast?
We all worship.
Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.
― John Calvin
And what is an idol used for? Worship, surely. But also for provision of our needs. We use idols to seek out help, to provide for something that is lacking. To fill us.
In American culture, I believe some of these idols are security, success, and comfort. We love God but we don’t want to need Him too much. We have faith enough to get saved but not enough to be dependent on Him to provide, to meet our innermost needs, to heal us from our shattered past and hurts, to sustain and fill us.
And we turn. Almost imperceptibly.
If we’ve been Christians long, we’ve often mastered the way of the pharisee or the road of despair. We may have mastered those sins and social stigmas by which we associate good Christian people. We don’t smoke or cuss, we don’t commit adultery or live with our boyfriend, we don’t steal from people, we don’t murder or beat our spouse, we don’t do illicit drugs or tell lies. Maybe we don’t watch R rated movies, drink alcohol, or have cable. Maybe we think we are more righteous because we don’t do these things.
At least we follow the rules.
And we measure and count up our righteousness. If we fall short there’s always more to do, to abstain from, to strive for. There’s always guilt and shame and exhaustion.
If we are good Christians we may have learned which sins are sociably acceptable. We let those settle into our hearts. We know which ones are justified, rationalized, and empathized with.
Which ones are perfectly acceptable in our culture.
We can gossip, especially if it’s in the form of a prayer request for that person. We can covet other people’s things and mask it as admiration and ambition. We can overindulge and call it celebration. We can buy things we don’t need so that we feel comforted and secure and call it wisdom or planning. We can be ungrateful for the things we do have. We can be blind to the blessings. We can be prideful and mask it as security. We can be insecure and call it humility. We can ignore the plight of unbelievers and call it discernment as we distance ourselves.
We can replace God. We can build our kingdom here. We can call this place home instead of looking to the place He has prepared for us.
I’m not talking about openly denouncing Jesus.
It’s much more subtle. It’s a sleeping of our souls. A rest that comes more from drowsiness than peace.
Yet God wants us to be fully, vibrantly awake.
Sometimes the jolt that can shock through the slumber is fasting. It creates a dependency on God, a connection in ways that remind us that this home is temporary. That this body is ephemeral. It can offer break through to idols that are deep-seated within.
The weakness of our hunger for God is not because He is unsavory, but because we keep ourselves stuffed with ‘other things.’ Perhaps, then, the denial of our stomach’s appetite for food might express, or even increase our soul’s appetite for God - John Piper, A Hunger for God
What are your idol factories producing?
When was the last time you fasted anything?
Food? Spending? Entertainment? Is God asking you to make Him your only master?
For an amazing read on the powers of fasting, I highly recommend Hunger for God by John Piper and Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster