Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from an original post by Aaron on January 13, 2011. We are bringing it up in light of our commitment as a church to fast this week. If you missed the sermon, you can watch or listen online.
There are volumes written about what fasting is and what it does. Foster’s The Celebration of Discipline is probably the most concise yet thorough work I have seen on it. I think whole books labor the point, and short articles don’t do it justice. So, in the spirit of not doing it justice, I have some thoughts on fasting I would like to share.
First, religious practice can be misunderstood. We often try to leverage some religious practice to “obligate the gods” to something. So it is with prayer, singing, church attendance, and many other religious practices today. Fasting often falls into this category, so we fast to get what we want just like the prophets of Ba’al cutting themselves on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). And we get frustrated when it doesn’t work. Here is the point: Religious practice is not a matter of obligating God to something. If that is our posture, it will fail. And we, like the Catholic Church accepting indulgences during the Middle Ages, face two horrible consequences:
For one, it puts the church in the position of mediator between God and man. Depending on religious practice to gain access to God allows the church to decide how we live out our relationship with God — which is fine, as long as the church is truly seeking the face of Jesus. But again, I would point to the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages to prove that when any institution run by men is given that kind of power in people’s lives, it becomes corrupted.
Also, we place God in a box that He has no obligation to uphold. And consequently, we paint a picture of God that is not true and leads people only to disappointment. Many people walk away from God, not because He is false, but because they were given (or painted for themselves) a picture of God that is simply not accurate. And no one stepped in to help bring understanding and hope.
The second major point I would like to make is that I believe the point of all of the disciplines is for me to conform my attitude, thoughts, and actions to His. Whether this practice is as commonly talked about as prayer and Bible reading, or it is as complex and avoided as simplicity, fasting, memorization, or solitude, each of these practices serve the purpose, not of obligating God, but more of bringing my life (body, mind, and soul) in line with God’s agenda — which is always right.
My final point is that we all know the connection between food and our well-being. We eat a big starchy lunch and struggle to stay awake for the rest of the afternoon. We eat really poorly for a few days and become lethargic and grouchy. We know that beyond what we think we look like, there is an emotional component to food. That is why many of us struggle to be emotional eaters, stress eaters, or why we crave certain foods in certain situations. The same effect is true with our spiritual well-being.
Leviticus 10:8–10 New International Version
Then the LORD said to Aaron, “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean.”
Deuteronomy 29:5–6 New International Version
Yet the LORD says, “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the LORD your God.”
I am not arguing the ethics of alcohol consumption. What I am arguing is that food and drink has an affect on us. Even in the Deuteronomy passage, they ate no bread, and drank no wine so they would know that He is God. Think about it for a second. What are two of the most addictive food products? Carbs and alcohol? Maybe there is something to this… maybe much more than we realize.
So, back to fasting. In my opinion, fasting is about me clearing my body of impurities that fog my mind and my spirit from seeing God so that I can be aware of what He is doing. It does not obligate God to speak, nor does it obligate God to do what I want Him to do. But I also do not believe God is trying to be elusive or hard to contact. We simply have to do the right things in order to put ourselves in a position to see and to hear. In fasting, I put myself in a position to hear; I am not forcing God into a position to speak. But then again, He has been speaking all along. If John 5 is true (and I believe it is), and God is always at His work, then my focus should be finding out what that work looks like so I can join Him.
So with that in mind, I come to my conclusion: Fasting is a lost art and should be a common practice in our lives. It helps with our awareness of God and His work, as well as helping with our overall well-being and feeling. More than that, it develops discipline and self-control in us — attributes that show up in all areas of our lives.
May you seek the Lord’s face with all that you are — mind, body, and soul. May you be fully awake to God’s direction in your life. And may you be willing to lay all things down for His sake and in pursuit of His wisdom and direction for your life. It is more than you could ever think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20–21)!