Thursday, August 24, 2006


Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” Mathew 9:15

I‘ve struggled with this topic for several weeks because of simple arrogance; an intellectual arrogance before an infinitely intelligent God. An arrogance which knows “right” even in view of the God that created the body. Arrogance that believes we are somehow more intelligent than human beings who lived a short 2,000 years ago (see ‘Study’ in a few weeks… err, ok -- months); that we have somehow evolved beyond simple disciplines like fasting, which of course have grown irrelevant in this “modern age.” Most of all, I see an antinomian spirit among Christians that says I can do whatever I want, despite what the Bible clearly indicates and the example Jesus set. It’s this arrogance that has caused me to struggle with the writing of this post: my own arrogance, mostly. As God would have it, fasting is a walk in humility.

In the Christian biblical sense, fasting is a dietary restriction in which followers of Jesus submit to during times of prayer and intercession (Psalms 35:13, Matthew 17:21), mourning and grief (Ezra 10:6) and worship (Acts 13:2-3). An often misunderstood and therefore rarely exercised discipline, fasting was practiced by the fathers of our faith, from Moses and Elijah to John the Baptist and Jesus Himself. For over two years now, I have been practicing this discipline that, in many ways, still mystifies me. This seemingly self-mortifying ancient practice has mostly negative semblances today, such as involuntary hunger (without food) and the well-known and very damaging eating disorder of anorexia.

Very briefly, there are four main types of fasting: Absolute fast: No bread or water for a period; Solid food: No solid foods for a period; Substantial Bread and Water only; Restricted Diet: Avoiding certain foods. Time periods in scripture ranged from supernatural fasts, directed by God, which lasted as long as 80 days (Moses) and 40 days (Jesus) to weeks and, most commonly, days. Medically speaking, longer fasts (which I won’t dig into) carry significant risks and were always directed specifically by God. However, shorter fasts have notable medical benefits, which I will not get into here. Most commonly practiced, 1-3 day fasts, with the aid of juice and an occasional piece of fruit or bread (on the second day), are a regular practice for many Christians. (Juice fasting helps control the rate at which your body purges itself and prevents extreme weakness and discomfort in the first 48 hours of the fast.)

To the question, “Why fast?” I have only one good answer: weakness.

We should fast because we are weak. In our daily lives we arrogantly forget our weakness (complete dependence on God for goodness) and trudge on as if we can live apart from God. Daily, we forget the a) common grace (rain, sunshine, food) and b) specific grace (answered prayers) as if we somehow deserve anything we are given (Psalm 24). Through biblical fasting, however, we are positioned to recognize the provisions of God in our daily lives. We begin to see how often we are blessed by common grace, which we take for granted, and specific graces through which God meets our individual needs.

For me, fasting has proven fairly humiliating. It often brings to surface the strange solace I take in the pleasures of food as well as how much clever mastery I allow my own body (and the enemy) to have over my mind. I still struggle each time… which is why I simply can not mention fasting without pairing it directly with prayer (normally the case in scripture). It is the fasting (complete dependence) that draws me into humble prayer.

It is only through fasting as a spiritual discipline (not exercise), in prayer, that I learn of its true significance as a teacher to my soul. It humbles me, revealing my true dependence on God for all comfort. It trains my body to resist the devil, who tempts me to break the fast (Matthew 4:1-10). And what blesses me most is that it reveals the ability of God to provide “food you do not know about” in the midst of my suffering.

This separation from the flesh usually occurs over the first 48 hours, a humbling process in which I have failed many times. However, when I enter into that time in prayer, I enter with great humility and hunger towards a God I now see more clearly. A break in the dam seems to occur at that moment, when I gain a true sense of what Jesus meant in Matt 6:16-18 when he told us not to appear distressed, but to feast on the Lord and His will (Luke 12:33). Dallas Willard says, “Fasting is training in suffering happily as we feast on God. And it is a good lesson, because in our lives we will suffer, no matter what else happens to us.”

Finally, the desperation and suffering of fasting gives me an understanding of the boundless resources of our Lord! When in fasting and prayer, you are provided with the bread of God and the words that proceed from the mouth of God. When in prayer, your energy is restored and you are lifted to offer your service and prayers that are often such an integral part of the fasting process.

Here are some key scriptures related to fasting: Psalms 35:13; Isaiah 58; Acts 13:2-3


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