Fasting. It’s kind of a mysterious practice, yet maybe it’s not as mysterious as it seems. Maybe, in trying to explain it as a spiritual discipline, with rules and regulations and how-to’s and such, some have over-complicated the concept a bit. As a result of being exposed to these, I used to be quite skeptical of the whole idea—which I knew wasn’t good because the Bible talks about fasting. Jesus talks about fasting! But the idea of giving up food in order to get God to answer a prayer always sounded a tad manipulative to me. And I have too much respect for God to believe that He allows, and even encourages, Himself to be maneuvered that way. I also have too much faith in His fatherly love to believe that He would refuse to answer my deepest, most sincere prayers unless I sacrificed a meal or two or three or 40-days’ worth of them like Moses did in the passage I wrote about yesterday.
But then I discovered a definition of fasting that makes complete sense to me. As I began to look at fasting from this new perspective, I realized it wasn’t fasting I was skeptical about, just some explanations of how to practice it.
In his book, Fasting, Scot McKnight says, “Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life” (p. xviii). What this means is that fasting is not a manipulative tool or a demanded sacrifice, as I’d heard before. Rather, fasting is simply a natural response to grief.
Let’s take a look at an example from the parent/child relationship to see, in very simple terms, how this works. Imagine sitting down to dinner with your family. You serve the food, but one of your children refuses to eat. You ask why and he tells you that because you refused to buy him the latest video game that all of his friends already have, he’s decided not to eat any more until you change your mind. If you are a wise parent, you call your child’s bluff—even if it means he chooses to skip a meal or two—because you know your child will eventually realize that he wants food more than he wants that video game. Your child’s “fast” isn’t going to get him anything because a) you, the parent, have decided it’s not something he needs and b) his attitude is just plain selfish. He’s refusing to consider the bigger picture or to trust that you are doing what you believe is best for him.
On the other hand, imagine that your child tells you he doesn’t feel like eating because he just learned that his best friend’s father was in a car accident and may not survive. His friend is devastated, so he is, too. Your response to this kind of information will be much different. You’ll pray with your child, comfort your child, take meals to the friend’s family, and do whatever else you can think of to help in this time of need. Your child is fasting because he cares deeply. In sharing his heart with you, he’s trusting you to join him in his concern and to help however you can. He’s desperate for relief.
That’s the power of fasting. God, our heavenly Father, is moved when something touches His children’s hearts so deeply that they just can’t eat.
I believe this is what happened to Moses in the passage we looked at yesterday. For the first forty days, he was sitting on a mountaintop in the very Presence of God. Can you even imagine that?! He was probably so enthralled by God’s majesty that eating was the furthest thing from his mind. And, evidently, being in God’s Presence made eating unnecessary.
For the second forty days, Moses was devastated by the actions of his people and afraid for their lives. God was ready and able to wipe them off the face of the earth. There was no time for a lunch break.
Fasting is a natural, physical response to anything that touches our hearts in a big way. When our deepest emotions become involved, we lose the desire and ability to eat.
Does this mean that we should never schedule a fast? I don’t think so. Sometimes we have to deal with on-going life situations that cause us continuous pain. Knowing that we (or a loved one) will need strength for endurance, we may choose to forego a specific meal or two each week in order to reflect deeply on what’s going on, to talk with God about the way the circumstance is progressing, to draw comfort and strength from His Presence, so we (or they) can keep on keeping on. In this case, we’re fasting because our need to absorb God is more important than our need to ingest food. Our time will be well spent.
There is so much more I’d like to say about this, but I’ve offered enough for today. I encourage you, however, as you consider the practice of fasting and come across passages in the Bible that mention it, to think of them in the light of this simple definition. When something touches us so deeply we lose all desire for food, it touches our Father’s heart, too.
Lord, thank You for caring about the people and events that matter most to us. Knowing we can bring our deepest feelings to You is comforting. As we talk these over with You, we thank You for what we know You will do. Beyond all we can imagine, Your actions are always perfect. We love You, Father. Amen.
In my next post, I’ll wrap up my thoughts on praying fervently.