Fasting, What is it good for? (More than you think)
Mark Lutz |
December 22, 2019
I think that the reason you don’t hear much about fasting and why it’s not done very broadly across the Christian community is also the reason that it’s so very valuable to us.
Our human nature, untouched by God’s redeeming power, can be pretty selfish. My thoughts most easily go to thinking about what I want—how I’m going to get what I want as soon as possible.
Self Denial Isn’t Popular
It’s in our nation’s constitution that we have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, guaranteed to us by our Creator. We would like to think so, but that’s bad theology.
Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Self-denial—or dying to our own will and desires—is not popular because it’s way less fun than self-indulgence. There is a time when we will know complete joy and rest, but it’s not now and it’s not here. We’ll experience what we long for when we join Jesus in the fullness of his kingdom.
We’re In A Battle
But now is a time for battle. Good vs. evil. God vs. Satan. In a battle where there is fierce hand-to-hand combat, the soldiers with better conditioning and training are usually victorious.
That’s why warriors go through training that’s painful—even bordering on torturous. They do PT at 4:00 a.m. They run for miles in boots, carrying heavy packs. They endure sleep deprivation.
They’re subjected to bad weather. They are pushed until they can go no further, and then they’re pushed a little more. Their motto is, “The only easy day was yesterday.” They are being conditioned mentally and physically for battle.
If this level of preparation is necessary for the material world, how much more important must it be for the spiritual?
Fasting is Conditioning for the Battle
Fasting falls into the category of things we do to condition ourselves for battle. In fasting, we tell our body that it’s not the highest priority but it comes after the spirit and soul.
It’s practicing an attitude that we may need to demonstrate at a later time. There may be a circumstance in our future where great consequences hang in the balance based on our ability to deny self and surrender to God.
God’s Way vs. the American Way
In Matthew 20, Jesus told his disciples:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This is just the way of God’s kingdom. But it’s not the American way. The American way is to strive to get ahead, to make a mark for yourself, to pursue happiness above all else, and complain at the slightest inconvenience.
In the military, young recruits are frequently disciplined for the least infraction, often being told to “drop and give me fifty”—meaning pushups.
The typical civilian response is to object about the questionable fairness of the discipline, to rationalize the behavior, and mutter under their breath rude comments about the drill sergeant.
But the response the military is looking for—the response of a warrior— is after doing the 50 pushups, a soldier jumps to their feet and says, “Thank you, sir, may I have another.”
Are you Soft or Fierce?
I envision God looking over his army, seeing a crowd of soft, overindulged recruits who are looking for the next blessing, wondering why God is taking so long.
I imagine His heart aches to see a child here and there who is interested in what He’s interested in, who’s motivated to do what’s necessary to prepare him or her self for the battle God is engaged in.
I have to ask myself, having grown up in the most blessed country in the world, am I soft or am I fierce? I’m afraid the answer is the former.
What Does the Bible Say About Fasting?
When you look at passages of Scripture around fasting, you might get the impression that fasting is to demonstrate high commitment to God.
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16
“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah 1:4
“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Joel 2:12
“So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on [Barnabas and Saul] and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.” Acts 13:3-4
“Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” Acts 14:23
Fasting is a Call To Stop Coasting
But perhaps fasting is more about rallying us to high commitment. The call to fast is a call for us to gather our resolve, to muster the courage, to make the decision to commit.
Before the fast we could assume that we were committed. We could coast, do business as usual, with minimal effort in the land of the highly blessed. We could travel as sleepwalkers with dull senses.
At the call to fast, nothing is assumed. There can be no coasting. The intention is clear. The effort is great. Senses are alert. We are fully engaged and we are fully alive.
Fasting is a slap to the face that awakens our spirit within our pampered body. We answer the question, “Am I up for this?” And honestly, we may not fully answer the question until we are called to, by something as disciplined as fasting.
And in complete honesty, I may find within myself some uncertainty about my ability to carry through and be faithful.
Fasting is a Prompt to Consider Things of the Spirit
Perhaps with the encouragement of all of us doing this together, in my time of fasting I might resist the urge to obsess about how hungry I am. Instead I may use the discomfort of my body to prompt me to consider things of the spirit.
That I might say with growing conviction, “Thank you sir, may I have another.”