By Chuck Griffin Editor, LifeTalk
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”—Jesus, speaking in Matthew 6:16-8 (NLT).
I mentioned yesterday that Scripture and prayer work together in the life of the serious Christian. The same can be said of fasting. From a spiritual perspective, fasting is meaningless if not combined with Scripture and prayer.
Think of fasting as a catalyst. Spiritual disciplines performed while fasting should be more focused and effective.
Fasting is not a popular topic in a culture where Taco Bell once advertised, “Welcome to Fourth Meal.” As Americans, we tend to have easy access to what we want when we want it, be it food or other needs and wants. When we discover people among us going hungry, particularly children, we rightly see their plight as a travesty in a nation of relative abundance.
It perhaps is a little easier to talk about fasting now because so many people fast for nonspiritual reasons, to lose weight or improve blood work. Variations on the “intermittent fast” abound. At least the idea is now less-foreign in what can be a gluttonous culture.
The spiritual idea behind such self-denial is to remind ourselves of our fragility, and therefore, our dependence on God. As a Christian, it is important to be sure those hungry moments are filled with something other than food. In the right frame of mind, Scripture should leap to life and the prayer experience should become more vivid as we fast.
As Jesus said, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about. … My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” (John 4:32-24.) As followers of Christ, we similarly should focus during our fasting on aligning ourselves with the will of God and doing the work of the kingdom.
Fasting for spiritual reasons looks externally like fasting for physical reasons. The only real difference is intent. The first time I read about one version of intermittent fasting, where a person doesn’t eat after dinner until about mid-afternoon the next day, I thought to myself, “That’s just John Wesley’s 18th-century way of fasting.”
Some people have physical reasons they cannot fast from food. In such cases, it’s perfectly appropriate to abstain from other activities so as to spend more time in prayer or the Bible. Deliberately leaving the television off for an extended time would be one example.
What’s important is that we learn to put aside distractions and live in the Kingdom of God. As we fast or abstain, the contrast between this hungering world and the eternal abundance of where we are headed can be remarkable.
Lord, give us the courage to try spiritual practices that may be new to us, and please speak to us clearly as we attempt them. Amen.