Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On Fasting

Fasting. You might as well suggest to people that they jab a sharp stick in their eye. "Here everyone, here's a stick -- now, ready, jab!" This is so unfortunate. In my case, I was pretty green in my Christianity when I first heard of fasting. I had no negative preconceptions, so I dove right in. This has proven to be a rewarding and life-altering practice for me, though I'm embarassed to say I've fallen out of habit.

My introduction to fasting came by way of Richard Foster and his seminal book Celebration of Discipline (an absolute must for every Christian leader's library). I found the chapter on fasting to be an indispensible guide. He gives simple instructions and advice for beginners about short and long fasts. Foster says that while the primary purpose of fasting is always intimacy and worship of God, there are secondary purposes as well, and these are the formative ones. Fasting has a way of revealing what is truly in our hearts. Pride, idolatry, jealousy, sensuality or whatever you have been covering up with food and other good things will come to the surface. Fasting can also bring "breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen in any other way." (p. 60) I can attest to this first hand! (For a great video-nugget on corporate fasting by Foster, go here.)

Other books and writings that have guided my idea and practice of fasting are Dallas Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines, Bill Bright's The Transforming Power of Fasting and Prayer, and John Piper's A Hunger for God. A friend once gave me a reading from Augustine on fasting, but I can't remember its source. Augustine spoke of fasting as a way to subdue the body and direct it to do God's will, as one might withhold food from an unruly horse.

I have personally found that fasting is a way of removing the haze that obscures my spiritual eyes and ears. During my (extended) fasts, I have sensed God's voice and direction in unmistakably powerful ways. These transformative fasts have generally been between 3 and 7 days. There is an important distinction between the short fast (one meal to 24 hours) and the long. Short fasts can never produce certain kinds of experiences. Here is a journal entry from an extended fast several years ago:

"The feeling I had on Sunday evening [the day after a 6 day fast] was so amazing -- I felt I would explode because God's power seemed to be coursing through my veins & body!! My eyes of faith were so strong -- I could believe Him for anything!"
You may ask, as I have, whether I am violating a Scriptural injunction by talking about my fasts. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men . . . [let your fasting] not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret." (Matt. 6:1, 18) I don't think I've transgressed here -- as far as I can tell, I am writing in the Spirit of Jesus' words. I didn't fast to get praise from men and I don't expect any for my having written about it.

It is curious that Jesus assumed we would fast (cf. Mt. 6:16). The practice has fallen out of favor in the prostestant church only in the last century. Perhaps it is time we recovered it.

This brief ramble on fasting is just pieced-together and leaves so many roads unexplored. If it generates some good discussion, I'll do a follow-up. If not, then I guess you got enough.



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