Fasting and Other Thoughts

Yesterday I enjoyed some visits with Jim Ingram. He is a joy to partner with in visiting. I am so happy that he is one of our elders at Central. We had a good meal together at Arby’s and were thankful for our friendship in Christ.

I had not been back in my office long when I heard someone in foyer shouting, ‘is anyone here?’ I ventured out to see an older man with a dog. He introduced himself and asked if I remembered a couple that we helped a few weeks ago who had been stranded on an island just offshore. I told him I did. He informed me that these were his friends and he was looking for them. Unfortunately I have no contact information for this couple, but I did run off this news story from the lady’s home town about the event.  The dog, apparently, belongs to the couple we helped. We got to talking and I offered to give him a ride to a few places in town he needed to visit before going back to his boat. We had great conversations along the way. Although I felt I didn’t have time to do this, I also felt that this guy could really use some help – and it didn’t hurt that he was a great conversationalist. By the time I dropped him off at his boat, he had shared many things from his life with me. One of those stories was how he was given only a few weeks to live. The doctor at that time said he sometimes gives terminal patients the instruction to read THIS BOOK. His claim is that the book saved his life and here he is several years later. He was to sail out today for New Orleans, and then up the Mississippi River to Michigan.

Only two of my readers mentioned familiarity with the experience of fasting. Perhaps more have fasted but chose not to discuss it. There is a part of fasting that is to remain personal and not for publicity. I think we do need to talk about it, though, because it has been non-existent in my ministry experience. I am a bit embarassed to admit this at this point in my life. I always think I should be much further along than I am.

Fasting is simply abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Sometimes one will abstain from something else that has become important in your life … but nothing seems as vital as food. Foster suggests that we disregard the subject of fasting in part because “the constant propaganda fed us today convinces us that if we do not have three large meals each day, with several snacks in between, we are on the verge of starvation” (Celebration of Discipine, p. 47). While we have no direct command to fast in the NT, we certainly can sense the “almost unconscious assumption” (Foster, p. 52) that giving, praying, and fasting are all part of Christian devotion. Jesus said, “when you fast” … not “if you fast” (Matthew 6:16).

Foster offers some of the purposes of fasting as such:

  • Fasting must forever center on God.  God questioned the peopel in Zechariah’s day, ‘When ye fasted … did ye at all fast unto me, even unto me?’ (Zech. 7:5, KJV).
  • More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear – if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.
  • Fasting reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).
  • Fasting helps us keep balance in our life. How quickly we crave things we do not need until we are enslaved by them.

There are other benefits to fasting that I have been reading. And for me, a person who loves to eat and enjoys food much more than I should, fasting seems daunting and scary. Perhaps that is exactly why I need to pursue this with courage. After all, the Spiritual Disciplines aren’t a fad … and they aren’t just to pass the time. The development of spiritual life has eternal implications.

No doubt about it: We’re going to have these same bodies forever, though in some transfigured form we can’t now imagine. Our bodies are blessed, but we dont’ know how to live harmoniously in them. We drive them like vehicles, use them like tools to dig pleasure, and in the process damage them and distort our capacity to understand them. Fasting discipines help us quiet these impulsive demands, so that we can better hear what they need and how they are meant to work. It is a turning toward health, a way of honoring creation and preparing for eternity. (The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation, Frederica Matthews-Green, p. 58)

Your thoughts are welcomed.

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Thanks for reading!

john

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