I am constantly surprised by all the water bottles and coffee in church. It’s a couple hours people. Can’t you go a couple hours without putting something in your mouth? In America the answer is no. And so, not only do we never fast but we are all gluttons.
Traditionally churches in this country would culminate the service every Sunday with the Lord’s Table. They would not eat before Church, and it would make the communion all that more meaningful. I went to a couple churches that do this and it is such a blessing. I always eat breakfast, but I often don’t eat before church and it really does make it more meaningful. Afterwards, a big meal with family just seems right.
Fasting really is a wonderful thing. It takes a lot of discipline. The first time I tried it, I found myself going to get some food from the cupboard without even thinking. But if you don’t have to concern yourself preparing and eating and cleaning up of food, you can accomplish a lot of other things. I think we get this to some degree, in a certain segment of our culture. When it comes to exercise or ‘natural’ food. Health nuts think that torturing themselves is proof that it’s working. They do it to preserve their earthly body or to stay in shape, but fasting was so much more. There really is a spiritual dimension, it’s discipline that is good for the soul.
We don’t really participate in lent, but I think it’s a good concept as well. Fasting doesn’t have to mean you don’t eat anything, it can mean giving up things you really like or like the most. It also reminds me of camping. Which I found was as big of a thing in Israel as it is in Montana. Camping is giving up the modern conveniences and doing without. It probably goes back to the Old Testament feast of booths, when the people built tents on their roofs. They camped out to remember when they had been a wandering people in the desert for forty years.
And so we see Christ, the new Israel, reliving that history as he fasted forty days in the desert(Matthew 4:2). Further Jesus tells his people how to fast. It should be humble and in secret, don’t put on a show for others but do it to please your Father in heaven(Matthew 6:16-18) which sounds a lot like Isaiah 58. Fasting seems to have been a part of worship gatherings in Acts 13. We get together and have potlucks and music, but it seems strange to fast as part of public worship. I think we are doing something wrong. The other use of fasting in Acts is in also in chapter 13 and in 14:23 as well, it concerns prayer and fasting when decisions are made. I often joke, when someone gets a feeling that they should do something, that they might not be able to distinguish the real moving of the Holy Spirit from indigestion. I suppose if you are hungry you don’t have this problem. But there must be more to it than that. We know that suffering for Christ’s sake will not go without reward. It’s almost like we can suffer at our own hand for Christ’s sake. At any rate a clear mind and self-sacrifice never hurt anyone.
The other mention of fasting in the New Testament comes from the religious leaders questioning Jesus. They complained that his disciples didn’t participate in the regular fasts. Jesus told them that you don’t fast while you are at a wedding. And so we see that there is a time for fasting and a time for feasting. We don’t really participate in or put much stock in feasting either these days. We feast most days and then on Thanksgiving and Christmas we step it up to the obscene. I think the younger generations are even worse on this issue. They want every minute to be a party/concert/worship service, even at a funeral. But part of wisdom is knowing when certain things apply. When the Christ walked this earth, it was a time for celebration. Often in the Old Testament fasting was the result of sorrow, or a great burden. You prayed and fasted when times were tough, for you or your people. After Christ dies you can bet the apostles fasted. But then he rose, and they still fasted, when appropriate. The Christian life is not all one big party. There are difficult times. There are times to make tough decisions. These don’t call for perpetual feasting, they call for sacrifice and fasting. Which will make the times of feasting all that more meaningful.
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.