Thursday, February 04, 2010

Fasting: When We Need Jesus More Than Food

I posted this on SBCImpact blog earlier this week and thought that I would put it here for my own records now. If you have not read it yet, enjoy.

In 1982 I read a book by Richard Foster called “Celebration of Discipline’. It has become a classic on biblical disciplines and has been read by millions. One of the chapters that struck me was the one on fasting. I had never fasted before and I could not recall that in my ten years as an active follower of Jesus anyone ever talking about fasting. So, I tried it. I just did a one day fast and since then I have done many one day fasts. Some are more spiritual than others. Some are more painful than others! But for the last several years I have not fasted at all. I would tell myself that it was not really necessary, after all we can’t make God love us more. But over the last few years as I have stumbled into middle-age I have gained weight, began feeling tired all the time, and my spiritual life has felt like my physical one. So, when a friend of mine gave me a new book on fasting by Jentezen Franklin I was immediately challenged to, in Jentezen’s words, ‘dethrone King Stomach’. I prayed about it and meditated on it for a month and then in the middle of January I began a two week fast. I broke it yesterday with the Lord’s Supper in our small house church. I learned two things that I want to share here for your encouragement.
The first thing that I want to share is that it was not that hard. I know, if you told me that you fasted for two weeks and drank only water and fruit juice I would be impressed. Don’t be. It really was a joy. Yes, I was hungry. Yes, the caffeine withdrawal gave me banging headaches the first three days. But fasting really is praying. You never forget what you are doing or why you are doing it. My constant refrain was, ‘Jesus, I need you more than food’. And He was faithful to be present to me and to fellowship with me. There has been a lot of joy these two weeks. I took naps in the afternoon sometimes but I was never really wiped out. I was dizzy sometimes but I was never immobilized as if I was starving to death. Jesus put King Stomach in its place and showed me that he does not have to rule me. I can live without him in control.
My wife asked me why I was fasting and I put it this way. Of course we can not make God love us more. We can not manipulate or force God to do anything. Our righteousness really is as filthy rags. But then, neither can I make my wife love me more. If I never took her out on a date again she would still love me. But we really enjoy dates- when we can get them! I don’t take her out to force her to do anything. I take her out because I already love her and want some dedicated time with her. Fasting is like that with God. But don’t think that God is a cheap date! He likes it when we lavish Him with extravagance and for a Westerner there is no greater extravagance than going without food for someone else. More than half of you still reading this have already come up with two dozen good reasons not to fast. This post is meant to encourage you to do it anyway. Jesus said in the Sermon on the mount that ,’When you pray…. When you give…. When you fast….’ No one would deny that praying and giving are absolute necessities for a healthy relationship with God. How can we who parse every iota of scripture and strain it for the last ounce of truth ignore fasting? I am going to fast day fasts once a week for the rest of the year and next January I am definitely going to do a two week fast again. In fact, I am already looking forward to it.
Secondly Jesus taught me something special throughout the fast. I have been on a long journey. Not physically- although I have traveled far! But my spiritual journey out of fear and into the faithfulness of God has been a long one. When I first arrived in Rohan in 1996 we found a police state that was under real oppression and fear. There were secret police in my English as a Second Language Class. There were secret police and informers in my neighborhood. Several of the guys I thought were friends turned out to be reporting on me regularly, it was brutal and every blow served to heighten fear. I remember feeling the need to cover up that I had been a Pastor in the West. I played up my Music Major credentials. It all makes me sick to think of it now. How close I came to denying my Savior as Peter had! When we moved to Gondor I determined never to make a decision based on fear. Since we have been here I and my team have proclaimed the Word boldly in dangerous places and in remarkable circumstances. But I have not ‘arrived’ by any means. Do I proclaim in faith? Usually? Sometimes? When fundamentalist Islam has returned to Gondor and the Sulafis are gaining strength am I bold? Sulafi’s by the way are an ugly brand of fundamentalist Islam who make the Pharisees of Jesus day look like weenies. Their fear-laden legalistic sickness is spreading across Gondor like a disease right now. What can I say in the face of that? On the first day of the fast God led me to 2 Corinthians 10: 4-5:
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ
Paul said that he destroyed arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God. Can I do that? If the same Spirit that did it through Paul resides in me how can I not? We can and we must proclaim the truth in the face of the lies told about God. He is faithful, He is loving, and He did send His only Son to die for us. Jesus was crucified and has risen from the dead! These words spoken in my power mean nothing. But when the spirit of God lives in us these words take on divine power that tears apart the works of the evil one. The last day of the fast this lesson continued with Isaiah 54: 16- 17:
Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy; No weapon that s fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.
Ok, Isaiah might could refute every tongue that rises against him in judgment but can I? Again, if we are talking about Strider’s abilities probably not. But if our faith is not in our abilities but in the power of God then who can stand against us? I will proclaim the Gospel boldly and the Lord will vindicate me Himself. This is a powerful promise to me and I hope it is to you also. I hope you understand that I don’t write this to brag about my great discipline. I did not fast to impress you or anyone else. I just really enjoyed my date with Jesus and I encourage you all to go and do the same.