It’s that time of the year again that our church takes time to fast and pray. We’ve been doing this in the beginning of every year for several years now. It doesn’t get much easier, but one gets used to it.
For those who want to follow along, check out this link. All the information is there. I highly recommend following in the devotionals from Monday to Friday.
For those who want to know what fasting is, the dictionary defines it as:
abstaining from all or some kinds of food or drink, esp. as a religious observance.
That’s very technical, but not very helpful.
So here’s what it is to me. For those who are interested, fasting is…
1. Willfully, joyfully depriving myself
Last Friday, my wife and I had dinner with Paul and Venoit, two of our campus missionaries who are engaged to be married. Their love for students on campus had finally been eclipsed by their love for one another. As they talked about their wedding plans, you could see the joy behind it. They couldn’t stop beaming.
I remember when Carla and I were planning our wedding more than four years ago. I had to save for our life together so for months I would have two hardboiled eggs for lunch. The cafeteria people began joking with me about it. I’d pretend it was for health reasons, but they knew it was just to save money.
Funny thing was, I didn’t feel sad or resentful at all. Because giving up whatever meal I was gonna have that day – adobo, afritada, menudo, etc. – was nothing compared to what I was giving it up for – a lifetime with the love of my life. It was deprivation, yes. But a joyful one.
In the same way, fasting always comes with sacrifice, cost, maybe even discomfort and pain. But that’s not the focal point. The point is the joy that comes with the increased sensitivity, relationship, and knowledge of God. (My dad discusses this in his book, The Mystery of the Empty Stomach.
2. Reestablishing self-control
One of my favorite sitcoms of all time is Third Rock From the Son. I don’t know how many current students have even heard of it. But the older ones among us probably have. John Lithgow is just hilarious. (He’s the voice for Lord Farquaad in Shrek.) In one episode, he takes up smoking and quickly becomes addicted. He tries to justify that he can stop at any second, but quickly finds he can’t. (Start at 1:25)
In the same way, we all have habits, tendencies, and appetites that move us to behave in certain ways. The appetite for food is one of the most central ones. When I fast and deny myself of food, I’m making a statement that my life is not dictated by my appetites but is led by the Holy Spirit. And one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control.
3. A lifestyle born out of love
Fasting is not spiritual Olympics where people compete for the best performance. Fasting is not twisting God’s arm. Fasting that’s done for purely religious reasons that doesn’t affect your life and the lives of those around you is pointless.
In Isaiah 58:3-10, God rebukes people who fast for show, but never translating it to actual love for God or other people. As we fast this week, let’s remember that it’s not just about food or sensory deprivation, but there’s also the outward expression of love for others, justice for the oppressed, aid to the needy, being kind to those around us, etc. That’s the kind of fasting that is powerful, life-altering, and pleasing to God.
Hope this helps and that you have a great fast and year ahead!