Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Needle To My Heart

I’ve been fasting this week. It’s not because God likes it when I fast, it’s because I do. Yeah, you read that right. For me, fasting is choosing a weakness through which I will know and savor God more. It’s all about satisfaction—mine.

In this case, I’m fasting from food, but in the past I’ve fasted from television, music (rather than listen to the stereo in my car on morning drives to work, I preferred thinking and listening for Him in quiet), news media, alcohol (I like an ale or a glass of wine now and then), and more.

It’s amazing how much I get used to turning to the things of this world for satisfaction, rather than to God, who satisfies me most and best. Like many, I suppose, seeking God or reading the Bible or praying can become all about obedience and willpower (“I’ve got to do it!”) when I’m getting more satisfaction and better pleasure elsewhere. Does that make sense? When my eagerness is most evident because I’m really, really looking forward to a barbecued steak and a glass of syrah tonight, or when I’m really eager to see by how much USC beats Notre Dame this coming Saturday(!), or when I am passionately curious to figure out and/or debate exactly why the Nobel committee saddled our President with the Peace Prize, then it's likely that my wants and desires and satisfaction have been captured by the stuff of this world, and not by God.

In effect, I’ve been taken hostage.

And then my thoughts go something like this: “I really should read the Bible.” “I really ought to pray more.” Or, “I’m really weak on the spiritual disciplines of study and meditation. I’ve got to be more committed.” That’s a good one.

I start to approach God and the things He likes as important things to do, rather than ways to know Him and like Him. And what about letting Him show me why He likes me? Reading the Bible and praying becomes a daily duration of time when I get my study and devotional time card punched. Thunk-thunk! Going to church becomes all about following through on commitment. Tithing or giving is about the pledge I made. Yuck. Round about then a college football game is much more exciting, or a bowl of ice cream, a shopping spree, a good movie, or a whining session with some whiny friends. What delight, right?

Read the Bible? I’ll do that later or on Sunday. Yeah, that’ll be good then.

God no longer brings about the wedding between desire and satisfaction—fulfillment—because it has been joined together elsewhere. What does God get? Commitment and Study and Pledges of Obedience—and frustration. A lot of frustration.

But because He has crucified me to this world and this world to me (we’re incompatible), I can tolerate this hostage situation for only so long. (Gal. 6:14) I’ve got to break out.

That’s where a fast comes in. Through it I am needling myself—my true self—and saying, “Alert! Wake up and be satisfied! I can no longer stand surface satisfaction when I’ve been made for far deeper.” To be sure, I still have strong longings for satisfaction—in fact they get stronger—but the Spirit brings out desires now natural for me. I actually want God. I truly want Dad. And any way to get Him and to know Him is where I start going. I begin talking to Him more, even as I read my Bible. I start wanting to take a walk just so I can get out and look around and express my thoughts and questions to Him. I wake up in the morning and I think, “God, I want to be satisfied by you.” That’s a pretty welcome thought compared to what can otherwise go on in my noggin.

This morning I made breakfast for my family: French toast, strawberries, bananas and real maple syrup. And I didn’t eat any of it. My youngest daughter is staying home today because she’s sick, and she just asked me to make her a piece of toast, with lots of cream cheese and lots of boysenberry jam on top. Lots.

And I’m loving it. The Holy Spirit—my friend and fascination and satisfaction—is carrying me along. The hunger I feel for a nibble is less powerful than the satisfaction I’m getting from Him.

And that’s what a fast is for.


  1. Daniel-Heather Cosby8:09 AM

    wow, what a great description of what fasting is supposed to be about... It's so true, how easy it is to start thinking that reading the Word or praying or whatever else are things to be checked off, duties to be performed. We forget we need Him, we get distracted from what we really need and turn to what is easier or that comforts our flesh. We haven't done a lot of fasting probably because we've been made to feel like it in itself is a chore instead of something we might need, no distraction.

    we love reading your thoughts, humble conviction shared from your heart. thank you, ralph...

  2. Victoria Thomas Gaines8:10 AM

    I'm liking this, Ralph. “God, I want to be satisfied by you." This will be my morning prayer. It's a 'want-to, not a 'should for me now. 'Thank you!

  3. Debbie Rector11:24 AM

    I am enjoying beginning to explore spiritual disciplines in light of Father's grace. I have found great joy in quiet, solitude, listening, prayer, service, study, worship... but food fasting makes me miserable, distracted, & grumpy! I celebrate His grace that encourages me to experience my relationship with Him as the individual expression of His Life that He has created me to be. Your writings (You REALLY write often) are always encouraging, full of energy, and pointing the way to a deeper experience of HIS LIFE. Thank you for your willingness to live out loud!<3

  4. Anelia Kircheva9:38 AM

    This article is very important for me. I haven't fasted for 7 years, because I didn't understand fasting from Grace prospective. Last month I was fasting for 3 weeks without breakfast and lunch. And still didn't understand fasting. Thank you for your explanation.