Monday, May 23, 2011

A Needle To My Heart

(Some have been asking about my thoughts on fasting. Here’s something I wrote a while back which might prove helpful.)

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. Giving money 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 new electronic gadget. 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 of desire and satisfaction—fulfillment—because it has been joined together elsewhere. What does God get? Commitment and Study and Pledges of Obedience—and my 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). A break-out is drawing near.

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 Father. 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.

To be clear, no one has to fast to earn anything. It’s a way of enjoying what you already have. Any kind of fasting is toward satisfaction. It’s a way of acknowledging, “Jesus, you have given me absolutely everything already for entirely nothing. Hooray! I’m full already. So I want to hunger as a way of finding fullness.”

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. Barbara Howald Carlan11:24 AM

    I like this Ralph, it's been many years since I've fasted. Not that I haven't tried occasionally only to make it through a couple of meals or even a day, then giving into the demands my body places on me. What I do remember about my fast is how in tune my spirit was with the Lord in prayer and how alive the the word of God was to me during the fast.

    Like most I love good food and the social interactions that come with enjoying a fine meal with friends and family. But I also know nothing will create lethargy both physically and spiritually like an over loaded tummy. Too much indulgence in any good thing can thwart the souls longing for God. I've come to loath that full feeling so I'm not always inclined to eat to the point of discomfort. Something I learned from my dad who was never over weight in his entire life.

    Still I long to harness the cravings of this mortal body and not be so easily swayed by it never ending demands to satisfy it's cravings. It's becoming abundantly clear why their will be no need for food for the body in heaven. Christ will fulfill in the eternal that which held us hostage to our craving in the mortal. In Him we will have all that is needful forever!!! How cool is that!

  2. That's pretty terrific, Barbara. Thanks very much for your comments!

  3. Carol Woods1:38 PM

    This is good Ralph!

  4. Deanna Kalas Duncan1:39 PM

    Thank you SO very much, Ralph. My understanding has increased so very much because of you taking the time to write this.

    And Barbara, thank you, too! :)

  5. Thanks, Carol!

    Deanna--I appreciate your comments--really. Thank you.

  6. Bruce Barteaux1:43 PM

    Thanks Ralph, even spiritual fast food only actually leaves me with a bloated unsatisfied feeling “…I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst…I am the bread of life…I say to you, unless you eat…the Son of Man…you have no life in yourselves… My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. "He who eats … abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me… he who eats this bread shall live forever." (John 6:26-58)

  7. Well said, Bruce!

  8. André van der Merwe1:50 PM

    Geesh Ralph, wheareas I've been hammering on what fasting ISN'T, you've nailed what it actually is. This is strong stuff. Solid food man. Thanks for the tag!

    I'll definitely be quoting you on this in my next post at my website (, if that's OK?

  9. Thank you, Andre. Quote away! Anything I post you can use.

  10. Ditas Irene Lopez-Pangilinan10:08 PM

    ‎"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." And fasting is an effective way to remind ourselves of this. My ongoing weightloss began after a fast when I realized: hey, I don't need to eat as much as I think I do! I'm not gonna starve to death if I eat less! : P "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."

  11. Leopoldo Paul Solis10:32 PM

    This note gives a view of fasting not presented before. Coming from law-based churches, most believers would junk fasting outright seeing it as law-compliance and thus to gain favor from God. You have presented fasting from an altogether new perspective. Thanks for sharing this article. Blessings to you.

  12. I'm thankful for your comments, guys. Really.

  13. Cliff Gableman10:38 PM

    I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food. Job 23:12 I want to hear your voice more.

  14. Julie Belshe9:58 PM

    Yep you nailed it Ralph! Fasting is Awesome!!!

  15. Kathy Hamilton Lerich9:59 PM

    Thanks for reposting, Ralph. I enjoyed immensely and wish I could tell you more.