Friday, February 24, 2012
For What Would A Christian Fast?
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. And not because any of it’s evil(!) or to be avoided.
It’s amazing how much I get used to turning to the things of this world for satisfaction, rather than to God, who actually 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!”), especially when I’m getting more satisfaction and better pleasure elsewhere. Does that make sense? My deepest wants and desires and satisfaction have been denied because I’ve come to accept the comparatively shallow favor of the stuff of this world. In effect, I’ve been taken hostage to lesser joy and fulfillment. It’s torture.
Given enough time, I can begin to believe it’s actually normal and that I shouldn’t raise my expectations for much better. . .and shallowness becomes my new normal, perhaps assisted by sarcasm and humor, a fleshly attempt to cover over the pain. 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 duration of time when I get my study and devotional timecard 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 basketball 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 lightly joined together elsewhere. What does God get? Commitment and Study and Pledges of Obedience—and frustration. A lot of frustration. He’s not as useful anymore.
But because He has crucified me to this world and this world to me (we’re incompatible; Gal. 6:14).), I can tolerate this painful hostage situation for only so long. 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 (it might be sloppy or ugly or beggar-ish), 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 from God. Not since the New Covenant. Fasting is 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. I’m going to refrain from light satisfaction in the hope you’ll bring out deep longings and equally deep satisfaction.”
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.
(Some have asked for my thoughts on fasting. This is not an invective on Catholicism and the season of Lent; it’s a description of what I sometimes do in order to enjoy what God has given me.)