In a culture where the landscape is dotted with shrines to the Golden Arches and an assortment of other Fast Food Temples, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Arby’s, and many others. And in a culture where there are Pizza Shrines on every corner—fasting seems incredibly out of step with our times. In fact fasting has been in general disrepute both within and outside the church. But if we go back into time we discover Scripture itself has much to say about fasting that we would do well to examine. The list of Biblical people who fasted reads like a “Who’s Who” from the Hall of Fame. Moses the Lawgiver, David the King, Elijah the Prophet, Esther the Queen, Daniel the Seer, Anna the Prophetess, Paul the Apostle, Jesus the Incarnate Son all fasted. Many of the great Christians through the ages fasted and witnessed to its value—Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, Charles Finney just to name a few.
As some of you know the official beginning of Lent is this Wednesday (Ash Wednesday). Many people make special sacrifices and commitments spiritually during this time in the church calendar as a way of deepening their inner life—or as they more closely identify with the core of Christ life, death, and resurrection. A few weeks ago I began fasting accompanied by meditation, something I have done before with varying levels of success. The challenge with the meditation piece is that is requires you to turn off your mental switch—and for a man who can barely fall asleep at night turning off the switch is not easy. But I had heard that proper fasting will actually facilitate meditation. In fact some of the saints of old would get to points in their fasting where they would feel detached from the world in a kind of spiritual comfort zone. So in giving 24 hour food fasting and deliberative meditation a try for the past several weeks—from Thursday afternoon to Friday afternoon here is my honest confession.
What I seemed to meditate about at night was the unopened gallon of Turkey Hill Chocolate ice cream in my fridge—and the loaf of Dave’s Killer Bread and brand new jars of peanut butter and strawberry jam. I managed to brush off the struggle but not without being tempted to duct tape my refrigerator door closed (I did that once a while back). As part of the discipline of meditation I sat in my recliner, away from visibility to my refrigerator, and slowly breathed in then out—in then out. But not long into my attempts to meditate I soon found myself thinking about cutting into the juicy sizzling Peppercorn steak that I planned to enjoy when breaking the fast on Friday evening—I even contemplated the sides that I would order to accompany it in reward for my fast. Breathe in then out—breathe in and out—in then out! And don’t think about food! Oops I just did. Fasting is a challenging yet rewarding discipline.
I can honestly say there were some very valuable moments within my second 24 hour fast not the least of which was that I discovered a sharpened mental acuity and what seemed like a cleansing benefit as much to my body as to my soul. I admit I am no saint—not even close—and the struggle to give up 24 hours of eating made me more keenly aware of my weakness. But if you really think about isn’t that part of what Lent is about? Simply acknowledging that we are not yet who God would have us to be, and offering profuse thanks for His grace in filling our failures and weaknesses with forgiveness and mercy. Taking time to give thanks that in His wholeness and sufficiency we find healing for our brokenness.
In the final analysis while Fasting has its benefits both spiritually and physically I am thankful my salvation does not rest in my ability to do it well. The God who has breathed His life into my spirit has also assured me that I am saved by His amazing grace alone (Ephesians 2:8,9). In spite of my weaknesses and my wanderings He loves me fully and wants me home with Him! He told me to tell You!