Why do we fast?

The season of Lent, the forty days before Easter, begins this year on Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020. Traditionally it is a time of fasting, repentance and reflection in preparation for remembering the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. (Traditionally, for both Jews and Christians, one does not fast on the Sabbath.)

Here are some encouraging comments/quotations about fasting as we get ready for the traditional time of Lent and the soon celebration of Jesus’ resurrection Life! May He guide us in how to draw closer to Him during this season.

Jesus in the wilderness

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones “I wonder whether it has ever occurred to us that we ought to be considering the question of fasting. The fact is, is it not, that this whole subject seems to have fallen right out of our lives, right out of our whole Christian thinking.” Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave up a short but promising career as a London physician to become a pastor of a small mission in Wales. “I gave up nothing. I received everything.”

Gerald G. May, M.D. “Human beings have trouble with empty spaces. We are addicted to filling up every kind of space we encounter.” Gerald May, psychiatrist and theologian. “St. Augustine once said that God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them. If our hands are full, they are full of the things to which we are addicted. The spiritual significance of addiction is not just that we lose freedom through attachment to things but that we try to fulfill our longing for God through objects of attachment.”

John Piper “Food is good.” John Piper “Let there be no mistake about this. We are not ascetics in that we deny the goodness of God’s creation. Food is good. It is a gift of God, and we glorify God with it in two ways. We feast on it with gratitude for God’s goodness, and we forfeit food out of hunger for God himself … Christian fasting is a way of expressing our longing for the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ our King. Jesus said, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them and then they will fast.’”

Dallas Willard “Persons well used to fasting will have a clear and constant sense of their resources in God.” Dallas Willard This discipline teaches us a lot about ourselves very quickly. It reveals to us how much our peace depends upon the pleasures of eating. It may also bring to mind how we are using food pleasure to assuage the discomforts caused by unwise living and attitudes – lack of self-worth, meaningless work, purposeless existence, or lack of rest or exercise. Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in him a source of sustenance beyond food. We learn by experience that God’s word to us is a life substance (Matt. 4:4). Fasting unto our Lord is therefore feasting – feasting on Him and doing His will. Since food has the pervasive place it does in our lives, the effects of fasting will be diffused throughout our personality. Fasting, though, is a hard discipline to practice without its consuming all our attention. Yet when we use it as part of prayer or service, we do not allow it to do so.

Marjorie J. Thompson “We dishonor God as much by fearing and avoiding pleasure as we do by dependence upon it.” from Soul Feast by Marjorie J. Thompson, minister and author “In a culture obsessed with consumption I believe fasting needs to be considered in terms of its inner dynamic: abstinence. And abstinence needs to be considered in relation to the whole of our affluent and addictive lifestyle. Our societies voraciously consume just about anything and everything - food, drink, sex, drugs, clothing, energy, gadgets, TV, radio, social media, gossip, fads, ideologies, even work and leisure. Our relationships have often suffered from the gluttonous consumer mentality: enjoy while useful and stimulating, discard when no longer satisfying. The world of God’s gifts has become a world of mere objects to satisfy temporary and restless appetites, leaving in their wake enormous waste. The point of abstinence is not the denial of all enjoyment in life, but as Prof. Dallas Willard rightly points out, 'We dishonor God as much by fearing and avoiding pleasure as we do by dependence upon it or living for it. The purpose of fasting is to learn to enjoy God’s gifts rightly.'

"What forms might this fasting take in our lives? Choosing natural sounds or silence over incessant TV and radio would be a pertinent form of fasting for many. For others it may mean checking social media only at chosen intervals, or to abstain from eating over-packaged and over-processed foods. We might consider abstaining from lack of physical activity, but also from fitness mania; not only from compulsive eating but also compulsive dieting. Part of fasting can be to relinquish the temporary excitement the comes with spectacular achievement.

"One of the most difficult forms of abstaining today is from overpacked schedules, for both ourselves and our children. When we become exhausted, depressed, and short-tempered, when we have little energy left for family and friends, do we give glory to God? Here again we clearly see our desperate need for reclaiming the Sabbath. Indeed, honoring the boundaries of Sabbath time may strengthen our spiritual muscles for other expressions of abstinence.

"With so many ways to practice fasting, we will need to make choices appropriate to our character and life circumstances. Behind every fitting choice of abstinence lies the question: What do I do to excess? That reveals my inordinate desires, my compulsions, the attachments that have control over me. They are precisely the areas of my life that need the freeing lordship of Christ rather than my own ineffective control. Fasting is not primarily a discipline through which I gain greater control over my life, but one through which God gains access to redirect and heal me in body, mind, and spirit."

Image credits: Jesus in the wilderness from The Lumo Project via FreeBibleImages.org. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones via OnePlace.com. Gerald May by Gregory May via HarperCollins. John Piper via Wikimedia Commons. Dallas Willard via dwillard.org. Marjorie J. Thompson via Upper Room Books.

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