Friday, 24 July 2015

Week #16: Observe a ast

Surrendering ourselves to Jesus becomes little more than a thought exercise unless we see practical avenues in our lives in which we are given the opportunity to live it out.  The discipline of fasting is one such powerful tool in this regard.  Fasting is the act of abstaining from elements pertaining to our appetite in order to further give ourselves to prayer and communion with God.  It should be noted that 'appetite' does not simply refer to the grumbles of the stomach, but refer to the wants and whims of our human nature.  Fasting addresses those appetites, pertaining to life in the flesh, which only serve to move us away from spirit-filled living and imprison us in a life of self-satisfying cravings.   Through the act of self-limiting, we turn ourselves away from these hindrances in order to more faithfully and intentionally rest in the presence of God.  The physical act of going without that which we crave becomes an echo of the willful and spiritual laying down of ourselves before God.  We ignore the claims of self, with its juvenile cries for attention, in order to more deeply immerse ourselves in the presence of the Spirit.

While we can fast from anything, electronics, media, sex, we most often think of fasting as it relates to our physical appetite for food.  Fasting from food can be a powerful exercise, precisely because much our interaction with food is solely pleasure-based.  That is to say that rather than food being a source of sustenance and nutrition, it is often that which serves to 'make us feel good.' We run to food when upset; we pacify our frustrations with alcoholic beverages, eating has even become a past-time all in itself.   Based solely upon the ever-expanding waistbands of the average North American, it is abundantly clear that we have an unhealthy association with food.

Yet our unhealthy association with food goes far beyond our associations what and how much we choose to eat.  A culture that can turn dieting into a competition clearly illustrates a lack of control over appetites.  Clearly we have lost the basic understanding that food is a gift from God to be cherished and not squandered.

Fasting breaks us out of our self-destructive habits. It shocks the system out of that which in which it has grown comfortable, and in doing so places us profoundly before the spirit of God in uncluttered sacrifice. It is only when we refrain from the gluttonous associations surrounding food that we fully hear Christ's words that "Man does not live by bread alone.' (Matthew 4:4)   By stripping away the amount of time we spend in shopping, ordering, preparing, and consuming food, we open ourselves to receive the better, and more satisfying bread from heaven.

It is important to remember that the purpose of fasting is not simply to go without food for a certain period of time.  The time spent in usual association with food, not freed through the discipline of fasting, is therefore redirected to prayer and worship.  In the Institutes of Christian Religion, John Calvin reminds us that the purpose of fasting is to free ourselves to become 'more eager and unencumbered for prayer.'

 Through the practice of Fasting we are able to address anything that gets in the way of our spiritual progress toward Christlikeness.  By going without our 'appetite' we become confronted with how much of a hold such things have on our lives.    We realize, for example, just how often we check our social media status, how much time we spend on our cell phones, the quickness for which we turn on the television, or how our bodies physically react to the ceasing of constant sugar or caffeine related stimulants. Undoubtedly this can be an uncomfortable process.

There are many different types of food-related fasts that you can do.  If you have never engaged in a fast before, I would recommend a 24 hour-2 meal fast.  Simply stop eating after dinner time on one day, and do not eat until dinner time the next.  A 2 meal fast isn't that hard on your body, you will feel the effects of hunger, which becomes a reminder for you to seek first God's kingdom.  Beyond this, you can try a 24 hour-3 meal fast; for a 36 hour fast.  Remember to drink lots of liquid (water or fruit juice) and consult your doctor if you fear any medical-related complications or concerns.

Much more could be said about the topic of Fasting, particularly regarding the many practical considerations pertaining to how we go about entering a fast.  There is neither time nor space to speak about such matters here.  I recommend Richard Foster’s chapter on Fasting in ‘Celebration of Discipline’ for any who wish to know more.   I end this section with words from Andrew Murray:

Fasting helps express, deepen, and confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the Kingdom of God, and Jesus, who himself fasted and sacrificed, knows to value, accept, and reward with spiritual power the soul that is thus ready to give up everything for him and his kingdom. (From With Christ in the School of Prayer)

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