Recently our church proclaimed a week long fast to pray for a number of things pertaining to our mission for the coming year. Most people aren’t real excited about giving up something, especially eating. I’m no different. In fact, despite the teaching on it and despite the clear example set for us by Jesus himself, I find myself wondering what we accomplish with it. I’ve done it a few times. There was at least one forced fast when I was just a kid and we did it as a family. I certainly didn’t get the point then. I’m not sure any of us really got it. Dad and I at least were up at the stroke of midnight ending the 1 day fast with vanilla wafers and peanut butter. I don’t think I did it again until my pastor and a previous church a few years back asked us to. It was supposed to be 3 days. I made it to the evening of the first day. I can’t say I got much out of that one either. I did it to be obedient to my pastor.
The next time I remember was with the same church at the request of the young adult pastor I was working with. I spent a lot of time praying that day and it was the first time I thought there may have been some value in the exercise. If it is not drawing us to Him then why do it? The discipline it requires of us is certainly a good thing. I could use a bit more of that in my eating habits. My thinking has been that if there is a point it is to re-orient ourselves toward God and away from the desires of our flesh. By that measure I must conclude that I am missing something. Maybe I have not truly gotten my overfed flesh under control. If the idea is to get food out of the way to make more time for God, I didn’t really get there. On a more recent fast I would go walking during lunch time and pray, but I can’t say my prayers were more fervent than before. I was distracted by my surroundings and especially by my hunger. It was the longest I’d ever gone without food and I took a little pride in that, but I can’t say it did much for my relationship with anyone.
Not long after that we did a “Daniel fast.” The Daniel fast is taken from the book of Daniel. When he was captured by the king of Babylon and chosen for service in the king’s court, he and the three chosen with him were provided with the best food the king had to offer. Daniel requested that they be given only vegetables because he did not want to defile himself with the king’s food. Fasting does not seem to be the point here. . Daniel seems to have done this to observe the dietary laws given to Israel by Yahweh. The more likely origin of this practice is in the tenth chapter when Daniel is fasting and praying. We’ve taken that and built a whole set of traditions around what one can and cannot eat during a Daniel fast. The best things I can say about my experience with it are that I lost some wait, and that I followed the leading of my pastor.
This time I didn’t give up food. Since we were given the option, I decided to give up something that I felt would help me rearrange my priorities as God would have them. I like to read. I enjoy a good piece of fiction. I also like reading about topics that interest me. I read a lot of news as well because I feel it my duty to stay informed. None of that is bad unless it begins to be more important than my time spent with God. Whatever I say, my actions reveal my priorities. My thirst for information was getting out of hand. I’d sit down at the computer with my morning coffee and jump right into the news. That time is supposed to be reserved for Bible reading and prayer. So for my “fast” I gave up reading anything but the Bible. That experience reminded me once again that it isn’t enough simply to give up something. If we do not actively seek to replace what we have given up with something better, we’ll replace it with whatever is handy. Satan will make sure that what is handy is not what we most need. I did read more Bible, but not much. There were plenty of other distractions available.
When I started writing this, I wanted to justify myself for not wanting to fast. Instead I have come to the conclusion that I should at least investigate the topic thoroughly and should probably fast more. If Jesus is our example, then it seems I must.