Holy Asides
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February 12, 2015, 9:00 AM

Fasting is Feasting


“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting…” This passage is always read on Ash Wednesday immediately prior to the whole congregation coming forward to receive ashes on their forehead, thus seemingly counteracting and contradicting everything Jesus just said about fasting and appearances.  But that actually just reveals how disconnected we (and society, including the Church, as a whole) are from the spiritual discipline of fasting. 

 

There are two major types of fasting: corporate and individual. A corporate fast, like Ash Wednesday, is one where a large community or the whole body is undertaking a fast to hear God, repent from sins, or to offer prayerful intercession. Biblical examples of this can be found throughout the scriptures. One example is in the book of Esther where the Jewish people fast as Esther seeks wisdom and courage in order to reveal Haman’s plot of genocide to King Xerxes. Another is found in Jonah, where the King of Ninevah orders everyone to repent and fast, dressing in sackcloth and ashes—down to the cattle. These examples show solidarity, encouragement and community. When Christians display ashes on the forehead, they are saying to one another—“we are in this together, for the glory of God.” 

 

An individual fast is one where a person has chosen to fast as a spiritual practice or for a specific purpose. While the goal of fasting is still to hear God, repent, or offer intercession, one does this at the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus is talking about. You are fasting for God’s glory, not for the respect and admiration of people. When you fast, no one should know you are fasting—at least not outwardly. The bigger obstacle staring us in the face is “When you fast…” There is an expectation that we will fast. This is something that we have gotten away from, even in the Church. We encourage prayer, tithing, Bible Study, and outreach. We even talk about evangelism more than we talk about fasting. 

 

“Fasting is Feasting,” is a quote from Richard Foster, and has been the one that has stuck with me. During those times when I fast, I spend the time that I would normally be eating in prayer. I am reminded of Jesus' response in the wilderness, “man does not live on bread alone, but on the very Word of God.” When my stomach growls, I offer thanks and praise. I become more alert, more aware of how much food, rather than God, can become the center of my life. Before lunch is finished, I am wondering what’s for dinner? This is true of anything, actually. Fast from “screens,” TV, cell phone, computer. Or fast from driving. We quickly realize that our life needs to be reordered, and in that reordering, God claims His rightful place at the forefront. Fasting is feasting, because we are drawn nearer to the life-giving presence of God. We come using different senses and a new alertness when we fast from those aspects and areas which have become part of our essence and very being. This Lent I pray that you might heed those words of Jesus, “when you fast…”


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