Fasting. Does it Matter? Does God Care?
A friend called. He is sailing dark waters right now.
“I’ve been fasting. It is so hard. How do I know God even cares? How do I know it matters at all.”
I told him that fasting is an interesting thing. New Testament Christians are never commanded to fast, but Jesus promised that when we secretly fast—or when we fast, not to be seen, but sincerely—that he will reward us. Jesus promised a reward for those who fast. (Matthew 6:16-18) What is the reward? Is it now? Is that reward in heaven? I think both, but often the reward is not the answer to prayer we were seeking. God is usually up to something deeper as much as he delights to answer our prayers and supply our needs and solve our problems.
We are often motivated to fast by our great need, but fasting is not mostly to move God’s hand to meet our pressing and immediate felt needs. Fasting is a very powerful way to show us how much we delight in the things that God so faithfully gives and not in him. I’m sure there is much for for those who have drunk deeply of God, but for me, that has been the most profound lesson or impression upon my heart from fasting. Maybe the greatest reward has been a humbling reminder that my appetite for food and other things God has given is so great and my appetite for God is so weak.
The BBQ Chip Lesson
One day, many years ago I determined to fast for the day. I would set aside an hour at lunch to pray and to seek the Lord. I would enjoy an hour alone with the Lord. The was the plan. When noon came I was absorbed in my work and forgot that I had decided not to eat, but instead to spend an hour with the Lord.
Across the street from my study was a little convenience store. They served hot deli sandwiches and sold really good BBQ potato chips. I got to thinking about those chips, wrapped up my current work and started to lock up the office and head to the store for lunch when I remembered my promise to God
Inwardly I groaned. Those BBQ chips were on my mind. I was craving those chips. A wave of melancholy swept over me and I walked back to my study and slumped into my chair.
Suddenly it occurred to me—the sharp irony of it. I was more excited about BBQ chips than I was about spending time with the Lord. I know that there are times to seek the Lord with feasting. I know that is it worshipful to enjoy God good gifts like food, but I believe he expected that his children would sometimes set aside other things—set aside indulgence in some of his gifts—to seek him, the Giver and the Gift.
To come face to face with our weak appetite for God is humbling and it may be “first grade” in seeking to know God. When we realize how little we delight in God and how much we delight in other things, it humbles us. When we long for the things God gives more than we long for God, it exposes a need in our souls. If fasting shows us that—there is a great reward in it.
I don’t think fasting is intended to be joyful. It is like lament. It is especially designed as an aid to humility, to contrition, to time of mourning and perhaps increased self-examination. In Matthew 9:14-15 Jesus answered a question about fasting. He told those who questioned him that when he went away his followers would fast. While he was with them they would rejoice and feast. When he went away they would mourn and fast.
We seek God through fasting, but in my experience the fasting has shown me how weak my hunger, my appetite, my thirst for God is. Later, I believe, it has helped me seek God and have deeper experiences and delights in God that may not happen during the time of humbling and fasting. These, for me have come later.
It is sweet to contemplate the simple promise of Jesus that he will reward those who fast. What greater reward than in increased hunger, longing, thirst and ultimate satisfied in Him?
June 11, 2021