Production Values: Fasting

Posted: 2011 09 06 by jmmllr in Discipleship
Tags: ,

First off, I want to apologize to all of you guys for taking so long to continue with this series. Life has a tendency to intrude – illness, a move across the country, starting new jobs … all of it makes blogging hard to get around to. Please accept my apologies for taking so long in getting back here.

That being said…

When I first proposed a study on the Spiritual Disciplines, the comments section filled up with a discussion about what fasting really entails. I’ve been dreading writing this post because there are so many ways to look at the discipline of fasting. Is fasting just relating to food – or can you fast from other things? What is the purpose of fasting – personal edification or the glory of God? Is fasting a necessary part of the Christian walk or something that we do in time of great spiritual need? How does fasting relate to prayer?

The thing about having lots of questions is that there are always going to be people who are on both sides of the equation. I don’t want to miss out on your point of view because I’m so buried in my own.

Can't see the forest for the trees

I could have said that I don't want to miss the forest for the trees ... also this made me smile ...

So let’s start where we know we’re on common ground. 

The Bible mentions fasting 30-40 times (depending on whether you want to count double references in one verse or not). The Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy) never mentions fasting, but it becomes a thing only after David is King. Jesus both mentions it in his teachings and practices fasting – but Paul never mentions it in any of his letters to the Churches he pastored (Acts 14 – Paul’s first missionary journey – is the last time it is mentioned). Jesus teaches fasting as a normal activity (Matthew 6:16 says “when you fast” not “if you fast”) that needs to be done properly; Isaiah says that the fasting that God is interested in is about creating radical justice for all people – not starving ourselves for the sake of some weird kind of holiness (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Making a definitive statement about how fasting fits into the lives of Christian men is tough then. We get Paul passionately defending the right of Gentiles from the intrusion of Jewish practices – but Jesus tells us that fasting is important.

So what do we do with that?

I think it helps to remember that these spiritual disciplines are producing something in us. More than any other discipline, fasting (obviously) produces hunger. But I think it’s what hunger produces that is so significant for us.

We live in a culture surrounded by affluence and luxury. Where other parts of the world are languishing famine and drought, it’s pouring rain right now and I have a pantry with plenty of food in it. Being hungry is a rarity for me because food is easy. Pop some leftovers in the microwave or hit up a pizza place and I don’t need to work to end my own hunger. Fasting isn’t about just being hungry. It’s about choosing to be hungry. Fasting produces choice. Will I eat, or will I choose to do what is counter to every one of my instincts and choose hunger?

I think when we see fasting this way, where it shows up in the Bible makes a lot more sense. It’s not part of the Law because fasting can’t be something that is mandated. There are no proscriptions for fasting. Whether it is from food, TV, speaking or blogging – fasting is choosing to avoid something that is part of daily life to draw nearer to God. God’s not interested in what you give up, but in what you choose. Like David, Jesus chose to draw close to God by choosing hunger and fasting. He knew that men don’t live by bread (aka, food) alone – but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. And if that’s not enough we have the testimony of John that Jesus Christ is the logos, the word of God come down from Heaven – who declared that he was the Bread of Life and the Manna come down from Heaven. We live on the presence of Jesus in our lives. Whatever else we choose to give up or to take on, we need to constantly be choosing Jesus. We draw closer to God by choosing His son. And when we choose Jesus, everything else is gravy.

Dig in.




  1. Jim F. says:

    I am no expert on fasting but I have done some study over the years. I tend to see it similarly to what you write. As a matter of fact my last post hit some on fasting and David. Thoughtful post – Thanks.

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