Acts 13:2 One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said,….
So there I just continuing my journey through Acts and then I got to this bit. There’s an ongoing pattern in scripture about the seemingly inextricable link between prayer (a conversation with God) and fasting.
Fasting. Is it a dirty word?
I honestly can’t remember the last sermon I heard on fasting and I definitely can’t remember the last one I preached on it.
And yet, as I read and thought on this text, I just could not avoid thinking about how we so often pray for and expect the guidance of the Spirit of God and yet in our contemporary society no one wants to talk about fasting. So let’s talk about it.
We live in a country where our medical system is under so much strain essentially due to the sin of gluttony. We live in a world which has finite resources and hence no matter which way you cut it, ‘we’ are rich only because ‘they’ are poor. I flicked on the infomercial channels the other day, everything is about diet, exercise and weight loss……but no one wants to talk about fasting. Lastly, I’ve also noticed that meditation and/or ‘mindfulness’ therapy is really sexy all of a sudden. But have you seen an ad in the newspaper for a fasting group recently?
So what the heck is this thing and why are we westerners so allergic to it?
Here’s a theory, because the biblical concept of fasting is the discipline that is the least about the self and the most about the other. That is, in the immediate context, fasting is of no personal benefit of all. If it becomes all about our personal benefit, it’s no longer biblical fasting. (See Jesus’ run-ins with the Pharisees over their fasting.)
Here’s the problem: I have realized that I live and breathe an atmosphere where every day, messages are shoved in face to the tune of “It’s all about you,” and you know what? There’s a dark part of me that really, really likes that.
The idea of fasting is tough to swallow (geddit:) because it is a sermon preached to the self which has this central point at its core: “It’s not about you.”
So what is fasting? Is it just about food? It can’t be because if it was, you would never see texts in the bible like: Isaiah 58:4-6 What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. 5 You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the LORD? 6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.
To sum up, God is essentially saying this: “You really want to give up something? How about giving up your ‘me first’ attitude? Then you may find a few more of your prayers answered!”
The other day, I read something on the internet that really grabbed my attention; It was a quote from a guy by the name of Steve Furtick: “If God answered all of your prayers today that were about you, how many prayers would be left unanswered?”
Maybe it grabbed me because on the day that I read it, was one of those ‘me first’ days.
So what is fasting all about? To answer this question, I started to think about the season of Advent leading up to Christmas. This is of course (Originally) when people would fast in preparation for the arrival of Christmas. That is, in preparation for that which celebrates God’s arrival among men and women.
Fasting therefore is an act of faith because it is done in expectation that God is going to show up. And that is all by the way. That God, the real God is going to turn up. This may not necessarily feel immediately like a blessing at all. If we are in a state of rebellion, it’s going to feel like an extremely uncomfortable time of conviction. But even if this is the case, we have to trust that it is for our ultimate benefit.
But back to the central point: Fasting is preparation for an arrival.
You know when you have a guest or guests over for dinner, especially if it’s a fairly new relationship, you want to make a good impression right? When Alycia and I have folks over, it becomes all of a sudden a flurry of activity. Out comes the vacuum cleaner, and out goes the dog. One of us dons the gloves, surgical mask, googles and a 2-way radio and trudges of to check the state of the toilet and bathroom. The other empty’s the household bins and when that’s done, worries about whether the water in the fishbowl might be one shade of green too dark.
It’s general stations. You get the idea. I’m sure you do it too, because I don’t think I have yet been on a visit without someone apologizing to me for the state of their house as if I’m Mary Poppins.
Question: how much more would you want to clean if you knew God was coming over to your house tonight?
Because he just might.
Not to your house of course, but what about the household of your soul?
How’s the carpet and couches of your heart looking?
How are the -shall we say- ‘wet’ areas?
This is what fasting is, fasting is the ‘vacuuming of the heart.’ Food may not be an issue to you, but fasting from food was one way to remind yourself that you were in the midst of a period where you ‘diet’ became simply one thing: The Word of God. It was a way for disciples to ‘get back to basics’ and remind themselves that some things in life were more important than the continuation and contribution to their existing life styles.
Yep, it affects lifestyle…..Doh!
As I said, you may not have an issue with food, but is there something that needs to be vacuumed away in your heart? Technology? T.V.? Internet? Negativity? Greed? A negative relationship? Is there?
There’s always something. Fasting is replete with two expectations 1: God is going to one day turn up 2: there’s always something we need to let go of because the human heart is an idol factory.
I’ll let you in on an embarrassing secret: I was thinking about fasting from something the week between Christmas and new year and here are literally my thoughts: “Hmm, what about I fast from like all sweets and desserts?” “No wait that’s not going to work, it’s a celebration season and I might be invited to something where there’s like a cake or something.” “What about giving up the internet/facebook for a week?” “no wait, I like to use that for research for sermons and stuff, and I’m going to want to you tube guitar stuff.” (Not to mention posting up a blog about fasting!) “Ok what about giving up T.V.?” “no wait, the cricket’s on, test and big bash so that’s out of the question.”
Anyway, this went on and on until it just hit me like a train; the realization that we’ve really got an excuse for everything these days haven’t we?
I just realized how pathetic my spiritual discipline had actually become. I also realized the real reason why we don’t talk about it much in the western world, because it costs and it costs because God will not compete with our precious little lifestyle. Not mine not yours. And so of course it’s inconvenient.
In fact, if you are on a fast that isn’t inconvenient, you’re not fasting.
The more I have made my life about me, the stranger the idea of fasting sounds and the more I struggle to come to terms with it.
This is what it means when the Bible talks about humbling one’s self. Humility is not bashing your-self up saying “I’m not as good as them”-that’s just a subtler form of pride, because you’re still telling God what he should think. No, humbling ourselves is saying “yes it doesn’t matter what others think but neither does it matter what I think, what matters is what God thinks.
I’m going to vacuum up my stupid little lifestyle, and all my stupid little expectations and all my stupid little ideas about how life should run and how God should act and acknowledge that my God is my only provider.
God wants to come in an eat with you in 2016, are you going to clean house or are you going to put it off until the next ad break?