This post will sound somewhat like a repetition of my last post. Consider it a revision or an expansion. I’ve been considering this subject matter for about a year. It’s about time to act. In fact, when I first read 2 Corinthians 8:8-15 recently I felt it specifically describes my need to make complete what I have been only dreaming about and pondering up until now. I was originally inspired by realizing how much we have here in America (after reading an email) compared to many vast areas of the world in poverty. Duh, not a novel concept, but one easily overlooked without any cost to self. I finally feel a burden to actually care about this terrible injustice thanks to heightened sensitivity and awareness, fueled by the Holy Spirit working in me. I can’t solve the world’s inequities, but I can significantly help a few people. That’s worth striving for.
Here’s the first section of a summary I wrote for the chapter on “Fasting” from Richard Foster’s book, the Celebration of Discipline. My Ethnos Church family is spending the next year going through this book, one chapter per month. My summary greatly strayed away from Foster’s direction, primarily because of the heavy influence on my heart, the concepts found in Isaiah chapter 58. For more traditional thoughts about fasting or other spiritual disciplines, read Richard Foster’s book.
Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture and reason; and others have utterly disregarded it.
– John Wesley
Fasting is an act of submission. It is to make subject those parts of us that rule by nature, to disrupt their reign in preference to the superior Lordship, knowledge and desire of God. Through fasting we seek to express our desperate desire to know and hear God and to learn and implement His desires for us: obedience. In some sense, to open the eyes and ears of our hearts we must momentarily silence the contrary and distracting screaming of our flesh.
As we fast we communicate that physical provision and abundance are utter loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord. Food sustains life? Our hands work to provide? No, God sustains all! In times that we sense great need to commune with God out of desperation, joy, sorrow, and repentance, we do well to do so with undivided intentionality. Whether our own devotion demands or the Comforter commands, fasting is an invaluable tool to enhance our ears’ receptivity to God through singularity of mind and spirit.
While fasting is an act that suggests an ambitious cry to God to hear us, in reality it is a cry for an answer, suggesting a submissive act of listening to Him. Fasting should never be a pious act by which we assume our ideas will be made so clear that God will be persuaded to finally agree because of our frailty. As if! Does God enjoy or require our detriment in order to activate His very nature? No, He is the Being (The Great I AM – Who Was, Is and Is to Come) or Fullness of Love, Patience, Kindness, and all other virtues defined in Himself alone as “Good” and “Holy”. God does not require our pain or lack to answer or bless, but because of the weakness of our bounty, we require such acts to break through the noise of self, to hear what He has to say, command, renew and transform. God’s plan and ideas are better than ours. Think of fasting as the opposite of us influencing or changing God. To fast is to silence ourselves and our desires so that God can make visible – by the blinding of our flesh – the answer we need, even if it is not the one we expect or presume. Change God? No, change us, and desire desperately that He do it! In a sense, consider it all forfeit, or we are forfeit! Astounded by the Glorious: even then, with fleshly concerns cast aside for a moment, Jesus lovingly lifts us up from the mire and finds His very dwelling in us. He is our Bread and Tree of Life, our Living Water, the True Drink. Not by bread alone, indeed! but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God!
Guess what we should expect to hear when we cry out to God through fasting? It’s already been told. Read the words from the mouth of God, written, preserved and translated conveniently for our babbled ears. The Word of God, the Bible. We already have our Commission, and its message is not ambiguous. The hour is late, and we must continue the ministry of Christ as His Body, His very Life and Power circulating through our collective works.
The Apostle James defines pure and undefiled religion as “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Religion… a word that stirs up imagery of all sorts of acts, piety, and striving toward God(s) – including many historic atrocities. Yet God leaves that part out of His definition, reminding us that serving the “least of these” is serving Him in truth, undefiled. To leave the least in want is to leave Jesus lacking the ones His heart wants. In similar manner, a true fast is also no mere pursuit of God without cost. Expect fully God’s answers for you to include following in the footsteps of His Son, sharing in His Passion.
Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
– Isaiah 58:1-10 ESV
A challenge for us all: Seek not merely to petition more from God. We already dwell in a land of unprecedented peace, freedom, safety and bounty. Seek rather to “hold fast” to your plentiful provisions by letting go, using them to bless others who are perishing from constant lack: both lack of food and lack of love. Develop a “lifestyle of fasting” where your consumption and abundance are tamed and claimed for the defamed, maimed and blamed, to restore them as the ones for whom Christ came, your loss their gain. Any less from His Body is a shame.
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
– 1 Timothy 6:17-19 ESV
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
– 2 Corinthians 8:8-15 ESV
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
– Galatians 5:13-14 ESV