Fast and Pray
Have you noticed that lately, everybody is on a diet? Maybe your best friend is doing a paleo-keto-Atkins-South Beach-juice fast-water fast-intermittent fast-low carb-gluten free-sugar free-ingredient free diet. Have you noticed that many dieting people talk more about what they're not eating than the rest of us talk about what we are eating?
Or maybe you've noticed the opposite... in some families, the main topic of conversation can be, "What are we going to eat, and when are we going to eat it?" During breakfast we discuss lunch, and during lunch we discuss dinner. During dinner, we discuss what we're eating tomorrow.
Either way, a great deal of our time, effort, and energy goes into the daily routine of eating. It makes sense - God gave us the sense of hunger so we wouldn't starve to death, just as thirst reminds us to stay hydrated. A fair amount of space in the Old Testament is taken up with instructions for food preparation, both for the Sabbath and for day-to-day life. If eating is so important to our very survival, why would God ever command a fast?
We see examples of fasting in the Old Testament, and most of them look like this passage in Nehemiah:
On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads.... They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God. (Nehemiah 9:1, 3, NIV)
Fasting was a time of grieving, begging for God's mercy and forgiveness, and radically humbling oneself before God. Why would skipping meals be a part of this ritual? Because abstaining from food took a person's focus away from the social and physical (and time-consuming) routine of eating and turned it toward God - toward relying on His power for everything from physical sustenance to spiritual cleansing.
The signs of fasting in the Old Testament were both external and internal - if you were fasting, people knew it. But in the New Testament, we see Jesus change the ritual to something far less public and more personal. Unlike a diet (or lack thereof), where the focus is on food (or lack thereof)... and unlike a religious ritual, where one could show off their "religious-ness" to others... fasting became a quiet, secret, personal communion with God.
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18, NIV)
At 5twelve City Church, we are entering a time of prayer and fasting. What does this mean for us? Jurie said, "The idea of fasting is that you sacrifice something in order to make much of God and to remind yourself to pray." Maybe fasting from food isn't medically advisable for you, or maybe food isn't a big deal to you. What eats your time? What structures your day? What do you feel compelled to do when you're at loose ends or bored? Take a moment to pray today, and ask God what He would have you forego for a season, so that you will seek His face when you would normally be filling your mind, hands, time, or stomach with something less than Him.