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Feb 02

Fasting and Races

            You know in college there are those stupid things you sometimes do, and you think, “Why did I do that?” One of mine involved an apple, race, and an early morning prayer meeting at a local park. I was a freshman and had become a Christian just a couple months before. I was passionate about learning and growing in the faith, and someone told me about this spiritual discipline called fasting. I decided to try it, and so I didn’t eat for lunch or dinner. There was an early prayer meeting the following day, so I figured I would break my fast the next morning. I had an encouraging day while fasting; I spent my meal times in prayer and didn’t struggle with the hunger. It was the next day when the problems arose. What I hadn’t considered was the meal plan and living in the dorm, no food, and no open dining halls this early. I was ravenously hungry, and all I had was an apple that I devoured on my way to the meeting. It was just enough to make the hunger pains go away; I thought I was back to normal. The meeting went well, but for some reason, a friend challenged me to a race afterward. Of course like any teenager I accepted (and won), but the second I crossed the line, I realized I had messed up big time. I was sick as a dog and shaking more than a belly dancer in an earthquake. Thankfully, one of the other guys had some crackers and candy to get my blood sugar up again, but I had learned a practical lesson about fasting. Jesus said when you’re fasting, look normal (Matt 6:16-18), but I think there is an unspoken, “don’t be stupid” that I learned that day.  

                 Fasting is a well know spiritual discipline in many religions, but for American Christians, I would feel sure it is an under-practiced one. The point of Christian fasting is to pull away from physical nourishment to focus on spiritual sustenance.  Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:4). Fasting is a physical way of showing our reliance on God as we seek Him. Biblically we see fasting in many places. Jesus fasted for 40 days before starting His public ministry (Matt 4). John the Baptist and his disciples fasted, as did the Pharisees (Matt 9:14–17). After Jesus death, Christ’s followers fasted (Acts 13:2–3; 14:23) when seeking God’s guidance in choosing new leaders. In the OT, we also see fasting from individuals and the nation as a whole who were seeking God’s intervention.  (2 Sm 12:16–20; 1 Kgs 21:27; Jgs 20:26; 1 Sm 7:6).

                As with any discipline, it is easy for fasting to be abused and become and empty ritual. An example of this abuse was when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for showing off that they were fasting. “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” (Matt 6:16). The Jews of Jesus day were using fasting as a sign of piety to show off how devoted they were to God.  In the OT, God also rebukes hypocritical fasting, “Though they fast, I will not hear their cry,” he said (Jer 14:12, see also Isaiah 58). The people were rejecting God’s Law and oppressing the weak, yet then fasting when trying to get something from God. The heart of the person fasting is what makes the difference, not just the act of not eating.  

                Jesus changed the meaning of fasting with His teaching from an act of religious piety, to an act of reliance and seeking a genuine relationship with God. Therefore, when we fast, remember, it is not out of obligation, empty ritual, or to show off. Do not expect God to honor your fast if you are rejecting His ways either.  Your reward comes when you seek God and His ways through a humble and sincere fast.  Sometimes that reward might be an answered prayer, but more often the reward is more subtle, more personal. Often as we pull away from an obligation to the body, we draw towards the desire of our soul. A growing relationship with Christ is a priceless treasure, and this is the primary outcome of fasting.

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