Yesterday in my message, I asked our church family to consider joining with us in fasting on Tuesdays the remainder of this month—skipping breakfast and lunch—out of a desire to really seek the wisdom of God for Creekside. I realize this morning, that I needed to say more, much more about fasting, and failed to do so. For that I apologize.
Fasting is the practice of laying aside something (generally food) to seek God through focused and devoted prayer. We see this modeled for us in the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments (Ezra 8:23 and Acts 13:1-3 are examples) yet many of us don’t have a good conception of why we should be doing it.
John Piper has written a book on fasting (it can be downloaded for free here) that is really helpful in bringing understanding to this practice. He speaks of fasting being “homesickness for God.” One of the things that he exposes in his introduction to the book is that fasting is a “fight for the higher hunger that isn’t”. If we find our hunger for God, and for his kingdom lacking, we need to fight for that hunger.
He then goes on to say this:
“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.”
This is such a convicting statement. The endless nibbling at the table of the world can replace an appetite for God himself, and the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, almost incurable. How often is our homesickness replaced by indulgence on, or longing for, the things of this world? Rather than living as God’s people accomplishing God’s purpose, I think we often live like atheists—we live as if this life is all that there is.
Why fasting then? We fast because Jesus has come, Jesus has ascended, and Jesus will return. This is very important. Jesus speaks about this in Matthew 9:14-17 where he is confronted about the fact that his disciples weren’t fasting when the Pharisees fasted regularly. Jesus makes an interesting comment that the disciples will fast when the bridegroom (himself) is taken away. He then speaks about new wine in old wineskins. What he is saying, in part, is this: With the presence of Jesus there is feasting and joyful celebration like a wedding feast that will satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts. Jesus has come, and yet after his ascension, we now live in the overlap of the ages, we live as “Easter people in a Good Friday world.”
Our fasting is transformed like new wine because it is a fasting that both looks back and looks forward. We look back at the work of Jesus on the cross, where he decisively dealt with our sin forever and brought us into a loving relationship as sons and daughters of God. It is the work of Jesus, not religious activity like fasting, that has caused us to be brings us to God, accepted and approved as objects of his grace, mercy and love. Ironically, we eat to remember that as we observe the Lord’s Supper. Fasting, on the other hand, is the discipline of not eating as we “fight for the higher hunger that isn’t” within our souls. We fight to focus on and be motivated by the reality that only God can truly satisfy us. We fast because we know that of all of the blessings of the new heaven and the new earth, the highest and greatest of them is God himself. One day he will dwell with his people and we will see him face to face. We fast so that we would be reminded of the emptiness of the things of this world and long for the substance of what will be ours through Jesus in eternity. We fast so that we would be people who walk by faith and not by sight—that we would be those who are content to “live in tents because we are looking for the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:9-10).
At the heart of some of the challenges that are facing Creekside, as we seek to live as God’s people and accomplish God’s purpose, is the hidden idolatry of our own hearts. Perhaps it is idolatry of what we conceive church to be—of how we measure success—of how we assume ministry is supposed to be done. Perhaps it is the idolatry that can creep into our hearts where all of the good gifts of God satiate us so that we don’t long for and love him. Creekside belongs to Jesus, he is the one who walks among the churches, who rules over the kings of the earth, he can do whatever he wants with us as he builds his church (Matt 16:18). Wherever God is taking us as he walks with us through these uncertain times, I’m convinced of this, that fasting will help us take our eyes off of this world and focus us on him.