What controls your heart? As human beings, we long for our appetites to be filled. We long to fill our stomachs, we long to be loved, we long for physical intimacy, we long for satisfaction and a feeling of peace; the list is long.
Since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden, Satan has worked in the life of every man and woman to tempt us, to call us to fulfill legitimate needs and desires God Himself placed in our hearts in illegitimate ways. For some this might simply be an unhealthy habit, and for others these things show themselves as full blown addictions.
- Some long for satisfaction; they begin to use food as their drug of choice, numbing their pain or loneliness with so-called “comfort food.”
- Some long for love and affirmation; they develop unhealthy and inappropriate relationships, or become addicted to the illusion of fame and influence within the world of social media.
- Some long to be known, to be appreciated, to be valued, to be touched; they begin to use their bodies to try to win the long-sought love of another person.
Addictions of all kinds are powerful. They temporarily mask the deep hunger of our souls but leave us empty and wanting more. Perhaps neither you nor I have been labeled an “addict,” but I believe we’ve all been there on some level. Our hearts were hungry, and we attempted to fill that need with food, with shopping, with relationships, with chocolate or caffeine… when all along that hunger was meant to point us to the arms of the Father.
Fasting is a powerful form of personal worship that can loosen the bonds we have to these false sources of satisfaction. Fasting is not a dictated, regulated aspect within the New Covenant under Christ – it is a personal act of celebration within our walk with Him, an outgrowth of a desire to grow closer, commune deeper, to walk humbly with our God. It is a time when we focus on filling the deepest longings of our hearts from Him alone.
I appreciate that in his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster carefully points out that fasting is never commanded in the Bible. However, Jesus’ words of instruction for “when you fast…” (Matthew 6:16) simply assume that we will! In addition, in Matthew 9:15 Jesus answers criticism against his disciples not fasting by saying, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”
Foster states, “There is no way to escape the force of Jesus’ words in this passage. He made it clear that he expected his disciples to fast after he was gone. Although the words are not couched in the form of a command, that is only a semantic technicality. It is clear from this passage that Christ both upheld the Discipline of fasting and anticipated that his followers would do it.” (54)
There are many different kinds of fasts. You may have heard of people fasting from everything from media to carbohydrates to fasting from solid foods. If you are new to fasting and not sure where to start, I’d suggest that you think about where you turn when you’re uncomfortable.
If you’re having a rough day, what do you do?
- Do you have “comfort foods” that you turn to?
- Do you turn to facebook or twitter to share your frustrations with others online?
- Do you pick up the phone to call someone?
- Do you turn on the TV or radio as a distraction?
- Do you go shopping?
Rather than turning to the Lord at our weakest, most vulnerable moments, do we stuff down our emotions or conviction with food, entertainment, socialization, noise? How often do we fail to hear Him, fail to receive all that He offers us, because we have settled for a cheap substitute – an idol?
Fasting quiets the noise, the distraction, the cheap substitutes and allows us to learn how to “find rest, O my soul, in God alone.”
A few warnings:
1. DO NOT MAKE THIS LEGALISTIC. You might feel led to give up TV or perhaps fast from food for a set amount of time – and your spouse or friend may not. That doesn’t mean they are less spiritual. You seek the Lord. You prayerfully search your heart. And you ask the Lord: “how can I grow closer to You, commune deeper with You, walk humbly with You?”
2. Fasting is primarily a form of personal worship. While there are times in Scripture when a group or a nation seeks the Lord together in times of corporate fasting and prayer, Jesus warns us in Matthew 6 against making a public spectacle of our 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. 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)
If we are offering our times of fasting to the Lord as a personal act of worship, we should not feel the need to discuss this with others online, announce it or make it obvious to others when we are gathered together socially, or “recruit” others to join us. Even if we are looking for accountability, this should be done quietly and modestly.
3. Fasting is hard and will bring to light ugly and hidden parts of your heart. When we take away those “bandaids” of temporary relief and comfort, however shallow, we find our emotions and frustrations raw with nothing to stuff them down with. Those times of struggle are good if we allow them to drive us to God’s throne. Immerse yourself in prayer, in Scripture, in times of worship and resist the urge to find a new “bandaid!”
Have you found yourself turning to something other than God to fulfill legitimate needs? Have you fasted from those things in the past? How did the fast benefit your spiritual life?