“Prayer is reaching out after the unseen, fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal.” Andrew Murray
Fasting is without a doubt the least popular of the spiritual disciplines. We may gloss over the depth of our prayer or study life but we will rarely flat-out turn away from these disciplines. Not so for fasting; we will not even pretend to fast. Much of this avoidance comes from the misinterpretation of the discipline as an ascetic practice that was often overdone in eras past. Being people of grace, we say, we do not need to continue punishing our bodies to gain forgiveness.
Aside from this general argument, modern Christians who are considering adding fasting to their regular disciplines are confronted with three major enemies: Inconvenience, Comfort, and Unwillingness.
Fasting requires planning and commitment and it will often interfere with other aspects of our lives. People around us will expect us to join social or business engagements that are challenged by our fast. Since our commitment to fast is to be kept between ourselves and God, we are forced to make excuses. When fasting interferes too much with our schedule, the easy way out is to not practice the discipline.
Unlike prayer which can be practiced in a private hour, fasting by necessity crosses our schedule into both public and private time. Fasting demands commitment and discipline because it is a public activity that is kept largely secret. When we have to make decisions in the midst of a fast, we are confronted with the reality of our value system. Does God get a second order commitment behind our career? Remember that the discipline of fasting will reveal our true priorities.
The modern Christian avoids discomfort at all costs. If the sanctuary is too cold, the chairs or pews too hard, or the odor of the shelter too strong, chances are that this is the first thing the pastor will hear about on Sunday morning. Fasting is uncomfortable and doesn’t fit in with the modern interpretation of Christian life. After all, God wants only good things for us, right?
If our greatest excuse for not fasting is that we don’t want to feel hungry, we are not practicing the discipline correctly. As beginners to fasting, we are overwhelmed by the hunger pangs because this is often the only times in our lives when we have been deprived of food. It’s all we can think about. As we progress in the practice of fasting, these thoughts should move to an ability to focus on God and our communion with Him. The pangs subside and are replaced with a strengthening bond of spirituality. Food becomes less important as we grow in the ability to not be slaves to it.
Are you truly unwilling to engage in a spiritual practice that will draw you closer to your Father? Most Christians would answer no and then revert to one of the previous excuses. We dislike both discomfort and inconvenience both personally and culturally. It’s easy to be a committed Christian on Sunday morning in the midst of a worshipping community, less so at noon on Wednesday when everyone is calling for you to join them at lunch. Saying no brings attention to yourself; it makes your faith public. This is the dividing line.
Falling prey to this simple disobedience is the Enemy’s greatest joy. If we are willing to make excuses for not fasting, he can began to tear at the fabric of our other spiritual practices as well. Why not sleep in a few more minutes instead of getting up to read the Bible? Decide right now that unwillingness is not going to be your first excuse.