Thursday, January 20, 2011

Another Word or Two on Fasting

Not eating is not fasting. Oh sure, if you look in the dictionary you’ll find that as one of the definitions. Likewise that’s what your doctor means if he orders a fasting blood test, but simply not eating is not a spiritual discipline—and that’s what we’re talking about here, a spiritual discipline. Some folks who want to try fasting fall into trouble because they assume it just means not eating, and that’s not always safe. In fact, fasting is not exclusively for food.  You can fast from the daily things in your life filling that time with prayer and meditation and focus on Scripture.  

"As a discipline, the Church has historically put strictures around who should and shouldn’t that sound like something at the end of a pharmaceutical ad: it’s not for children; it’s not for women who are pregnant or nursing; it’s not for the elderly, the weak, or the sick. And, in thinking of the maladies of our day, it’s not for those with eating disorders either; there’s nothing holy about self-starvation. For those who cannot or should not fast, an alternative is what we commonly know as giving something up for Lent.”  Derek Olsen, Emory University

One of the bottom lines of fasting is that we fast for divine intervention.  It is not meant as a means to simply get what you want from God.  We fast to find that still, quiet place that allows us to hear God whisper to us.  We fast as yet another way to come in to the Presence of the Holy.  But fasting is part of an overall Christian discipline and involves both the internal and the external.  Externally we give up something, we eat smaller meals, we cut our grocery bill in half for a period of time and give the saved money to charity, we pray and even replace the grumblings in our tummy with both an inhalation prayer and an exhalation prayer.  But it is also internal.  There is a deep spiritual movement that is happening during this time, a connection with the Holy, learning and developing prayer, listening to the Spirit and being still in order to know.  There is theology involved in fasting.

All throughout Scripture we come across many occasions for fasting. Some of these include:

  1. The ordination of elders and commissioning of apostles to ministry.
  2. Intercession for the people of God.
  3. Humbling and chastening of oneself.
  4. Seeking the Lord and His way.
  5. Repentance and confession of sin.
  6. Receiving healing.
  7. Petitioning God to withhold His hand in judgment.
  8. Preparation to receive word from God.
  9. Spiritual deliverance.
  10. Seeking assistance in time of fear.
  11. Seeking protection.
  12. Lacking material provision; in need.

Bible personalities typically fasted for as long as it took to receive that divine intervention.  
One night (Daniel 6:8)
Three days and three nights (Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9, 17-19)
Fourteen days (Acts 27: 33-34)
Twenty-One days (Daniel 10:3013)

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know for what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our heart knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. (Romans 8:26-28)

Creator, we give you thanks for all you are and all you bring to us for our visit within your creation. In Jesus, you placed the Gospel in the center of this sacred circle through which all of creation is related. You show us the way to live a generous and compassionate life. Give us your strength to live together with 
respect and commitment as we grow in your spirit, for you are God now and forever. Amen.

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