Tuesday, January 11, 2011

OnFire #246 Fasting #1

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #246 Fasting #1

Hi Folks:

Happy New Year. We had a good Christmas. Jan’s parents joined us for Christmas eve and Christmas day. We had lots of family time together since our boys did not go back to school until today. We spent New Years with some church families and other friends.

Mark spent a lot of time working on a video for a class project on stereotypes which is really creative. Ian got his first paying photography job as he was hired by a couple of families to take pictures of their children playing hockey.

At church we’re preparing for the annual meeting. I’m starting a small group emphasis this week, and I’m helping a little more with the music and worship planning at our church as our music director finished at Christmas. Things are busy, but they always are. I guess you could say we are back into routine.

We resume our series on spiritual disciplines. As we come to fasting, I have to say that this is something I am relatively new to, less than 10 years. I don’t remembering hearing about fasting as I grew up, except when a medical test was involved, and then it was something unpleasant to be endured for the hope of a diagnosis.

Of course, I knew Jesus’ teaching about fasting in Matthew 6 and I saw examples in the early church . This led me to understand that Christians may fast, but I never heard of anyone who did this until I went to Christian college, and I must confess, I thought the ones who did were a little weird. They always seemed to be a little odd, a little too zealous, and uncomfortable to be around. It was hard to criticize them since scripture is full of positive examples of fasting, but I wasn’t about to join them, either. In my mind I placed it among the fringe elements of Christianity.

I didn’t think much about it again until I became the pastor of a church on Grand Manan, a small fishing island located two-hours-by-ferry off the coast of New Brunswick. Grand Manan is a tight community of about 2000 people where many are related by blood or marriage, and so when tragedy strikes everyone is affected. Sadly, in one year four young people under the age of 22 were killed in accidents related to alcohol or drugs. The Island was in shock and scared for the next generation growing up.

Amidst the cries for better police presence and more youth activities, someone suggested that the churches have a combined service of prayer for the young people. As this idea picked up steam and a date was set, it was also suggested that we should fast to prepare for the meeting. Again, it was hard to criticize the idea since fasting is plainly modelled in the Bible, so despite my misgivings I went along with the idea.

I really was scared as the day approached. How bad would the hunger pangs be? I remembered feeling really hungry as a child just waiting between lunch and supper. What would it be like to miss a whole day? My boys were young but even still I worried about what they would think when I sat down to supper with them but didn’t eat. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. When I started to feel hungry, I remembered why we were fasting and prayed for the young people. We explained things to the boys at supper and they accepted it easily.

If you talk to people on Grand Manan who were at that prayer meeting they will recall what a blessing it was. The church was packed and there was such a feeling of the power and presence of God. These combined services continued monthly for a while and eventually waned, but those first meetings were incredible, and sparked something in me about fasting. What seemed weird or strange, only an academic possibility before, became real and exciting. I began to look forward to them because during those times I felt so much closer to God and felt a part of something bigger going on. Since then I have fasted to seek direction from God, petition on behalf of others, and as part of retreats and mission trips.

I tell this story (like a lot of OnFire stories) because I figure that if I have these thoughts and experiences and I’m the “trained professional,” then maybe others have them, too, and by telling my story others might be encouraged and strengthened. I already had the knowledge that fasting was biblical, but no experience. As I tentatively took a few steps I discovered that fasting can be an incredibly rich and rewarding spiritual experience. I’m not going to say it is easy, but it was not as hard as I feared, and I’ve had times during fasting when I’ve thought, “People would pay to feel this good.”

Next week I’ll lay out some biblical foundations and explain a little about what fasting is and is not. Until then, I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Jan 11, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email onfireletter@gmail.com. Archives are located at www.onfireletter.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com.

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