OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #247 Fasting #2 A Table Saw for Jan
Last week I recounted some of my early experiences with fasting. Fasting was not part of my upbringing or background, but through scripture and the example of people I respected, my perspective on fasting changed from being something that people on the fringe did, to a deeply meaningful part of my spiritual practices.
This week I want to talk about what fasting is and is not. For this, I want to start with Zechariah 7:5 for the spirit of how we need to see fasting: “... was it really for me that you fasted?” As God spoke through the prophet Zechariah, we see that the people had highly disciplined spiritual practises, including fasting at prescribed times of the year, but their hearts were not in it for God.
Rather than fasting as a gift of devotion from the sincerity of their hearts, they fasted with the hope that God would bless them in some way. It would be like giving Jan a table saw for her birthday. While some women might appreciate this practical and useful woodworking tool, Jan is not among them. The gift really wouldn’t be for her, but for me. If their fasting was really a gift of devotion to God, they would change their ways to bring justice and show compassion because these things are important to God (see vv. 8-12).
This sets us up to talk about what fasting is not. Let me get this one out of the way. Fasting is not about losing weight. I first thought that fasting would have the added benefit of helping me with this, but I have never noticed a difference.
Fasting is not about twisting God’s arm to give us what we want. This is perhaps a crude way to put it, but there is something in us that makes us think that God is obligated to us because we do something for him, that if we just fast and pray hard enough then God will give us what we want. In this case fasting is not for God but for us.
A variation on this theme is that if we fast we will win God’s approval or love. There is something in us which thinks that the more we do, the more God will love us. Until we uproot this dangerous weed, we will always fear that we are not doing enough to win God’s love. We always need to remember that God’s love for us is constant and we do not need to earn it.
Fasting is not about being Pentecostal or Baptist, or Anglican, Presbyterian, United, Catholic, or some other flavour of Christianity. I’ll speak from a Baptist perspective because that’s what I am, but you may identify from your own experience. I’ve heard it put this way... “I don’t fast because that’s Pentecostal.” As I read my Bible, I don’t see anything to point to fasting as a particularly “Pentecostal” experience. Strangely, as Baptists we pride ourselves about being “people of the Book,” but we clearly see Paul fasting in the book of Acts. This attitude may have more to do with an “us and them” perspective on our brothers and sisters in other denominations.
Fasting is not about escaping the evil nature of the flesh. I’m not sure where this teaching comes from, but every once in a while I come across someone who believes that fasting is about escaping or purging ourselves from the flesh. Behind this belief is the thought that the spirit is good and the flesh is bad. This duality does not exist in scripture. And in passages like the one in Zechariah, we see that fasting is about relationship, about drawing near to God and offering ourselves to him.
“... was it really for me that you fasted?” The best kind of gift is the one given without the expectation of a return gift. If someone gives me a gift, but then makes it clear that I am obligated to do something in return, it isn’t much of a gift. But this is not always the way we look at our relationship with God. “I gave my money, so why didn’t God do something?” It is the same with fasting. We need to examine our motives so that our fasting is a gift to God.
We’ll cover some more aspects of fasting next week. 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 19, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Archives are located at www.onfireletter.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com.