Life is hard, creation is groaning and though we are seated with Christ and saved by grace through faith, this is still our current, shared reality on earth.
Our society is built on making life easier and simpler, therefore we, in the church, might be prone to flat out ignore or reject those spiritual disciplines that might make our lives more difficult and perhaps inconvenience us a bit. Fasting can be one such discipline that we shy away from because it is hard. Abstaining from a spiritual discipline, however, simply because it is hard, is not grounds to abstain from it. Further, there is great power in fasting.
The power of fasting is that we are going without something that is necessary for daily life, namely, bread…food. We need daily bread. We need sustenance. Our bodies need fuel to live off of. While life is full of groans and pains, the pains and groans that our stomachs make when we go without is oftentimes unrivaled.
Fasting from food is hard. It’s not fun. But it’s not meant to be fun. It’s meant to be a discipline of discipleship that leads us into the life of God.
Therefore, we need to reframe what a life of discipleship looks like.
First, it should look like the life of Christ who did not live an easy life, but a life of tremendous hardships and wild glories. The life of Jesus was hard. He cried. He was tired. He went without. He had nowhere to sleep. He took a path in life that would lead him to have his blood poured out even before he went to the cross. Therefore, always bear in mind, as difficult as our lives may be and as hard as the days get, Jesus knows it all. Jesus knows hardship.
We should sit with the words of Christ, “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Notice it’s not “might”, but will! Jesus prepared his disciples back then, and us today, for a Spirit-filled life of incredible joys, but also for the harsh reality that life is still going to be difficult. Though the Kingdom of God has come, there’s a mess of darkness that must be dealt with.
Just like the Kingdom of God is at hand, so is the Kingdom of Darkness. Our role as followers of Jesus isn’t to try and escape this world, but to intentionally center and build our lives around the truth that the Kingdom of God is still at hand. This means a battle, this means a struggle. This means we must cultivate a true and sincere reliance upon God through spiritual disciplines, even if they are hard.
Fasting, a means of grace, helps us cultivate such a reliance upon God.
Fasting, going without food, for a specific period of time, massages our minds to the necessity of relying not on bread in our life, but the Bread of Life (John 6:35) who has come to earth to sustain us, on earth, while we live on earth as it is in heaven.
Fasting, going without food, for a specific period of time, stirs our souls to imagine our lives being wide open to the Spirit of God, just like the life of Jesus was wide open to the Spirit of God. As difficult as our fasts might be, we will not experience a fast like Jesus, who fasted in total obedience to God, while at the same time being tempted by Satan for 40 days.
Fasting, going without food, for a specific period of time, helps our hearts to enter into intimacy with God as we join the psalmist with the words, “my flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Fasting is an in-your-face reminder, “I am weak, but in my weakness, Christ’s power is made perfect.” Therefore, we are not afraid to be weak in fasting, we are glad, because our hearts are helped to trust in God’s power in us.
Fasting, going without food, for a specific period of time, says to our strength, “be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” Here, we settle in on the truth, “I am not the captain of my life”. Though we might be physically strong and/or intellectually smart, God is our help. Physical strength and intellectual rigor, though helpful, cannot sustain us the hardships of life, only God can do this.
Yes, fasting is hard, it’s supposed to be. Dying to self and living to Christ isn’t child’s play because it is the bending of our hearts away from self and back towards our first love, God. In this bending back to God we learn to trust him more, pursue him more, and allow ourselves to freely embrace the truth that God loves us more than we can imagine.
Luke is Pastor of Discipleship to the community of saints, in Christ, at Nashville UMC.