Why We Fast – The Practice of Self-Emptying
Fasting as a form of spiritual discipline is the practice that through self-denial of something, we are allowed to plead our needs before God through prayerful repentance of our sins and to strengthen our purposeful life. A helpful question to ask within this self-reflective practice is, “What does God want to accomplish in me through this practice?” In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses reminds the Israelites that experiencing a lack of food was God’s intention and was used as a channel for teaching them not to forget “the wilderness lesson of complete dependence upon God” during their journey to Canaan. It is written: “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (NRSV).”
The literal root of English words Lent is derived from a Saxon word meaning “spring.” As Marjorie Thompson points out, “in the early church, Lent was viewed as a spiritual spring, a time of light and joy in the renewal of the soul’s life.” Considering the root meaning of the word Lent, it is proper and significant for Christians to observe Lent as the uniquely designated sacred season for nurturing our souls with the intimate spiritual formation of “prayer and fasting in preparation for the great ‘Feast of feasts,’ Easter.”
There are some cautions that will help us practice fasting in the right ways. First, fasting is not trying to get God to do what you want Him to do. Second, fasting should be practiced only if your health allows. Third, fasting is private in nature. The Message Bible paraphrases Jesus’ teaching on fasting in Matthew 6:16-18 as follows: “When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.”
Our perception of fasting as “the practice of self-emptying”* should not be confined only in a traditional idea such as the abstinence of food. Fasting could be applied and experienced in other various avenues such as fasting from people (solitude), fasting from “noise” (silence) and fasting from “stuff” (simplicity). Fasting is far more than the notion of physically abstaining from food. It’s a dynamic and experiential practice that reaches into multiple phases of our lives and encourages us to stretch the muscles of discipline and self-denial.
Fasting reminds us that we care about ‘soul’ things. We care about the church. We care about the world. We care about doing God’s will. Thus we willingly set aside a little comfort so that we can listen and attend to the voice of nourishment of God alone. – Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
During this Lent season, consider those three areas of your daily life; people, “noise” and “stuff”. The biblical teaching and implications of fasting urge us to set ourselves aside in solitude so that we can be alone with God away from busyness and hazards related to daily living. In this spiritual reorientation of our being we are able to focus on and reconnect to God. In other words, through this kind of intentionally committed spiritual discipline we have an opportunity to simplify our materialistic and busy lifestyles. By practicing various types of fasting, we may be able to intimately find ourselves in God through being still in Him (Ps 37:37, 46:10, 62:1; Mark 6:31). In his devotional book, Day by Day with Saint Augustine, Donald Burt guides with St. Augustine’s insight that “fasting from anger and hatred is more important than giving up desserts. We should give financial support to those in need but it is more important to give forgiveness to those who have injured us, to ask forgiveness from those we have injured.”
In conclusion, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s words would be worthy heed for refreshing our understanding on fasting. “Fasting reminds us that we care about ‘soul’ things. We care about the church. We care about the world. We care about doing God’s will. Thus we willingly set aside a little comfort so that we can listen and attend to the voice of nourishment of God alone.”
May your humble longing heart for searching Him and true yourself during this Lent season on fasting please and honor our resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ!
(*Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life , 69)
written by Major Young Sung Kim, Ambassador for Holiness, Spiritual Life Development, USAEast