The message at church yesterday concerned fasting. My friend Jerry told the congregation that until recently he had never fasted, but when he found that he had to preach on the subject Jerry decided that he had better listen to Jesus (who said when you fast – not if) and begin fasting. Jerry’s initial experience was that he needed to do something to distract himself when the hunger pangs became overwhelming. This, of course, is the whole point of fasting in that by foregoing a meal and the associated preparation time we have a little extra space in our day to spend time in God’s presence. The problem for Jerry was that initially it was gardening he chose as a distraction.
My problem is different. I can easily miss meals. I do it all the time when I am travelling and the job takes over and we work through lunch. I have had to fast for medical reasons – prior to examinations, and prior to and after surgery. The longest I have gone without food is twelve days, although I was on a drip for most of those days and in no fit state to eat. When permission was finally given for me to have food the nursing staff presented me with a bowl of soup and a bowl of ice cream. It is my recollection that the ice cream was warmer than the soup. Faced with hospital food, fasting all of a sudden becomes attractive. But fasting is not attractive to most Western Christians. What could we be missing out on by not fasting?
Recently I have learned that fasting extends beyond food. I could argue that writing this blog post is a form of fasting. Why? Because I am self-employed and I am using time when I should be working and earning a crust to write what I believe God has laid on my heart this morning. Not eating is not the issue. Giving up work time to write a blog is not the issue. Giving up meat or chocolate or wine or beer or anything else for lent is not the issue. The issue is what we do on a daily basis with everything God has entrusted to us. That includes our time, our money, our food, our words, our thoughts, and even our prayers. Why our prayers? Because I truly believe that none of us really knows how to pray. I know that I am still learning. But I am a slow learner. And that is why I need to make space in my busy-ness to be both still and quiet before God daily. That may mean missing a meal, it could also mean missing a deadline. What could it mean for you?
You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? (Isaiah 58:4b-5a NLT)