Our society celebrates excess. Supersize, jumbo size, all-you-can-eat. I can have whatever I want, whenever I want it, as much as I want. I can push a button and have it delivered in two hours. Why have one when you can have more? Why have some when you can have it all? It is a value of our culture: Having more is better. Having the most is best.
My Ethiopian friend Wondimu was telling me about Christians in Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians average two meals a day. In spite of this, Wondimu told me of people in his church giving up a meal a day in order to support a missionary. They don’t have to give up food, but they willing choose to do so. In culture of “more,” this seems silly. Why would you go without when you could have more?
Our societal system incentivizes "more." "Find your identity in stuff, and more of it. Your worth is tied to having 'more.' You’ll happier with more food, more likes on social media, more money, friends, career success, or pleasure."
But this system is broken. The stock market is at an all time high. At the same time, research is showing all time highs of depression, loneliness, drug abuse, and suicide rates. We're the wealthiest country in the world, but we have a poverty of soul.
We’re the wealthiest country in the world, but we have a poverty of soul."
I wonder if we’re so deep in the system of excess that we don’t realize it. I wonder if we can push back.
The Christian season of Lent begins in one week. It is a long-standing tradition for Christians to "give something up," to willingly refrain from certain things. In a system of "more," the historic discipline of fasting is one way to resist the temptations of excess. A few words on fasting.
Fasting is NOT:
· A form of self-righteousness; "to be seen by others" (Matt. 6:16).
· A form of penance for sin. We don’t fast in order to make up for our sins and mistakes. Jesus suffered and died once and for all for sin.
· Manipulating God. We think if we do something extreme we’ll show God that we’re deserving.
· A health benefit. Spiritual fasting is not a health fad. Fasting may have negative health effects, so talk to your doctor.
Fasting means to give something up in order to focus intently on God. Fasting is a private matter between an individual and God (Lk. 4:2, Dan. 10:3). It may also be done corporately, as God’s people would heed the call to fast in a time of communal or national emergency (Joel 2:15, II Chron. 20:1-4).
Jesus taught on fasting: "But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matt. 6:17-18)
Here Jesus repeated the name “Father." Above all, fasting is an intense focus on the Father. You give up some things in order to devote yourself to the Father. Fasting is often tied to repentance, prayer, and worship. It is another way in which we direct our full attention to God.
How does fasting help us focus on God in a system of "more"?
Fasting Exposes Hidden Sins
“Fasting reveals the things that control us . . . We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.” (Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster)
The deep idols of the heart often lurk below the surface. They are big stones hidden under the soil. Fasting is a way of tilling the soil and uncover what’s underneath. What do we use as coping mechanisms? Caffeine? Alcohol? Food? TV or screen time? Spending money? Often we use these things as distractions and escapes against what’s underneath: anger, insecurity, fear, arrogance, worry etc. We all cover up with something. Fasting strips that away.
Fasting Helps us Focus on God’s Word
Fasting from food reminds you that you do not “live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). By giving up one thing, you’re able to take up something else. Fasting frees up space for focus – prayer, meditation, worship.
Fasting Helps Us Re-Prioritize
In fasting, we set aside good things to focus on the best. Richard Foster writes, “How easily we begin to allow non-essentials to take precedence in our lives.” Fasting typically involves giving up good things. Food and drink are not inherently bad. They’re good! But there are times to set aside the good things to focus on the best.
So how do we fast? Here are a few ideas, mostly gleaned from Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline. I commend it to you for further reading.
· Partial Fast: Giving up a particular food or drink for a period of time. (Not a vice, but something good)
· Partial Fast: Give up two meals a day for a week.
· Fully fast one day a week (no food, only water). Talk to your doctor before embarking on a longer fast.
· Fully fast on Good Friday.
Besides food, there are others things to fast from:
· Fast from busyness (times of solitude, a day retreat, defined hours of quiet, etc.)
· Fast from media (No TV, radio, or social media. A partial fast would be limiting these to one hour a day).
· Fasting from shopping (Only spend money on essentials, fast from buying anything you don’t absolutely need. Give that money away.)
A system of excess demands more and more. Jesus confronts the system. We don't need more, we just need him.
"Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28)