Blogtext: This thing called "fasting".

You did not automatically have a clear idea about what it means? Don't worry, most of us, including myself, know very little about it in terms of real experience. But as it has a not infrequent mention in the scriptures of the new covenant it might pay to take a look at the issue. Particularly since fasting is part of the 'health worship scene' elsewhere in the world. There it is part of the processes called becoming fit. The opposite of remaining fat and unfit, surely. Detox is a word often associated with fasting, a fasting that lightens the body by the gradual washing out of the mass of waste lodged in the intestines. A quick way to lose weight is to fast and drink plenty of water to wash out the debris inside.

But the scriptures are never concerned with just the body. In fact the pre-eminence given by our modern era to the needs of the body is a total reversal of all that the word of God actually proclaims.

Let me draw a scetchy picture of the matter of fasting as it proceeds to develop in the new covenant witness of the Bible.

The run in to the birth of Jesus Immanuel is in the context of a woman who spent her latter years in  serving God in prayers and fastings  within the context of the last trembling moments of the former covenant between God and Israel. The prophetess Anna, married for only 7 years before the demise of her husband, and now a widow aged 80 years is witness to the unique status of the child in waiting in the womb of Mary. "She gave thanks unto the Lord and spoke of him (the child in the womb of Mary) to all who were looking towards the redemption in Jerusalem."

To wit: note the connection between "prophetess, fasting and prayer". The ministry of proclaiming and applying the Word of  God is linked to the conscious activities of prayer and fasting. Prayer always starts out with the recognition that the life on earth is not the only parameter of importance, hence  "Our Father in heaven". No prayer  is possible if it does not transcend the here and now, the physical and natural realm of the world of mice and men. Prayer is the upward flame from the burning bushes to the One who lives in unapproachable light. The lesser flame being a spark from the great incandescence. The prayers are born in the heart of the God-stricken and sometimes overrule the life of the body entirely, that is when the fasting begins. We spend a lot of our time either preparing food, eating food, or digesting food.  The concerns for our next meal are part of the push behind our working hours, our academic ambitions, our investments into endless hours of activities to stay alive: physically!

We are well aware that there is very little commensurate concern for the spiritual wellbeing. The time invested in prayer and fasting is a mere fragment by comparison. Announce a prayer meeting and not many rally to it. Anounce a seminar on fasting and everybody who comes expects at least coffee and toffee cake to wash it down. No food? No hallelujah. The unassailable needs of the body take precedence as a matter of course. And the constant noise of our metabolism and the concerns to have a belly full at all times is considered evidence of being well nurtured and divinnely blessed. But is it?

No sooner has the Father spoken and affirmed the very Son of God in the presence of human witnesses, designating Jesus as the one in whom the eternal God is well pleased, but that the Spirit of God leads the saviour to be  into the wilderness where he then fasts for forty days. How this fasting was done we know not. But we do know that it was a means towards a very specific end: "and after the fasting he was hungry, and the Satan came to him and said, how come you can call yourself a Son of God when you have not even food to eat?" The underlaying assumption is that a man is defined by his right to consume and his ability to always be well fed. Setting the physical reality on the piedestal of true humanity.

But the Satan is a liar from the beginning. And nothing could make more sense than the answer given by Jesus to that very loathsome suggestion that man is defined by his access to food: "But it is written, man shall not live by bread alone but by every word out of the mouth of God". Life for the child of God is not merely physical, in fact the physical is and must be subject to the spiritual.

No clearer statement of that can be made as when Jesus  has started his three years of public work and is pushed to meet a certain disreputable woman at a well in Samaria. The twelve disciples trundle off to the village to buy food for the thirteen that makes up their number. Upon their return the woman is just ready to go to the village to rouse her fellow humans to come and  see the one man "Who has told me all that I have ever done, is he not the Messiah?" The entire conversation between the Messiah and the woman was on the topic of thirst and satisfaction, contrasting the ever repeated intake of food and drink, never ultimately satisfying but always only of temporal 'stop-gap' character, with a deeper drinking of a water of life. One that not only would satisfy the thirsty but as well become a wellspring inside of them to be for others also.. "He that  drinks of this water in him/her it  will be a river of life flowing out."  An echo of a promise made by God to his people under the old covenant: "Listen all who are thirsty, come to the waters, and you who are penniless come and buy bread  and eat. Come buy wine and milk, without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance."  

The son of God summarizes the releationship between the bodily needs and the spiritual substance of man in this manner: "I have food to eat of of which you (as yet) know nothing. My food, my nourishment, is to do the will of Him who sent me."  It is totally untrue that man must eat three meals and two snackmeals a day to survive. Unless mankind feeds the spiritual man inside the physical shell no food can give life more than on a basic animal level.  "Do not have such concerns for the outward man that you fall into various temptations." People will kill for food, mothers will eat their offspring and rob even the afterbirth if pressed beyond the limits of endurance, but even under such distastrous circumstances they will not turn to God for the one thing they need most of all: redemption.

Eating and having abundance in a land flowing of milk and honey is the very basis of physical existence, but this abundance is totally dependant on the relationship between the people of the given promised land and the Giver and Promis-maker. Step out of that dependance, worship the earth and ignore heaven, and the bread trough will be empty, the larders scraped bare, and the fields will bring meagre harvest and starvation will run rampant in the very house of bread. Over and over again through the history of redemption this  story is told. And the spiritual poverty of today in the midst of abundance of consumerism is a leaneness of the soul which stands in a direct opposition to the fulfilling of every physical need. The alarming growth of physical obesity is the exact obverse side of the spiritual starvation. People eat and drink and rise up to play, just as in the days of Noah, with not an inkling of the impending doom. Having made their belly the only God they worship they have broken the first commandment and hence are guilty of breaking the whole law. And the blesssings promised by the Creator have been removed from the very gifts of  God.

The apostles were well aware of the problem with food. A major matter of unruly behaviour in the church in Corinth involved 'agapae-feasts' going horribly over from eating to gorging, from communion to segregation between believers on account of unfair distribution of means of the good things of life. Not knowing the difference between ordinary food and spiritual food even led to drunkenness and illness, some even to death. And the Love feast turned to its opposite and the discernment of what belongs to the Lord and what is commonplace was lost. The apostle's admonition is noteworthy. "Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's supper, for in your eating each one eats his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What? do you not have houses in which to eat and to drink? Or do you despise the church of God, and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you?" " But let a man examine himself and so let him eat of the bread and drink the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not discern the body rightly. For this reason any among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep."

The apostle knew how to be satisfied in surplus and lack. To receive abundance without greed and receive austere lack without complaint. Learning in all things to give thanks and esteem godliness with contentment as an uncommon grace. "I have learned to have much and have little, I have not lacked what I needed, when I needed it."

But starvation on account of lack of food or external deprivation is not fasting. Fasting is not simply a matter of having no food, but rather having food and for some higher reason abstaining from it. The indication is then that there are things of a rightful and legitimate nature that at times must give way to that which is better. Food is not bad, not sinful. "What you receive with thanksgiving is sanctified by the grace and the thankfulness and allows it to be consumed."
 But making your stomach your God is sinful. "For many walk, of whom I have often told you, and now tell you even with weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, their end is destruction, their only God is their appetite and they glory in what is shameful and set their minds only on earthly things." Avoid such men..

I began by pointing to Anna who was anticipating the Lord in prayer and fasting. I touched briefly on the preparation of the son of God before meeting the tempter by a forty day fast. I should go on to speak of fasting as a way of so tuning in to the voice of God that various challenges in the christian life can be met with adequate spiritual strength. "These things (demons) can not be thrown out except by prayer and fasting."   The church in turmoil and unsolved difficulties finds itself fasting in order to the more clearly hear the word of God within. See how the church in Antioch sought the Word of the Lord for its next leadership development. "As the church was ministering to the Lord,  praying and fasting the Holy Spirit said to the church: Separate unto me Paul and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them." And when they had prayed and fasted things had settled in their collective mind to full agreement: they could say now truly and unanimously: The holy Spirit and we have decided! As in another context the assembled apostles coukd summarize theeir deliberations: "It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things."

Fasting is a deliberate breaking of the normal stranglehold of the body over the spirit. It is not a matter of 'abstaining from food' but rather the 'obtaining of added spiritual strength' , the shutting out the normal noise of metabolism and earthly concerns for the next meal, in favour of hearing better and clearer that wich is in the spiritual realm. There are things that the ear cannot hear over the rumbling of the digesting stomach. The breakthrough of the spirit through the manifold veils of the flesh is accompanied and indeed prepared by the deliberate sacrifice of the good things for the better. A case in point would be the event at the house of Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus. Martha prepares food for the body, busies herself mostly and maybe a tad too much with the physical needs of her celebrated guest. Mary does her bit until she feels that she has done her part and then sits at the feet of Jesus. The words of the Saviour do not belittle the physical but elevates the spiritual: "Martha, Martha, you have taken upon yourself much work, but not all of that is necessary Mary has chosen the better part."

Fasting is a lost portion of the life of the individual and of the church. The return of a need for it will again be able to equip the church with insight and direction, purpose and strength.  The squeeze felt by the church more and more in these latter days will cause us to rediscover the old weapons given us by God in ages past. Fasting is in no way to be done to impress men, but to allow the spirit of God to make dents in the working of our physical being. To allow the spirit in us to accord with the Spirit of God about the life that is in the flesh and in the world but neither of the world or of the flesh.  Fasting does not impress God, nor should it be used to impress men. It will however, if used rightly and circumspectly make deep impressions on the inner man. And when the individual is straightened up the church will again be an army strong enough to withstand the enemy and able to hold fast what God has given to the little flock.

Teddy Donobauer, Doncaster 21 November

PS In all ages of persecution food deprivation is one of the enemy's first methods to bring the saint to the demanded denial of his Lord. Those who have trained themselves by fasting and feeding on the word of God cannot be frightened to betrayal by being deprived of food. They will be happy to turn deprivation into the strength of the armor of God to be reached by deliberate fasting. Wresting the weapon of deprivation out of the hand of the tyrant by fasting may not save the physical life. But it will safeguard the spiritual.

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