Fasting (Spiritual Disciplines Part 4)

You're not you when you're hungry. In 2010, Snickers began running a series of hilarious ads featuring notoriously grumpy celebrities like Betty White, Joe Pesci, Roseanne Barr, and Willem Dafoe in which the characters’ irritable disposition is remedied by eating a Snickers bar. In my house, we refer to this cantankerous mood as being “hangry,” a less than virtuous tendency that characterizes me more often than I’d like to admit, and also one that my children have apparently inherited.

What is it about the pangs of first world “hunger” that can cause us to behave in uncharacteristically unbecoming behavior? And can we use this tendency to reorient our desires toward the one who really satisfies us? The Bible actually prescribes the intentional short-term self-deprivation of food as an edifying spiritual discipline known as 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." 

-Matthew 6:17–18 (ESV)

Notice Jesus says “when you fast,” presuming this is a spiritual discipline believers are expected to do. But why? Well, in the same passage, Jesus tells us that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” showing an inexplicable link between fasting and finding our satisfaction in God. John Piper echoes this purpose:

“When you give a gift to Christ like [fasting], it's a way of saying, ‘The joy that I pursue is not the hope of getting rich with things from you...By giving to you what you do not need, and what I might enjoy, I am saying more earnestly and more authentically, 'You are my treasure, not these things.’’”

Jesus is the provider of all we need, and the satisfier of the longings of our souls. It can take a while to learn this, and honestly I’m still learning it. In 2015, when Lindsey and I were considering her quitting her full-time job as a teacher to stay home to teach our kids, I was really anxious about such a huge household pay cut. So I fasted and prayed, and God led me to Matthew 6 where Jesus says “look at the they worry about what they will eat? Look at the they worry about what they will wear?” “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Through fasting and prayer, we remembered that God’s provision is good, and it is enough. As I have come to realize the sufficiency of God’s provision, my prayers have changed from “Give us this day our daily bread” to “God I know your provision is good and timely and perfect, so help me to trust in your provision, to believe that your grace is new every morning, and to have absolute faith that I can trust your provision.”

Fasting is meant to be a reorientation of our hungers that points us towards the kinds of desires that actually need satisfying. Ironically, fasting often feels more like slowing, because it gives us time to reflect upon and change our perspective on what we think we need. Something about the hungry feeling of temporarily low blood sugar can point us to the spiritual reality of being blood-bought by Christ, the only one who grants absolutely every provision.

This series draws from Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder.