“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison, but apple pie.” – John Piper
This week, during the morning service we are talking about ‘Kingdom Spirituality’ or piety. In chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus points us God-ward. He shows us that the practices of giving, prayer and fasting are not about impressing others but about drawing near to our loving and compassionate Father. We go into far more detail in the sermon. However, I thought it would be beneficial to provide an excerpt from Richard Foster’s book, ‘Celebration of Discipline’. In his chapter on fasting, he talks about some of the practical aspects because it is so alien to our culture. If you have health issues, get medical advice before attempting a fast. Here is Richard’s advice:
“As with all the Disciplines, a progression should be observed; it is wise to learn to walk well before we try to run. Begin with a partial fast of twenty-four hours’ duration; many have found lunch to lunch to be the best time. This means that you would not eat two meals. Fresh fruit juices are excellent to drink during the fast. Attempt this once a week for several weeks. In the beginning you will be fascinated with the physical aspects of your experience, but the most important thing to monitor is the inner attitude of the heart. Outwardly you will be performing the regular duties of your day, but inwardly you will be in prayer and adoration, song, and worship. In a new way, cause every task of the day to be a sacred ministry to the Lord. However mundane your duties, for you they are a sacrament. Cultivate a ‘gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.’ Break your fast with a light meal of fresh fruits and vegetables and a good deal of inner rejoicing. After two or three weeks you are prepared to attempt a normal fast of twenty-four hours. Drink only water but use healthy amounts of it. Many feel distilled water is best. If the taste of water bothers you, add one teaspoon of lemon juice. You will probably feel some hunger pangs or discomfort before the time is up. That is not real hunger; your stomach has been trained through years of conditioning to give signals of hunger at certain hours. In many ways the stomach is like a spoiled child, and a spoiled child does not need indulgence, but needs discipline. Martin Luther says ‘. . . the flesh was wont to grumble dreadfully.’ You must not give in to this ‘grumbling.’ Ignore the signals, or even tell your ‘spoiled child’ to calm down, and in a brief time the hunger pangs will pass. If not, sip another glass of water and the stomach will be satisfied. You are to be the master of your stomach, not its slave. If family obligations permit it, devote the time you would normally use eating to meditation and prayer. It should go without saying that you should follow Jesus’ counsel to refrain from calling attention to what you are doing. The only ones who should know you are fasting are those who have to know. If you call attention to your fasting, people will be impressed and, as Jesus said, that will be your reward. You, however, are fasting for far greater and deeper rewards. The following was written by an individual who, as an experiment, had committed himself to fast once a week for two years. Notice the progression from the superficial aspects of fasting toward the deeper rewards.
‘1. I felt it a great accomplishment to go a whole day without food. Congratulated myself on the fact that I found it so easy . . .
2. Began to see that the above was hardly the goal of fasting. Was helped in this by beginning to feel hunger . . .
3. Began to relate the food fast to other areas of my life where I was more compulsive . . . I did not have to have a seat on the bus to be contented, or to be cool in the summer and warm when it was cold.
4. . . . Reflected more on Christ’s suffering and the suffering of those who are hungry and have hungry babies . . .
5. Six months after beginning the fast discipline, I began to see why a two-year period has been suggested. The experience changes along the way. Hunger on fast days became acute, and the temptation to eat stronger. For the first time I was using the day to find God’s will for my life. Began to think about what it meant to surrender one’s life.
6. I now know that prayer and fasting must be intricately bound together. There is no other way, and yet that way is not yet combined in me.’”
I’m excited to see where God leads us as a church as we embrace the lifestyle Jesus taught.