Richard Foster writes of fasting that it reveals what controls us. In my experience this is true, as more often than not a full day of fasting reveals my addiction to caffeine in the form of a headache that won’t quit. Fasting has long been a part of Lenten experience with many of the Roman Catholic tradition fasting from meat on Fridays or some with great fervor attempting to fast from solid food the entire 40 days of Lent. If that sounds crazy to us we might consider that the Spirit beckoned Jesus out into the wilderness to fast for forty days, and added into that mix a time of great testing by the Accuser. It is this experience of Jesus that Lent seeks to remind us of.
Fasting seems like harsh asceticism in our culture of instant gratification. What controls us however is not limited to food. I have experienced great times of fasting from media such as the news or social media such as FaceBook. At its core, the idea behind fasting is that the sacrifice and discomfort of the experience would push us to prayer, to remember our connection to God and to hunger for more of it.
Fasting reveals the places within us which remain unsurrendered; the places where too much comfort for too long has actually spoiled us a bit. It is all too easy in our perpetual comforts to avoid the kind of situation we would ever just simply and profoundly put our trust in God. In some ways it is easier to trust in God when we have a freezer full of food… or a 401k, or at least it seems that way. Yet it is also true that because of these things we can also be forgetful that we need God. We tend to avoid the sorts of experiences that remind us of our limitations and our humanness. We avoid the things that remind us of our utter need for God.
At times God calls us to wake up from this numbness, to see the injustice and oppression around us. Our numbness can easily lead us to hypocrisy. At times fasting can be merely an outward and empty thing. Isaiah brought a hard message to God’s people as they outwardly “performed” the requirements of fasting, yet their hearts were tone deaf to God’s love and heart for justice. Their fasting was not about a connection with God, and was so frighteningly disconnected they might break from this ritual and go right back to violently oppressing those they considered their inferiors.
Instructions for Fasting:
Fast one meal this day of your choice. Let your emptiness or even boredom be reasons to connect with rather than disconnect with God. During the time you would normally be eating the meal read Isaiah chapters 56-58, then watch the video, and finally reflect on the quotes from John Woolman the noted Quaker abolitionist.
It is often in prayer that we become untethered from the things that control us and become re-tethered to God. John Woolman wrote of this connection as a kind of holy habitation:
The Precious Habitation
“The place of prayer is a precious habitation, for I now saw that the prayers of the saints were precious incense. And a trumpet was given me that I might sound forth this language that the children might hear it and be invited to gather to this precious habitation, where the prayers of the saints, as precious incense, arise before the throne of God and the Lamb. I saw this habitation to be safe, to be inwardly quiet when there were great stirring and commotions in the world.
Prayer at this day in pure resignation is a precious place. The trumpet is sounded; the call goes forth to the church that she gather to the place of pure inward prayer, and her habitation is safe”
In Woolman’s way of seeing the world it was a way of seeing where God was moving, and not one disconnected with the cries of injustice in his world (for more on Woolman click here). It is just as easy in our time to be so disconnected by our affluence and our desire for wealth and status that we are blinded and deafened to the yokes these behaviors are tied to.
Break the Yoke of Oppression
“I was renewedly confirmed in my mind that the Lord (whose tender mercies are over all his works, and those ear is open to the cries and groans of the oppressed) is graciously moving in the hearts of people to draw them off from the desire of wealth and to bring them into such an humble, lowly way of living that they may see their way clearly to repair to the standard of true righteousness, and may not only break the yoke of oppression, but may know him to be their strength and support in times of outward affliction”