Fasting, Feasting, what's the big deal?
Feasting is an act of celebration. It is for an occasion. An occasion. Feasting (taking in more than the body needs for ideal health) on a regular basis is a form of gluttony. Gluttony is one of the sins that our society and sadly even many disciples of Jesus often overlook and even blesses (have a second dessert, why not you DESERVE it?).
Gluttony and fasting have one thing in common: Our baser impulses.
The person who practices gluttony is well practiced in letting their baser impulses go unchecked. The person who is obedient to Jesus in fasting enters into the struggle to bring even their baser impulses under subjection to Christ.
How do I do this fasting thing?
Fasting is sometimes the complete withdrawal of all solid food. Usually, however, fasting is the selective withdrawal of foods and/or luxuries in order to induce a state of need and dependence on God. The state of need often exposes brokenness that the Lord wants to heal and usually provides clarity in hearing God’s word about an issue we face or a need we have.
For centuries, disciples of Jesus have observed the season of Lent by fasting from food and observing other self-denying acts. These acts help us become more aware of our true needs. Fasting also exposes things in our hearts that need attention, confession, and repentance. When we deny ourselves the comforts we are used to—whether a full plate of food or some other part of our daily routine (TV, coffee, alcohol, Internet, etc.)— we are more mindful of our great need for God. Also, when we deny our sinful desires, we become more acutely aware of them, for when they are not fed, they tend to surface in more noticeable ways. Most importantly, these practices make us mindful of our need for salvation by Jesus' death on the cross.
What follows is some suggestions for ways to fast. This is not an exhaustive list. Remember that the important thing is to take away distractions, to focus instead on the mercy, salvation, and comforting provision of God.
Make time and space for God, and God will meet you.
Is it Safe?
In a word, yes. BUT FIRST, some important considerations: if you have any concerns about whether dietary fasting (fasting from food) is safe for you, ask your physician, especially if you have a health concern (heart, diabetes). ... Don't fast from food if you are pregnant or nursing; make sure you always get plenty of fluids; and finally, don't make decisions for others (for example, don't modify a child's diet except to help them decide to cut nonessentials like sodas or desserts, etc.).]
Give something up? Who, ME?
Yes. Please. It has become trendy in church circles lately to upend fasting by piously declaring that "I won't take something away, I'll add something." I have found that most people who say that really just can't fathom denying themselves of their creature comforts. This is a spiritual problem. It needs to be met with a spiritual solution: fasting.
No one is suggesting that to be a "Real" disciple of Jesus you quit eating for forty days and forty nights or you're not doing it right. That kind of thinking is just another self-deception that lets us off the hook. The right question is, "what would a challenging fast be for you?"
In Matthew's Gospel Jesus talked about fasting as though it were a given:
"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:16-18).
So, from what will you fast this Lent?
Some suggestions (not an exhaustive list):
Food: Meats, poultry, fats and oils, soft drinks, 2nd helpings, Alcohol, Coffee (try tea or some other low-caffeine drink if you get headaches), dairy (milk and cheese), solid foods (only drink water or juices), Junk foods (chips, snacks, salty food), candy (plus refined sugar in general), and dessert (great for kids—very meaningful!).
Media: TV, movies, computers, email (set an autoresponder), Internet, magazines, radio, the phone (leave your cell phone off when appropriate), handhelds, video games, and other technology.
Imitate Jesus, who took whole days to walk alone in the wilderness fasting and praying .... Give God the time and the room that he wants. God wants to fill you up, wants to bless you. If we are constantly pouring other stuff into our heads or stomachs, there will be little room for God.
On what days should I consider a fast?
Fast on any day but Sunday--the day of the resurrection--which is a feast day even in Lent. On Friday (the day of the crucifixion), many Christians around the world will fast, and it can be meaningful to join them. Try fasting from something on each day, Monday-Saturday. You may choose one day to fast from all foods or other comforts for as much of the day that you can (remembering to drink plenty of fluids). End your weekly fast on Sunday: on this day, enjoy your food and your freedom!
If you've never fasted from food, be gentle on yourself.
What if you have fasted from a meal before and want to do a whole day fast per week?
Great! But don't forget to be gentle on yourself:
When you fast, you will occasionally be faced with a dilemma: someone offers you food that you have eliminated from your diet. Not everyone knows that you are fasting (nor should they). Just about the time that you are beginning to feel good about going without your daily dose of chocolate—or whatever—somebody comes along to offer it to you with all good intentions. What is the proper response?
Let humility be your guide. Resist the temptation to explain that you are fasting and so refuse. If you can politely refuse without hurting the person's feelings, then do so. But if someone has prepared something for you to bless you (a special dessert at the end of a meal, cookies for a visit, or a big steak dinner right after you gave up meat), then perhaps the more humble response is to accept gratefully. After all, the point of Lent is not the elimination of a specific food, it is a sacrifice. Sometimes the greater sacrifice is to give up the idea of a perfect day of fasting for the sake of another person's generosity and thoughtfulness.
16 ... When you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do. They neglect their appearance so that everyone will see that they are fasting. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. 17 When you go without food, wash your face and comb your hair, 18 so that others cannot know that you are fasting, only your Father, who is unseen, will know. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you. (TEV)