As I thought that brief intermission from the series has allowed me to feel refreshed addressing this important issue of fasting. So where we’ve been is the ignorant start that led to an awareness of why fasting is so important. Nothing happens out of context so relationships have played a key role in growing in this area. There are significant bonuses found in the hugely underrated spiritual discipline. The last stop in this journey is a most remarkable episode that should have had lasting implications for me.
Indeed I would love to be able to tell you that from there I grew in stature and favour with God and with man as my spiritual devotion went from strength to strength in such areas. Sadly that would be lying. Events took a turn for the worst near the end of 2004 and 2005 was a rough year of sorting and sifting personally and corporately. Near the end of that year, though, as the light became a bit more evident fasting again became a key tool in helping me get my bearings on what it all meant.
I remember during the end of year festivities a group of us as men spent a day fasting at a friend’s house. It was the first time I remember fasting since the year before. My brother was visiting me in Stoke at the time and he was able to join us as we reflected again on the nature of fasting and it was so humbling to be able to learn things about fasting that put a lot of the mess of my life at that time into perspective. It was literally a time of humbling recognising that fasting is about seeing me for who I am in the light of an awesome, holy, omni-you-name-it God.
It regularly comes to remind me that the focus should be on Him to inform everything else in life. Downfalls occur when that focus has shifted, which is easy to do because that is the fallen nature of man – hence idolatry. It was a very sobering time of prayer and reflection in conversation. I remember David’s contribution in that session about the sheer physical insignificance of the human in the light of God being something that should humble us. We are the great Big Cheese (especially seeing as though I hate cheese).
The one reason why they call acts like fasting a spiritual discipline is because it is such a useful tool to remain focussed on the whole point of being a disciple. The seeds to my downfall at the end of 2004 were familiar ones of being busy.
I was even reflecting near the beginning of the week the episode of Jesus with Mary and Martha. The scene is sadly too familiar in Christendom and is somewhat reinforced by the Protestant ethic. Here is Martha, noticing that the Master is in the house and so will need serving. She is toiling away ensuring things are sorted, but as she labours alone she grows somewhat frustrated that her sister is sitting at Jesus’ feet taking in what He’s saying. Finally fed up she asks the Rabbi to instruct her sister to lend a helping hand. Jesus, however, rather than commending Martha on her practical helps and works, actually suggests that Mary’s option was the wiser.
Life and especially church life can keep you wrapped up in a routine of going from service to service and supporting one thing and another. It feels like it is one activity blending into another and before you know it you’re caught up in the fatal rat-race of keeping active because life is in the activity. You can more than rationally explain works-based faith on this reading.
Now I don’t want to dismiss the importance of actually doing something. By no means am I promoting a comatose spirituality full of wistful contemplating and ‘breathing in’ more of God. The danger however is to be defined by the things we do, rather than being defined by relationship – child of God and joint-heirs with Christ. Where fasting is a wonderful reminder of that simplicity is like Mary, fasting says I am desperate to sit at the feet of Jesus and hear what He has to say to me. So desperate am I for seeking God that all else matters not even that which I’ve claimed to be fundamental like food and drink. This does not matter as I afflict the body to seek out the Saviour.
In the madness of a busy life we can lose sight of that and fasting as a disciplined exercised properly arrests that mentality. It shifts the focus from what I do what He has done and what He continues to do. Fasting arrests my hyperactivity and leaves me more in awe of what God has said and has to say on my current situation. With senses so attuned to how His voice speaks and the content in it – whether in the Word of God or through a casual conversation, or wherever else – we end up with a better perspective of who we are and who He is and like Mary will have invested in the better portion.
The Christian journey is such, though, that even in the depths of despair and hopelessness as He helps you pick up the pieces of your broken shattered life it in itself will be a cause for rejoicing just to consider that amazing love and compassion that would allow Him to use experiences like this to hunger for Him more. It comes across counter-intuitive, but as events would show, sometimes the most painful of times is exactly what needs to happen to draw us closer to Him even in fasting and prayer.
For His Name's Sake