"When you fast . . .”—Matthew 6:16 (NIV)
Have you ever been hangry? For those unfamiliar with this term, hangry, which is now officially in the dictionary, is defined as a person becoming “bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.” I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. When we’re babies, we cry when we’re hungry, when we’re kids we throw tantrums and become difficult, even as adults, hunger often causes us to lose our ever-loving minds. We become cranky, irrational, and easily annoyed. There’s even a great series of Snickers commercials about how “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”
Sadly, I think we can all admit that most of the time we spend a lot more time and energy concerning ourselves with satiating our physical hunger while often starving our spiritual hunger. We plan our lives and days around the meals we’re going to eat and the restaurants we’re going to hit up; we even talk about different food while eating meals (or is it just me that does that?). And yet, the idea of consuming the bread of life through the Word and drinking in the presence of God in prayer is often either an afterthought, an inconvenience, or simply an item on a checklist we struggle to cross off. And then we wonder why so many people in the “developed” world, including believers, walk around with full bellies but starving souls.
This is why Jesus gave us the practice of fasting not as an “if” but as a “when.” It’s not a tool we have in our belt for a “just in case” or a worst-case scenario, but a discipline we’re expected to feast on regularly. Now, I know my use of feasting in connection to fasting may seem oxymoronic, but that really just depends on the way you understand the reason and results of fasting. You see, fasting is the practice of focusing on feeding our spirits and souls with the only substance that truly satisfies . . . more of God. I try to think of fasting like going to my favorite Brazilian steakhouse and going all in on some amazing cuts of steak, experiencing every bite, really savoring the flavor, and walking away with this indescribable satisfaction. But in this case, it’s not just a satisfaction that lasts until my next meal, for in fasting we can experience breakthrough that changes our lives in profound ways.
In fasting, we forsake physical food for the purpose of intently and focusing our attention, our feelings, our desires, our hopes, and our needs towards God in prayer. There is this undeniable and truly powerful link between fasting and prayer; they walk hand-in-hand together. John Piper once called fasting “the hungry handmaiden of prayer” that reveals and remedies. “She reveals food’s mastery over us—or television or computers or whatever we submit to again and again to conceal the weakness of our hunger for God. And she remedies by intensifying the earnestness of our prayer and saying with our whole body what prayer says with the heart: I long to be satisfied in God alone.”
Friends, make fasting a regular part of your prayer routine. Not simply because it’s a command from Jesus (though that is ALWAYS enough of a reason to do anything) but also because of the reason it’s a command . . . because in fasting, we position our spirits to enjoy the bread of life, walk in the fruit of the Spirit, and experience the Father’s love and affections in greater measure. Start small . . . start with one meal! Skip breakfast or lunch and spend that time in prayer and the Word, in silence before the Father. Replace your nightly viewing of whatever show you’re binging on Netflix and instead seek to satisfy your spirit in the One who is supremely and wholly satisfactory. Plan your fast like you plan your meals. I promise that the filling you’ll get from these moments will be way better than the best meal you’ve ever had.
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