Just after he is baptised, and before he then goes off and starts doing all the incredible stuff that he does, Jesus is swept out into the desert by the Holy Spirit for 40 days of fasting. You can have a read of it in Matthew 3-4.
Go on, go have a little read. Is there any bit that stands out for you?
The bit that caught my attention was that Jesus did 40 DAYS OF FASTING!!!
40 days! What?!
How the does that work?
This week, I did a fast. I’m not boasting there, I promise. The reality is that it wasn’t for very long. Just for a day. In fact, not even a full day – just breakfast and lunch. It was honestly hard missing breakfast and then much easier to subsequently skip lunch. But the evening I was REALLY hungry.
We had fish fingers, chips and peas which was well nice.
Anyway, I digress.
40 days is an incredibly long time, so it seems a high bench mark. But, even if like me you only do a couple of meals, fasting is basically a really good thing to do. At least that’s what the Bible seems to tell us and experience confirms.
Fasting is all over the Bible – Elijah and Moses both fasted for 40 days too (impressive); Esther called the whole Jewish people to fast with her when they were going to be executed; Daniel did a 3-week fruit and veg fast. The disciples and early church fasted loads.
Loads of people, loads of fasting, lots of passages.
But there is one specific one, Matthew 6, where Jesus talks about fasting, in the context of three vital things:
1) Giving to the poor.
2) Praying to the Father (this is the bit where we get the Lord’s Prayer)
Jesus put these three things together…Yet, I don’t know how many of us would assume that fasting is right up there with generosity and praying.
It’s right there, I promise, go have a read…What stands out for you?
For me, there is one key word, right at the start of each section. It’s a simple word:
Jesus assumes that we will fast; this is a challenge to do it. When you fast, don’t look all grumpy, but make it so that no one knows you’re fasting…God sees you doing it and that’s what matters.
So what’s the purpose then? Giving, I get. Prayer, I get. But why deny myself food?
Well, fasting it seems, just like all the other disciplines, is about putting yourself before God, making yourself available and saying that He is more important than anything else, food in this case.
Yep, I was hungry. Yep, it gave me a bit of a headache. Yep, when I played football it was a bit harder.
But, yes, it helped me focus on God more. Yes, each hunger-pang was a reminder to pray. Yes, I learnt a bit more about self-control. And, most importantly yes, it brought me a little bit closer to Jesus.
I also realised that fasting food is really important. It’s great to fast Facebook or chocolate or any other thing that seems to have control over us – getting that control back is really important. But fasting from food is about saying to God “you are my source”.
Food is the thing that, alongside water and air, we literally cannot live without. You can probably go a little while, but you will eventually suffer without food. That’s just what happens. Therefore, fasting from food is about saying to God that He is your source of life, more important than any other source.
Fasting food says that Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the only food that is enough; in denying ourselves physical food, we choose Him and spiritual food.
I’m aiming that it will become a regular discipline, a regular part of the rhythm of life. A regular fast that puts me in a position to deny myself, re-gain control and make space for God to fill my spiritual hunger.
So, who’s up for it?