About two weeks ago Richard Reeve wrote a contemplative, somewhat haunting piece on fasting and solitude. Absolutely beautiful in it’s lilt.
It’s worth a read.
In his post, Reeve begins by suggesting we can fast and seek solitude to combat indulgence and anxiety–things I agree with him that overwhelm our culture.
However, the essence of Reeve’s post recommends we fast as a way to experience the numinous, the unconscious, new dreams. In other words, we fast to indulge our soul and mind.
Yet, when we fast for personal gain, we’re headed for addiction.
I think Richard is aware of this, because he says that dieting eventually leads to addiction. And I imagine, too, that he might agree one could become an addict of fasting, even solitude, too.
Thus, you end up at square one: Indulgent and anxious.
The Alternative: Here’s How I Understand Fasting
Part of my critique of Richard’s elegant piece is to create a conversation on the meaning of fasting. My understanding of fasting–a biblical one–regards fasting in a much different light. I’d like to hear Richard’s comments. I’d also like to hear yours–no matter how they differ.
1. Biblical fasting is complete abstinence from food. It’s complete abstinence that demonstrates humbling yourself before God in a spiritual struggle.
2. Biblical fasting is spontaneous and voluntary. It depends on the individual and it could be one meal or 40 days.
3. Biblical fasting is something we are expected to do.
4. Biblical fasting is provoked. Something urges us to fast.
It’s this last point I want to expand. And it’s this last point–the stimulus of fasting–that demonstrates where secular fasting and biblical fasting differ. Take a look.
We fast when we are grieving. When my father died, I didn’t eat for a day. The thought of food was distant.
We fast when we fear for our lives. Or someone else’s life. Like our children. This includes both the physical and spiritual realms.
Read Joel 2 to see what I mean.
We fast when we are guilty or sorrowful over sin. When my wife discovered my infidelity, I was broken. And could not eat for a day.
We fast when we are fervently praying, studying the Bible or meditating on verses. So focused on what we’re doing, we wouldn’t dare interrupt our work until God cracks open the box.
We fast when we fear divine judgment. Not only for ourselves, but others. See Jonah 3 for a remarkable illustration of this.
We fast when we have to choose spiritual leaders. Look at Acts 13 to see what the early church did.
We fast when we face critical decisions. This is what the servant in Genesis 24 did when he was hunting down a bride for Isaac.
Paul said in fastings often, in watchings often. Watching for what? God to unpack His will.
As you can see, the common denominator among these provocations for fasting involves times of deep struggle. It involves a tug on the heart so powerful that you are pulled into the presence of God. In this sense fasting is caused by outside forces, not personal desires, and avoids the trap secular fasting lays.
What Do You Think?
Listen: I’m guilty of fasting for selfish reasons. Once I fasted for three days to rest my digestive tract. Another time I did it every Monday for months so I could boast.
But what I’ve learned is this: Authentic biblical fasting is like the ocean’s undertow–it’s powerful and comes out of nowhere. It will overpower you without your prior planning. And if you ignore it, you will grieve.
So tell me: Ever been overwhelmed to fast by protection, condemnation or revelation? Or one of the other stimulus’ above? What’s your personal experience with fasting? Am I missing something? I’d like to hear from you.