We’ve moved into the second set of essays in The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God—these essays are all about fasting. I started this section with some deflation, concerned we’ve moved from celebration to mourning in regard to food.
This week’s essays brought me back to the purpose of fasting—which isn’t to cease the celebration but to enhance it. I got there by looking again at one of the Lord’s 40-day fasts—the one recorded in Matthew 4. (I first wrote about this passage here.) Here’s the gist of it for context:
Jesus has fasted for 40-days, becoming hungry. That’s when the tempter strolled in and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” To that, Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’ ”
Certainly Jesus was ravenous after His lengthy fast, so the tempter’s suggestion to turn the rocks at His feet into bread had to be incredibly enticing. But the Lord’s response tells the tempter—and us—that He depends on God for sustenance, not on the physical filling of bread.
And don’t miss the underlying message the enemy sent—he also whispered doubt as to the Lord’s identity as God’s Son. (Nothing like kicking someone while He is down.)
In the midst of extreme hunger, it could have been so easy for Jesus to turn stones to bread to satisfy His stomach and to silence the enemy’s taunt. But He didn’t. Something else was more desirable than food in this battle.
Hunger is a funny thing. Our hunger wires can get crossed inside us, and we mistake stomach hunger for soul hunger. The enemy whispers some taunt—you have too much to do, you can’t handle all this stress, your marriage is hopeless—and that taunt awakens an ache in the soul. Although the soul is hungry, we are so disconnected from ourselves that we associate the pain with physical hunger and feed our stomachs when we should be feeding truth to the soul.
Fasting is a way to uncross our hunger wires and reacquaint us with our soul’s hunger for God.
That’s what Jesus knew—the hunger of His being to be connected to the Father and live in Truth was the most important hunger to feed.
Fasting helps us get our hungers in order so we are free to celebrate what truly matters.
Fasting as a regular discipline helps us regularly detach from the delights of the world—food, yes, but also vices and self-soothers such as shopping and Facebook and media and more—so that we can distinguish between the hungers that have gotten tangled up within us.
The authors whose essays we read for this week’s readings all admitted to stumbling about with fasting. How I could relate! My feeble attempts have been wrought with improper motives and grumblings and justified early dismissals.
But I like what Caroline Langston said in her essay, “The Joy of the Fast”: “Without the fast, the feast is not the same.”1
Fasting brings clarity to our eating that we wouldn’t enjoy otherwise. And that’s how fasting can be celebrated—for the work it does in us.
Read more posts from this week’s discussion on The Spirit of Food.
1. The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields, (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010), 178.