Fasting & Controlling Our Life
And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes. [Daniel 9:3]
We are not left untested when we simply make an intellectual declaration of faith. A profound effort is still required of us to carry into practice the sincerity of our belief. Faith is not complete without manifested works.
Do people think that they will be left alone on saying, “We believe,” and not be tried? We did test those before them, and God will certainly know those who are true from those who are false. [Quran 29:2-3]
Fasting and Material Reality
How does abstinence help this process? First, abstinence helps us focus on the reality of God.
Fasting is valuable in our initial effort to connect to the Ultimate Reality and to learn just what the purpose of existence is. It does so by numbing our body’s physical involvements and isolating our soul in spiritual matters, thus requiring our intellect to focus on existence independent of tangible reality.
Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God. [Andrew Murray].
Fasting facilitates our spiritual thought process by freeing it from competing physical distractions. Depending on the degree of abstention, fasting reduces the body digestive, sexual, muscular and even mental activities. With the grace of Almighty God, we can then better direct our course for successful passage through this physical life.
Fasting, if we conceive of it truly, must not . . . be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting. [Martyn Lloyd-Jones].
Fasting Is Good
We are asked to fast in every major religion. It is an act of obedience to the word of God. Having decided to please God, we are happy to know, with confidence, that we are pleasing our Creator by fasting — that we are doing His will.
Psychologically, fasting represents a positive deed. When we undertake a fast – even when our motives are not religious – we have a degree of certainty that we are doing something good for ourselves.
While some fear or reluctance may accompany the initial period of fasting, there is never a sense of guilt, remorse or shame when initiating a fast. Fasting is inherently a “good” thing to do.
Do you have a hunger for God? If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. If we are full of what the world offers, then perhaps a fast might express, or even increase, our soul’s appetite for God. Between the dangers of self-denial and self-indulgence is the path of pleasant pain called fasting. [John Piper, A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer].
Old Age Simulation
When we fast, we approach a dimension that in some ways resembles the condition of the elderly. Devoid of our normal physical energy, we recognize the boundaries of our vitality and strength.
In addition, our preoccupation with satisfying our material desires and appetites wanes. The vanity produced by physical strength disappears. The schemes and contrivances of mundane thoughts evaporate into their inconsequential reality.
How foolish and faithless of heart are those who are so engrossed in earthly things as to relish nothing but what is carnal! Miserable men indeed, for in the end they will see to their sorrow how cheap and worthless was the thing they loved. [Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ].
When we fast, we identify then challenge transient, unproductive thoughts. Our perspective of events, ideas and emotions shifts dramatically bringing more positive options in view.
After we complete the fast, our resolutions to amend, reform and improve our lifestyle are given a prominent stage on which to perform. With resumption of our mundane activities, our convictions and our resolutions are put to the test.
And therefore a man will never be able to gain perfect purity, if he hopes to secure it by means of abstinence alone, i.e., bodily fasting, unless he knows that he ought to practise it for this reason that when the flesh is brought low by means of fasting, he may with greater ease enter the lists against other faults, as the flesh has not been habituated to gluttony and surfeiting. [Conferences of John Cassian, Ch. XXVI].
Who returns from visiting old age with a boastful heart? Who is not altered by a personal glance into decrepitude? Who can resume their frivolous endeavors with the same zest after recognizing their frail mortality?
Thus, fasting offers a brief glimpse into the depths of eternity. It helps us reframe our perspective on life and keeps us from wallowing in the shallows of daily events?
… to fast is best for you, if you only knew. [Quran 2:184]