I preached a sermon (tried to, at least) on Fasting yesterday at pfmchurch. Using Scot McKnight’s excellent book Fasting as a guide, I pointed out four kinds of fasting:
Water Fast: That’s where you drink water but eat no food.
Juice Fast: That’s where you replace water with juice. Still no food, though.
Partial Fast: i.e. the Daniel Fast — cutting out certain foods (like chocolate, caffeine, red meat) but still eating other foods. See abstaining, below.
Total Fast: No food, no water. Probably not a good place to start. Best to check with the Doc.
Fasting is not eating, whereas, say, cutting out Facebook or giving up on sweets is called abstaining. McKnight suggests – and I think I agree – that biblical examples of fasting are simply predetermined times of not eating any food, usually as a response to something that causes mourning. Fasting helps our body be in sync with our soul/spirit. How? Most of us have experienced events in our lives that have totally killed our appetites. The loss of a loved one, sadness, stress at work — all of these are times where eating food just seems out of place. So it can and should be in our spiritual lives. Sin is so destructive… God’s guidance is the only way to know what to do next… divine healing is the only viable option… that it seems proper to say “I’m in mourning. I can’t eat at a time like this.”
I’ll give you a real life example. Emily and I were hungry and on our way to lunch when all the sudden the ol’ Red and Blue lights started a’flashin. “Wow,” I exclaimed, as I signaled to get off the road and into the parking lot. “I’m being pulled over. I wonder why?” Turns out my plates didn’t match up with the car we were driving, which makes sense since we just transferred them to my new wheels on Friday afternoon. I thanked the Officer for the work he does and we went on our merry way to lunch. As you can imagine, when I was in the process of getting pulled over, the last thing on my mind was Hummus. My body was in sync with what was happening. In a way, that’s what fasting — and other physical practices of Spiritual Formation — does. By the way, I basically just confessed that I’m not fasting today.
When we realize the gravity of sin, the dependence on God that we have (or need to realize), and the hurt in the world that needs God’s healing, we are wise to do something tangible like, say, not eat for a predetermined time. We don’t fast to get God to do something. That’s called manipulation and it doesn’t work, anyway. Why fast? Because it’s a fitting response to what God is already trying to stir in our lives. Besides, when we put our appetites in check, something mystical happens. Our spiritual senses become heightened. Our thinking changes. Our other appetites are chilled out. It’s… it’s like nothing else. Whether or not God does what we’re hoping for during a fast doesn’t matter nearly as much as the amount of spiritual formation that happens when we say, with our lives as testimony, that the food we need isn’t physical… it’s spiritual, and it only comes from Him.