“It’s okay to be a Christian, just don’t let it change your life!” I’ve heard this statement, literally, a few times over the years. It’s a common sentiment in our mostly secular society. It’s like saying, “Don’t become a fanatic!” Sadly, there are too many Christian fanatics out there (I use the word Christian here loosely…God is the judge), giving Christianity a bad name; the Baptist minister who recently burned the Koran, leading to American deaths in the Middle East, for one. Quacks too, like the Christian radio talk show host who is predicting the end of the world on May 21, 2011 (ignoring Jesus’ proclamation that “no man knows the day or the hour”). From these fanatics and quacks, the world gets the wrong impression of what it means to be a genuine follower of Jesus.
So what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? There are many appropriate answers to this, but perhaps the simplest explanation is found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). In His famous sermon, Jesus put flesh on the 10 Commandments, describing more fully what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. From it we also find Jesus explaining three specific religious or spiritual acts, which He expected his followers to regularly perform.
“When you pray….” “When you give alms….” “When you fast….” Not if…when.
Churches today expect, and often teach people how to pray. Giving to the church is also expected, and recognizing the needy in our midst, encouraged. But unless you’re learning about ‘ancient’ spiritual disciplines, you will likely never hear the word fasting in Christian circles. It has dropped off the radar.
Donald S. Whitney, in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, says, “Christians in a gluttonous, denial-less, self-indulgent society may struggle to accept and to begin the practice of fasting. Few Disciplines go so radically against the flesh and the mainstream of culture as this one. But we cannot overlook its biblical significance.”
I believe neglecting to fast has been devastating to the Church, and to Christians individually. But I have no right to criticize, since I have not practiced fasting as regularly as I believe I ought. But I will say this, adamantly: NO practice has raised my awareness of my need for God, and enables me to model godliness as mandated by Scripture (“Without holiness, no one will see the Lord,” Hebrews 12:14, among many other similar NT passages), as the discipline of fasting.
Fasting is not just the denial of food for a time…it is abstaining from food for a time, and for a purpose. Otherwise you might as well be crash-dieting, with no spiritual benefit. Whitney’s book, as well as books by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, go into detail about the many types of fasts and how each is exhibited in the Bible. Biblical fasts always involved food, sometimes water too, but people have fasted from activities and things, also. While I have found some value to fasting from things or activities (such as learning I CAN live without TV), for the greatest spiritual value, I have found it best to follow the Biblical example of abstaining from food.
Speaking of which, it’s time to go and fix dinner! We live in a real world, and it is in this real world that the practices we chose to follow have to make sense. Read on, and hopefully you will find that fasting makes sense for you, too.