I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but occasionally, to “detox” or to regain some health-discipline, I cut out carbs from my diet. That sounds so simple but the reality is sad, inconvenient or even dreadful to a guy who loves his white rice! (Replace with your own comfort food/starch of choice, whether bread, pasta or potatoes).
Part of my motivation is to get leaner, but the greater motivations are the mental and spiritual benefits that come from the discipline of fasting. When you cut anything out of your regular eating habits, whether it’s a category of food (e.g. no Popeye’s chicken for a few days 😜), or the overall amount of food that you eat, you’re suppressing your natural instinct… to reach for the bread on the table; to scoop yourself a big bowl of ice cream at 9pm; or to go back for seconds, even thirds, because it just tastes so good! Food is commonly at the heart of family gathering, celebration, sharing life! So, other than losing weight, what’s the point of NOT enjoying those good things, for a limited time?
Our prayer of confession during the March 19 services admitted that we’re often obsessed with pursuing a life of constant pleasure. Don’t think that pleasure is always salacious and scandalous. It’s most often a little comfort, a little treat, some ‘me’ time, longing for the weekend, idolizing ‘that’ vacation, OR an allergy to anything related to struggle, pain, difficulty, denial of desire. That pattern can numb the soul and deceive us into thinking that the “American way” of onward, upward progress via lives of leisure, comfort and health is the definition of God’s blessing. But during this season of Lent, the traditional motivation for any fasting is to renew one’s focus on personal repentance to prepare for worship from Good Friday into Resurrection Day! Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Lent reminds us that suffering, humiliation, even death, are necessary waypoints on the path to Glory!
So… doesn’t it make sense that something like the pain of hard exercise with lungs burning, legs giving out, brain screaming “Stop!” can actually be good for the soul? God’s Word even tells us to “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4). When you choose to skip a meal, or to cut out comfort foods, or to eliminate sweets for a few weeks… when your mind/body wants what it wants; when you can’t stop thinking about that bowl of ice cream; when you genuinely become sad because you’ve chosen to abstain from something you really want; when you’re quite simply hungry… you acutely remember that you’re a dependent creature. Your physical desires do NOT rule you. Your desires are too strong, even idolatrous; they’re good things that you’ve made far too important. Ideally, you see yourself more clearly in the spiritual mirror and see that what you actually expect from God is immediate satisfaction of fleshly desires, rather than an intimate relationship of trust in your heavenly Father who sometimes wisely and lovingly brings you struggle, need, a season of desert wandering – all to shape the likeness of the Savior in you!
So don’t ignore, avoid or belittle the discipline of lack/hunger/abstinence/fasting. Remember this about Jesus: “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9). And when your stomach’s grumbling or your legs are burning, realize that Jesus suffered far, far worse, “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God!” (Ephesians 3:19).
Your (slightly hungry) fellow servant,
PS – we often encourage GRCers, if your health enables, to fast through the Good Friday service. It’s a day when we remember and mourn the suffering and death of our Savior – a day when it’s appropriate to “lose one’s appetite” in view of the cross.
Peter Wang is the Senior Pastor at GRC.