I confess up front that I am not a theologian. I have been around the block a time or two before but I learn best by watching and I've been blessed to hang out with some folks who have lived their faith and prayers in real and specific ways. For the last several months, God has been laying some things on my heart; one of them is going back to the basics of the faith.
With the approach of the holy season of Lent coming up in just a few days, fasting is a basic Christian belief that is rarely spoken of. Lent is one of the seasons of the church year, celebrated for centuries. Lent is the period of time prior to Easter when Christians traditionally remember the sacrifices that Christ made as a human on earth and specifically when he spent 40 days in the wilderness alone prior to His earthly ministry. Although He was tempted, Jesus victoriously answered Satan each time through use of scripture and prayer. Following the three temptations in the wilderness, Satan is not recorded again addressing Jesus directly in the Bible. Multiple times indirectly, like a bully who "snipes" at a would-be victim just to aggravate them.
Fasting is almost never addressed without prayer, yet nearly everyone will mention prayer: "I'll pray for you!" you may wave as you walk away from your friend who is facing surgery; To the co-worker in chemo you might say, "You are on our prayer list at church". And as we pray, nearly everyone I know falls into the just-short-of-mindless supplications of "God, please bless ______ " which might be anything from spaghetti to snowy-headed Sister Susie at church with bad breath. "Lord, please help me with ___" could be completed with anything and everything from a chemistry test to chronic fatigue to landing a new job. I think you see my point: prayers that cover the bases but accomplish little else ..... and have no real expectation whatsoever of God actually answering. Ouch. Yes, I'm admitting that I'm often in the same boat. While I'm loading up on ammuntition, let me fire one more round in this game of spiritual russian roulette: we all pray for God to bless America and fret that our country is going to hell in a handbasket. Christians are told to "get out and vote" but how many do the preparation we SHOULD do prior to an election? I'm talking about prayer, repentance and fasting. I'm not talking about posting some sweet Christian meme to your social media.
The traditional view of fasting is giving up food and utilizing the time we would have spent eating instead on praying: essentially it boils down to feeding the spirit instead of the body. Rather than focusing on where to eat your next meal, you choose to focus on Jesus, the Bread of Life. Who says everything always has to be the same? God created millions of us, all with different fingerprints, DNA and personalities....so why do we have to fast identically? The textbook definition for fasting would be giving up of food and/or drink to show particular devotion to God. The Old Testament shows several examples whether it is Jehoshophat's call for the citizens of Judah in Chronicles or the citizen of Nineveh with weeping and repentance after old Jonah finally showed up to begrudgingly inform them of their sins.
To me, what fasting says about/from us to the Lord is pretty straight forward and simple: "God, I'm ready to get down to business. I'm messed up. I need to do the little I can make things right. To show you that I how serious I am about changing, I plan to do without ______ to remind me that I am nothing without You." It could be food. You could also fill it in with anything from chocolate to bread or soft drinks (hmmmmm, there is a distinct food/beverage theme here) to more recently I gave up Facebook for several days---I don't think you'll find that form of a fast in either the Old or New Testament. But everytime I thought about checking facebook on my smart phone or computer, I caught myself, stopped and refocused on God. It made me realize that I spend entirely too much time on social media, for sure!
If you want to take the time to study fasting on your own and the record of it in the Bible, I think you'll be struck by one more hallmark that most Christians fail to consider: it is most often done in coordination with other people. Recently I had a big situation happen that I had made an extraordinarily large mess out of. For a length of time I poured out to God by myself with great passion and even more groveling, asking for Him to change me and show me how to make things right if possible. But I really struggled over whether to ask two or three friends to join me in prayer. Part of this struggle was admitting that I was human -- and to blame for at least part for the mess; the other was simply the deception of the evil one whispering in my ear, "you should be able to handle this all by yourself!".
The Lord and I haven't decided what I should give up this year for Lent--- the annual fast that many Christians choose to participate in together. Some give up things like I've already mentioned. Others might add an activity as a form of discipline and desire to become more like Christ. The main goal of fasting is pretty simple: ask God to take an ordinary person like you or me and help us focus on the Creator of the entire universe.....who created us and loves each of us as if there were only one of us. Friends, there are a plethora of alarms all around us, waking us, begging us to pray. While there is nothing noteworthy about any single person amongst us, there is definitely potential. Remember a rag-tag group of people who went into hiding to devote themselves to continuous prayer in an upper room (Acts 1). What happened as a result of their getting serious with God?
It literally changed. the. world.