In our culture, particularly during Lent, we see people fasting from social media or from various unhealthy vices. Someone might say that they are “giving up” soft drinks or fast food. Biblically speaking, fasting was abstaining from food for a period of time, which would lead to corresponding hunger pains.
Physical hunger for food is a tangible, measurable experience that points to other hungers we have as humans: hunger to be in relationship with one another, hunger to know God and to be known by him.
Our physical hunger also reveals the frivolous things that we consume and we let consume us. It demonstrates how unsatisfactory these things truly are. Hunger also confronts us with our mortality, humanity, vulnerability, and our dependence on something outside of ourselves. It exposes the perverted cravings that we have: hunger to be seen and glorified by men, hunger to be elevated in status by manipulating and suppressing others. Hunger shows us how we abuse good gifts from God by failing to enjoy them in moderation and in their proper context.
Fasting purges us of the appetite for these things, like a detox. If you eat the same unhealthy things everyday, not only will you form a habit, but your body will adapt itself to process those foods. When you introduce a variation to the habit, your body has forgotten how to digest the healthy foods and the good stuff will be both unpalatable and indigestible. Fasting, abstaining from the unhealthy stuff, helps reset and restore our spiritual appetites and our spiritual digestive system.
Fasting reveals what we really need as well as how much and how often we need it. It teaches us what we ought to say “yes” to in order to be truly satisfied.
If we can say “no” to food and endure through the pain and suffering of hunger, then we can say “no” elsewhere. When we say “no” to being filled with pride, we can be satisfied in being a son or daughter of God. When we fill ourselves with God’s word, hiding it in our hearts, we can say “no” to sinful temptations. When we say “no” to trying to earn grace by building our moral resume we can say “yes” to resting in Christ sufficient atonement.
Ultimately, fasting reminds us that we do not live on bread alone. We can fill ourselves with all manner of physical indulgences. And many of these things are good, meant for our delight and enjoyment. However, they are not an end in and of themselves but a means to an end…to glorify God and enjoy him forever. When we delight in God our appetites will grow to know him and to be satisfied in him. We will begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness and we will be filled. We will trust in the daily provision from our Father, provision for today and tomorrow. We will store up for ourselves treasure in heaven that will not fade like breakfast before lunch.
Saying “no” to food is just the start.