Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fasting and the Question of Motive

Flowers, in our backyard

Why would a Jesus-follower add fasting to praying? What is our underlying motive for fasting?

Rochard Foster writes that the very first statement Jesus made about fasting dealt with the question of motive (Matt. 6:16–18). We read:

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

So we're not fasting to look like something to other people, or to appear like we are big-time-serious spiritual saints. Foster writes:

"To use good things to our own ends is always the sign of false religion. How easy it is to take something like fasting and try to use it to get God to do what we want. At times there is such stress upon the blessings and benefits of fasting that we would be tempted to believe that with a little fast we could have the world, including God, eating out of our hands."

Why, then, fast at all if it's not for some personal benefit? It is that it's all about God, not about you. And in living for God yes, you will be a blessed person. It doesn't get any better in life than to give your life for God and for others.

Foster says that "fasting must forever center on God." Therefore iIt must be God-initiated and God-ordained."Scot McKnight puts it this way: authentic fasting is responsive and not instrumental; i.e., fasting is not some tool to get something from God or other people. It arises out of the abiding Jesus-relationship.

Foster, once more: "Like the prophetess Anna, we need to be “worshiping with fasting” (Luke 2:37). Every other purpose must be subservient to God. Like that apostolic band at Antioch, “fasting” and “worshiping the Lord” must be said in the same breath (Acts 13:2). Charles Spurgeon writes, “Our seasons of fasting and prayer at the Tabernacle have been high days indeed; never has Heaven’s gate stood wider; never have our hearts been nearer the central Glory.”

(All quotes from Richard Foster, Celebration Of Discipline - 25th Anniversary, pp. 54-55)