Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Praying and Fasting

Lake Michigan sunset (from Holland, Michigan)

One of prayer’s companions is fasting. “Fasting” is a form of self-denial for the sake of more intensive God-reliance. We see this in Psalm 35:13-14.
“Ruthless witnesses come forward;
they question me on things I know nothing about.
12 They repay me evil for good
and leave me like one bereaved.
13 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth
and humbled myself with fasting.
When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
14 I went about mourning
as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief
as though weeping for my mother.”
Old Testament scholar John Goldingay writes that “David’s sadness was not yet fully bloomed until his body – in this case, fasting – was involved."[1] Scot McKnight says these verses assume "that merely to feel sadness is not enough; because we are physical creatures and not just minds and spirits, it would be odd not to express sorrow in (e.g.) abstention from food and then afflicting one’s spirit and one’s self.””[2]
The Judeo-Christian view is that we are embodied beings, not Cartesian spirits inhabiting a body like a driver in a car. What we do with our body affects our spirit.[3]
In fasting we deny demands of our physical body for the sake of praying more intensely. Praying accompanied by fasting is a form of self-denial that focuses our spirit.

[1] In Scot McKnight, Fasting: The Ancient Practices, xiii. McKnight’s book is an excellent summary of the practice of fasting. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010.
[2] Ib.
[3] See, e.g., Dallas Willard’s chapters “Spiritual Life: The Body’s Fulfillment,” and “St. Paul’s Psychology of Redemption,” in The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. New York: HarperCollins, 1988.