By Brandon Lemons
This is part two of a three-part series on fasting. Fasting might be the most counter-intuitive “spiritual discipline.” Reading the Bible and praying make sense, but fasting can seem odd and incongruent as a method for growing closer to God and enjoying Him more.
I started this series last week by describing fasting as a “declaration of dependence” on God. By fasting, we acknowledge to ourselves and to God that we can’t do it on our own. We need God. Fasting declares that we need God just as much, if not more, than we need food.
In this article, I will describe how fasting deepens our hunger for God by loosening the grip that worldly things have on us. I borrow this idea, and even the title for this article, from John Piper’s book on fasting called A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer. As I’m giving credit to others, it’s also valuable to say that my thinking on this topic is heavily influenced by the writings and teaching of Tim Keller, especially his books such as Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters.
God designed us to hunger for Him
How hungry are you for God? We know what it is to be hungry for food. Our stomach grumbles. We may become irritable and “hangry.” We crave food and can’t wait to get it. But how hungry are you for God? Do you yearn to talk with Him in prayer? Do you hunger to learn from His Word? To sing praises to Him? To see His glory? To enjoy Him more thoroughly?
Throughout the Bible, it’s clear that God satisfies in a way that nothing else can. Psalm 73:25-26 says: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” This was written by a man named Asaph, and it’s clear he was hungering for God. He’s saying, “In the entire universe, God, there is no one I desire more than you. God, you are the sustenance that satisfies.” Jesus, who is God in human form, said: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
We get hungry. And not just for food. It is a deeper hunger – for affirmation, for love, for identity and meaning in life. God designed us to hunger in these ways, and He designed us to find satisfaction in Him. He is the only one who can satisfy. But like a child who spoils her meal with snacks and junk food, we spoil our hunger for God by getting overly focused on the things of this world.
Fasting loosens the grip that worldly things have on us
Fasting loosens the grip that worldly things have on us because when we fast, we take a step away from those worldly things to be reminded that God is greater, and only He ultimately satisfies. These “worldly things” aren’t typically bad things, but they can still distract us from God. We easily turn good things into “god things,” which is idolatry.
Let’s think about food for a minute. We need food to survive. But food can easily become an idol. Many people turn to food when they are sad or stressed; food is a comfort to them. But fasting from food reminds us that there is a type of nourishment – a spiritual nourishment from God – that is more important than food.
But fasting isn’t only about food. Maybe you look at your life and realize that sports, or Facebook, or TV, or video games, or shopping, or some hobby, or exercising, or renovating your house, has consumed your heart and your passion. You are investing so much time and emotional energy into it that it’s distracting you from what is truly important, including God. This is a good indicator that it’s time to fast from that activity for a while.
For me, I am now on year 15 of a fast from fantasy football. I played fantasy football for one year, and I become so obsessed that I needed to step away. It consumed too much time and emotional energy. You know what? My spiritual life is healthier because I am fasting from fantasy football.
Most fasts don’t last this long. (A fast from food obviously could not last 15 years.) I grew up in Missouri, and I am still a fan of Missouri sports teams. There have been times in the summer when I have taken a few weeks off from paying attention to St. Louis Cardinals games or their place in the standings. Why? Because I could tell my emotions were getting too caught up in whether they win or lose. I’ve done the same with reading articles about the Kansas City Chiefs. I know others who have experienced great benefit from a Facebook fast or a fast from television.
Fasting makes room to hunger for God
As we abstain from snacking on good things, it makes room in our lives to feast on God. Fasting leaves a void – whether in our stomachs, in our schedule, or in our emotions. This void probably makes us uncomfortable. But that means we are experiencing the hunger that is deep inside of us, which is very healthy…as long as we fill that void with God.
How do we fill the hunger with God? While we’re fasting, we need to intentionally focus more on God. If we’re fasting from food, maybe it means that during mealtimes, we spend extra time in Scripture and prayer. When we feel a hunger pang, we use it as a reminder to pray that God will fill us with joy and satisfaction in knowing Him. The same principle applies for other types of fasts; we use at least some of the time that is typically devoted to that activity for focusing on God, and when we feel a longing for that thing we are abstaining from, we use it as a reminder to pray that God will fulfill us more with His love and glory.
As we journey through the season of fasting, it is also wise to spend some time in reflection and prayer to specifically consider why the thing we are fasting from has such a grip on our heart. Is it because we look to it for our sense of identity, significance, or security? Is it where we run for comfort or for amusement when we are bored? What is going on in our heart, and what are we learning from fasting about loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength?
The mentality of fasting is: “God, I want more of you.” And the reason we should want more of Him is because He designed us to find our satisfaction and sustenance in Him above all else.