Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Little Bit of Fasting in A Season of Feasting


      I love Thanksgiving. I was talking to a friend about it yesterday and realized that has been true since I was a child. There is something so warm and comforting about that holiday-and even when I was young, I was intrigued by the concept of contentment: being thankful for where you are and what you have, not longing for more, or better, or different. My parents did an excellent job of helping us (I'm one of eight) see that "every good and perfect gift is from Above" (James 1:17), so it was always easy for me to attribute any blessing in my life to the Lord.

    As a young teenager, I wrote a children's book (complete with my own horrible illustrations, my drawing abilities have not improved since second grade) about the history of Thanksgiving. There was something absolutely fascinating to me about the Pilgrims. The horrible trials they suffered, and their intense gratitude when they were saved. Of course, that gratitude was placed squarely at the feet of that same God from James 1:17. They knew He had given them the opportunity to continue to live and serve Him. And they were thankful. I learned that "Thanksgiving" as a the holiday we know it, was many years in coming (it was proclaimed a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863), but those seeds were planted by those first humble settlers at Plymouth in 1621.

   However, I was fascinated to discover that in 1623 there a series of events (a drought, the unexpected arrival of more settlers that had no provisions) that again left those poor immigrants absolutely devastated.  In July of that year, they fell prostrate before the only One who can truly save and they fasted and prayed-for relief from the drought and hunger. And the Lord answered, as only He can. He provided rain, the crops grew and the people were nourished-in spirit and body. And so they again celebrated a holy day of giving thanks.

    I was struck by how periods of fasting-whether intentional or not, preceded these forefathers most heartfelt celebrations of thanks. What? Is that really so far-fetched?

   I remember as a child, my mother encouraged us to fast before Thanksgiving. One year in particular, I remember having a bowl of plain oatmeal (quite the trial to a brown sugar, cinnamon, loving girl) and then fasting solid food the remainder of the day-until Thanksgiving morning. Once I woke (I was probably 11 or 12 at the time) and I remember thinking that the breakfast we had was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted. Who cared about turkey and mashed potatoes? I didn't need fancy-I just needed filling!

  See, the thing is, sometimes we get so caught up in "more" we don't take the time to feel the emptiness. the longing. And then we never get that amazing warm feeling of "enough" -of being filled from a point of emptiness. And that's why I think that sometimes a little fasting is what we need most in this season of feasting.

   Fasting is all over the Old Testament. It preceded many important events (the Day of Atonement, Esther fasted before seeking the relief of the Jews). But it is also in the New Testament. We are all aware of Jesus' fast in the desert. 40 DAYS! Good grief. There are times when I feel like I can't fast for 40 minutes. But isn't that the beauty of fasting? It isn't really supposed to be about what I can do at all. It is about signifying that with my heart and with my body, that I fully trust that the Lord can provide-that He can do what I cannot. Jesus says in Matthew 6:16, "When you fast..." Not, "if" but when.

  Now, I am not proclaiming myself a Biblical expert of any kind. But I have grown up in church, and my understanding is that the true meaning of fasting is abstaining from something, usually something that you do or consume every day. It is meant to be a little trying. And in that difficulty of the wanting and maybe even the needing, you will be reminded that much more than any food or drink, we need Jesus.

"Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." John 6:35
   Fasting isn't to be done to see what I can obtain from God-it is to remind me that everything I need has already been obtained through Jesus. It is to remind me of my humanity, and my failings.

  I have been fasting, for about five weeks now. I won't go into detail, but it has been harder than I thought it would be. I chose a specific category of food to fast and I mistakenly thought it wouldn't change my routine too much. That wasn't probably the best mindset for starting a fast, but the Lord has used it to remind me that I don't have as much self-control as perhaps I would like. I have definitely been reminded how frail I am. Every time I want that thing-I have to remember that He can help me conquer all things (Romans 8:37) and that has inspired an intense gratitude in me.

   I can't really remember the last time I was without something I needed. And so, because I live in the land of plenty, I am glad that I can fast-that little pinch of desire unfulfilled gives me the tiniest taste of the gaping hole of hunger that I would be suffering from constantly without the power of Christ. It renews my desire to only be filled by Him and refreshes my belief that only He can truly fill.

  And that fills me with gratitude beyond expression. To know my Savior loves me and lives in me-what more could I desire?

"Many, Lord my God, are the wonders You have done, the things You planned for us. None can compare with You; were I to speak and tell of Your deeds,    they would be too many to declare." Psalm 40:5

    Nothing can compare. All my gratitude must be to Him-and if doing without for a little while, just a blink in the span of time, reminds me how deep my thankfulness is, isn't it worthwhile? Perhaps, in this season of feasting, you will take a little time for fasting. Because the stark comparison of lack with enough is just the right way to remind us to say, "Thank You, Lord" in the way we really should.
So, at this time of the year when excess seems to be unavoidable, would you be willing to truly have less in order to have more? I think a little bit of fasting makes the feasting that much sweeter!

 Looking for a place to start? Here are some ideas to "dip your toes in the water":

1. Choose a set time period for your fast- a meal, a day, a week. Start small so that you won't be overwhelmed.

2. Choose what you will fast. Some ideas:
-a beloved food item (soda, desserts, fried foods)
-a technological item (TV, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, your phone. Or the internet all together!)
-a specific meal each day
-a pastime (reading, knitting)

3. Choose something that will alter your daily routine slightly. The point of fasting is to remind us of our reliance on God, and that leads us to prayer. You want to be provided with opportunities that remind you to pray. Reaching for that can of soda? Or just really craving it? Fill that time with prayer-thanking God for your blessings and for His ability to provide for all your needs. Choosing something that you would do several times throughout the day is always a good way to incorporate more "praying without ceasing".

4. Don't run around bemoaning your "loss"- the hypocrites were chastised by Jesus for "disfiguring their faces" (Matthew 6:16-17). They wanted to ensure that everyone was aware of their great sacrifice. Your fast needn't be completely private (sometimes you need accountability, or it is just impossible not to reveal what you are doing) but you don't have to proclaim to everyone you meet or put your chosen restriction on Facebook.:) Also ask the Lord to humble you through this time.

5. When you have completed your fast take some time to record your thoughts and feelings. It is easy to forget what you have learned or been shown even a few days later, so writing it down will help keep those insights fresh.

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