Is fasting a way to get God to speak or "move" or do something? Scot McKnight wrote a challenging post based on his book on Biblical fasting suggesting that we fast because of rather than in order to. Fasting in the Scriptures, he argues, is more often in response to a grievous situation or a holy encounter, rather than a way to manipulating God.
It seems that fasting does produce something in us. So, how can we think about fasting without slipping into piety or pleading, an attempt to impress God or to get something from Him?
The answer is space. Fasting is about creating space, space to truly see. It's hard to hide Pikes Peak in our city. Its jagged edges jut out from buildings, its snow-capped head rises above every rooftop. But there are many places in town where, because of the lower elevation or the density of buildings, it's just hard to fully see Pikes Peak. On my drive home, there is one particular corner where I turn and am all of a sudden on top of a small hill with two valleys on either side. The horizon in view is dominated by the mighty mountain range, with old Pikes as the centerpiece. I've lived here for almost 13 years and it still takes my breath away. The Peak has always been there; I just needed a bit of space to see it. So...
1. Fasting Creates Space to See Ourselves.
When Jacob was left alone, Genesis tells us, he wrestled with a man until daybreak. But only when he was left alone, after his family and servants and animals had all crossed over to the other side. And when the man asked for his name, Jacob-- for the first time-- said his true name: Jacob, the one who grasps, the angler or deceiver or supplanter. He saw who he truly was. He had always been this. He just needed space to see it.
During Lent, we fast so that we can be led to repentance. When we cannot hide behind the projections of our self on social media, when we cannot distract ourselves with TV and phones and internet, when we cannot indulge ourselves with food and drink...then we come face to face with ourselves, with our ugliness and our brokenness. And we pray, "Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy."
2. Fasting Creates Space to See God.
The first face Bartimaeus ever saw was the face of Christ. What a thought. His deepest place of brokenness now healed, he opens his eyes and beholds for the very first time the face of God.
This is what happens to us. As we learn to repent and confess, as we embrace our mortality and our finiteness, we are not left in our brokenness. We are cleansed and healed. We begin to see. And what we see is God-- God, not as we have imagined, not as we have crafted Him to be, not a God made in our image, but God as He is: terrifyingly alive and beautiful and near.
In the light of His face, all other visions of God may as well have been blindness. We realize that we have been living off crumbs of rumor, crusts of hearsay. But now, we have it all firsthand. This is God and He is and has always been and will always be the God we see revealed in Jesus Christ.
(A good Lenten practice is to read through one of the Gospels, perhaps in a new translation, or even in one or two sittings so that we might see Jesus with new eyes.)
3. Fasting Creates Space to See the Other.
Isaiah 58 serves as a strong reminder that God doesn't want fasting to simply be a ritual performance to pad our spiritual stats. Fasting is designed to turn us outward to the "other"-- the stranger, the outsider, the enemy, the one whom we have forgotten is also our neighbor.
This is why during Lent, there is often a special offering for the needy and the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. At new life DOWNTOWN, in years past, we've taken a special offering each week for people to give toward a family in need within our church community.
So...When we fast, we create space, space to see. We turn inward, God-ward, and outward.
May it be so for you this Lent.