I needed to read this book. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years, and I had picked it up earlier, but I’m glad I finally read it. I didn’t really know what the topic of the book was. I thought it was about being passionate for God, having a fire lit under me that I might follow hard after Him. In a way, it is, but specifically, it’s about fasting, a topic with which I haven’t spent much time. When I read verses such as Mark 2:20, when Jesus said, “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” I felt uncomfortable knowing I wasn’t fasting, but I didn’t really know what to do about it. I didn’t know anybody else who was fasting. Up until I graduated from college, I was training hard most of the year for my cross country and track teams, so I figured I probably shouldn’t fast while I was doing that. Once I had kids and was nursing, I thought it wouldn’t be wise to fast then, but honestly, most of the time, I just didn’t think about it.
I attended a Free Methodist college, which introduced me to fasting during Lent, but that only involved giving up one thing for forty days. It was a type of fasting, and I understood to some extent why I was doing it, but some years I wasn’t sure whether I had a double motive for doing it–was it ok to give up sugar both for God and for lessening my addiction to it? Should I even do it if my motives weren’t absolutely pure?
This book helped me a lot by encouraging me to fast more than just during Lenten season (Lent isn’t even mentioned in the book that I can remember), giving me reasons why people fast, showing me a biblical basis for fasting, and pointing out results of fasting through history. I do wish more had been said about how to fast–I still have questions about how long and how much to fast–but he does talk about that side a little bit, and I think I really need to talk to God about that. My fasting will probably look different than someone else’s fasting, depending on what God has called me to do.
I understand from this book that fasting is a physical representation of my hunger for God. One of my favorite quotes from the book expresses this well: “It’s a physical exclamation point at the end of the sentence, ‘We hunger for you, O God, to come in power.’ It’s a cry with our body, not just our soul: ‘I really mean it, Lord! This much, I hunger for you.’ ” (110). We fast, he says, not because “we are hungry for something we have not experienced, but because the new wine of Christ’s presence is so real and so satisfying” (42). We hunger for the fullness of God, so we express it through fasting. Another quote I love is, “Every time we fast we are saying with Jesus, ‘Not by bread alone, but by you, Lord’ ” (58-59).
Piper says that the fact that most of the Church in America doesn’t fast shows that we are comfortable with the way things are. We live in a time of great worship and prayer, but not as much fasting. This is very convicting to me. I do want to see change, but do I long for it, really hunger for it?
Yes, God knows if we truly hunger for Him without fasting, but Piper explains that God wants to see us actually live out our hunger for Him instead of just thinking it. In addition, as Piper puts it, “We easily deceive ourselves that we love God unless our love is frequently put to the test, and we must show our preferences not merely with words but with sacrifice” (18). Fasting proves to ourselves that God is more important to us than passing pleasures, which Piper says can be a greater enemy to our relationship to God than evil things. Many pleasures are gifts from God, but we have to be careful that we love the Giver more than the gifts.
One thing I was concerned about in fasting is whether it would become a pride issue for me. Would I think I was better than others if I did it? I’m still concerned about this, and as I head into this discipline, I do so with prayer that it won’t turn my heart that way. Piper does speak to this in a way that I think will be helpful to me: “Christian fasting does not bolster pride, because it rests with childlike contentment in the firmly established justification of God in Christ, even while longing for all the fullness of God possible in this life. Christian fasting is the effect of what Christ has already done for us and in us. It is not our feat, but the Spirit’s fruit” (45).
Another aspect I’m concerned about is whether I will do it in order to get what I want. I will fast for you, God, and then You’ll give me what I need/want. Of course, I wouldn’t say this on purpose, but I’m afraid that’s where my heart will be. Because, as Piper takes time to point out, God has responded to His people’s prayer and fasting in history. There are many examples of fasting being effective in hearing God or seeing Him move. However, he also is careful to say that fasting does not promise us what we want. Isaiah 58 makes clear that He wants our hearts to be right no matter what. Piper says, “If there is an unresolved pocket of sin in our life and we are fasting, instead, about something else, God is going to come to us and say, ‘The fast I choose is for that sin to be starved to death’ ” (136).
However, Piper argues that “It is good and right to want and to seek the reward of God in fasting” (76). He believes God desires to reward us when we seek after Him. I think he is right. For this reason, and because I really do want to see change in my life and in others’ lives, I do plan to seek Him through fasting. How to do that and how to do it with the right heart are still questions for me, but I don’t want to let that stop me from seeking Him in this way that He sanctioned in His Word.
I hope you’ll look into it with me!
Quotes from: Piper, John. A Hunger for God. Wheaton, 1997.