Spiritual Disciplines – Fasting from Matthew 6:16-25
A husband and wife were in bed one night. The husband was a business leader in the community – 500 employees. That night was particularly difficult as he had a lot on his mind. He was tossing and turning, stealing the covers from his wife, getting up and down to go to the bathroom, mumbling to himself. Finally, his wife got up out of bed, grabbed her pillow and blanket, and left.
“What’s wrong? Where are you going?”
“This bed’s not big enough for 502 people, I’ll be on the couch.”
Ever feel like life is too full? We work – 40 hours a week for 30-40 years then we retire and things really get busy! We have kids/grandkids – the back of our car has this random collection of balls (soccer, baseball, basketball) and let’s not forget the bags (for gymnastics, ballet, dance, scouting) and perhaps a musical instrument or two. We try to make time for recreation and leisure – gardening, watching the game, reading a book, going to the movies, Facebooking. And at the end of the day if there is anytime left – sleep. Oh, and church – somewhere we’ll fit God into all that.
Fasting is limiting. In ancient times as well as today, some folks choose to give up food to provide space for spiritual reflection. They gave up the time where they would set at table and instead set at the table with the Lord. It is the concept of limitation as a method of honing in on what is important. Focusing our effort.
I want to be the Best Dad I can be, but something has to give. There are days that I have to make a decision between work and play. Yes, sometimes I get to sit in the stands a yell praises to my children on the basketball court or on the baseball field, but there are also nights when I don’t get to tuck them in because I’m away at meeting that’s related to work. It’s frustrating, but choices have to be made and priorities have to be set.
The Spiritual Discipline of Fasting is about setting a priority and setting aside space for God moments. I could buy that coffee from Starbucks or I could give that money toward Stop Hunger Now. I could stay at home and spend time with my family watching a 2 hour movie or I could spend some ten minutes in prayer for the church to find renewal. I could tuck my children into bed and simply tell them good-night, or we could read a Bible story together as a way of passing on the faith and calming them down for sleep.
A lot of us miss out on God moments simply because there is no sacred space in our lives for God to come fill. As a people of God we need to limit the agendas in our meetings to one or two items so that we have time for God. As a people of God we need to limit all the stuff we feel we have to do so that we can focus on what God wants us to do. In a culture of more, bigger, super-sized, fasting teaches us that less is more. Jesus says, “Isn’t life more than just your needs?”
Fasting is sacrificing. There is a difference between bringing your best to God and bringing leftovers. Recently I attended Ettrick UMC where a new worship service is being held by the students and campus ministry of VSU. It was an exciting service. There was poetry, dance, song, and most of all, Passion. These ‘kids’ gave intentional time to God to create and to give what they had to offer. It was their very best.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart also be.” In Fasting, by saying no to commercialism and consumerism, we say yes to allow the Spirit to flow through us creatively. In the series 7th Heaven, the family doesn’t buy Christmas gifts to give to one another. Instead, they have to give something you already have or something you’ve made. What if worship was like this? What if I told you today that you weren’t allowed to put money in the offering plate but instead had to provide an offering of your time, your service, your prayers, and your witness?
I saw this kind of worship at a Church in Cambodia. I watched as the community came together. One man had some batteries he brought from home. A woman carried an old 1980’s style mini radio. Still another man brought a coil of wire. Finally, the youngest among them climbed up on the roof to attach the wire to the peak of the old ‘barn shaped’ building as an antennae. They gave what they had and what they could create so that they could hear music, prayers, preaching, and news that wasn’t controlled by the government. They gave what they had and what they could create.
Jesus said, “If your eye is healthy, the whole body will be full of light.” When we follow Christ, we take up our cross. When we follow Christ, we follow the only one who can see life and our journey clearly. When we follow Christ, we walk as a people with vision. We walk as children, full of light.
Fasting is giving up to get real. How many masters do we have? In “The Devil Wears Prada” a woman tries to serve her demanding boss while at the same time having a life, satisfying a boyfriend, and getting a better job somewhere else. I watched the movie and got lost by the number of people who keep telling her what she should do and how she should do it.
“No one can serve two masters.” Jesus says. By Fasting, we give up earthly pursuits and desires to get real with the Holy Spirit – the one true God who knows our deepest essence. D. Bonhoeffer wrote in the Cost of Discipleship, “It is only because Christ became like us that we can become like him.” Fasting offers us an opportunity to be like Christ.
Lent is a season in the church’s life when we often focus on Fasting. Fasting is limiting how much to provide sacred space. Fasting is sacrificing to receive true life. Fasting is giving up the earthly masters to serve the Heavenly Lord and be more like Christ. In a culture that often asks us, “What do you want to get out of life?” I challenge you today with “What will you give out of life to receive a glimpse at true life?”