For most people, the act of fasting is associated with one thing: giving up something for Lent. Fasting is an altogether under appreciated spiritual discipline. For the interest of full disclosure, I should add that I am guilty of neglecting fasting. When I first became a pastor, one of the first series of sermons I did was on John Wesley’s means of grace.
I preached about prayer, Communion, worship, Bible study, conferencing and service. You can still read these sermons here. As I put together my first sermon series, I left out fasting. “That’s too much,” I thought to myself. “No one wants to hear about fasting, especially not from the new guy.”
Well, I’m not the new guy anymore, so a few weeks ago I preached about fasting. I have come realize what a disservice I did to people when I left out this important, yet unpopular, spiritual discipline. I have since realized how incredibly important fasting really is.
In our world of instant gratification, consumer relations, and on-demand service, fasting is like an oasis in the midst of a desert of indulgence. Fasting is so much more than “giving something up at Lent.” While giving something up is an important part of fasting, it has much more to do with opening yourself up then giving something up.
Fasting is the intentional act of denying yourself. It is a chance to cut off an earthly desire – not as some sort of co-sacrifice with Christ, but as a way to block out the noise of the world. By shutting out the noise of self demanding gratification right now, a person can more easily be open to hearing God’s voice.
Fasting is a forgotten spiritual discipline, but it is one we are slowly rediscovering. United Methodists across Illinois (south of I-80) are engaged today in prayer and fasting. The Conference has asked people to use the first Thursday of each month as a day of prayer and fasting.
Fasting is a tough sell for people. It is unpopular. And that is why it is so important. In a culture that is addicted to self, the denial of self might be the most therapeutic and counter-cultural action we can take today.
Today is the first Thursday. I had a bagel for breakfast. I will not eat again until about 3 p.m. (I would go later, but I have football practice, and don’t want to go hungry or full). I am hoping to set aside some time during the day to pray for the church. I will pray for a Pentecost revival to sweep through my church, all churches in our conference, and through all churches that are preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I invite you to do the same. Deny yourself. Open up to God. Allow the Holy Spirit to work. Hold on tight.