Prayer and Fasting (2) - Transformational Fasting

As a means of personal transformation, fasting does two things: (1) it exposes our functional saviors (that is, our “idols” or false gods) and (2) it reorients our heart's true desire toward the one, true and living God as the only Being worthy of our love, trust and worship. John Piper, in the book A Hunger for God, writes about this two-fold nature of fasting:
The issue is not food per se. The issue is anything and everything that is, or can be, a substitute for God. . . . [W]e 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. . . . [Fasting] forces us to ask repeatedly: do I really hunger for God? Do I miss him? Do I long for him? Or have I begun to be content with his gifts? Christian fasting is a test to see what desires control us (18-19).

One of the reasons for fasting is to know what is in us . . . . In fasting it will come out. You will see it. And you will have to deal with it or quickly smother it again. When midmorning comes and you want food so badly that the thought of lunch becomes as sweet as a summer vacation, then suddenly you realize, “Oh, I forgot, I made a commitment. I can’t have that pleasure. I’m fasting for lunch too.” Then what are you going to do with all the unhappiness inside? Formerly, you blocked it out with the hope of a tasty lunch. The hope of food gave you the good feelings to balance out the bad feelings. But now the balance is off. You must find another way to deal with it (20).
In a similar vein, Richard Foster, in The Celebration of Discipline, records:
More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. . . . If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David said, “I humbled my soul with fasting” [Psalm 35:13]. Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. At first, we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger. And then, we know that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.
In other words, fasting tunes us in to what’s really motivating our hearts, what’s really driving our desires. Fasting alerts us (through physical, self-imposed deficiency) as to where in actuality we are looking to find comfort, joy, security and satisfaction. On the other hand, by forcing us to leave behind our false saviors, we are simultaneously invited (in conjunction with prayer, worship and God’s Word) to develop a fresh taste for God’s sufficiency as He comes to us in Christ.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the second reason to fast: missional fasting.


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