SEVEN is coming up, that time of year when churches across the city of Portland gather together as the Church for seven days, to pray and fast and seek the face of God together for blessing, renewal and redemption in our city.
Most of us are familiar with prayer . . . but why fast? “Are you serious?!?” is a common response. “I’m grumpy enough after missing one meal. Why would I not eat!?!”
Fasting is really intimidating for many of us. But it has a long track record in the history of the Church . . . starting with Jesus and his disciples. So we interviewed a few pastors this week for some reflections on fasting:
Here’s a few things from the video that stood out to me.
- Jesus didn’t say “If you fast . . .” but rather “When you fast . . .” (Matthew 6:16-17).
Jesus seemed to assume fasting would be part of our lives as his followers. I take this to mean Jesus thinks fasting is good and beneficial for us (since Jesus is not a fan of creating extra spiritual hoops for people to jump through).
- Fasting helps us recognize our dependency on Jesus.
It’s easy to medicate with food when we’re feeling down or struggling, but fasting creates space to face our problems more head-on and recognize where our true sustenance comes from.
In my own experience, fasting makes me acutely aware of my frailty and finitude as a human being. I feel much closer to the awareness that I am but ashes and dust, animated by the breath of God, needing God’s continual sustenance to bring life to this fallen clay.
As was said in the video, fasting is not just giving up TV to read a book; it’s “denying yourself and creating a space that God can fill.” In our dependency, we realize that “man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
- Fasting can help us focus.
The hunger pains prompt us to pray, directing our attention towards God and reminding us of our cry. As we pray that God would end poverty, suffering and injustice in our city, our hunger can prompt us during Seven both to identify with the pain of our city, and to cry out to God from the midst of it.
In my own life, an early experience of an extended fast started as more of a “hunger strike.” I was angry at God about a situation in my life and refused to eat until he showed up to explain himself (I know, arrogant, right? But at least honest). After a few weeks, he did show up . . . but not the way I expected.
The spotlight of my accusation on God was gradually and gently turned, as God began to reveal idolatry in my own life, shining the spotlight upon my heart. I came to the point of, “God, even if you only allowed this to happen so you could deal with this junk in my heart, it was all worth it.”
There’s no guarantee fasting will result in any predictable experience; our relationship is not with a formula but with a dynamic and living God. But it can create space for us to encounter, listen and receive in fresh ways.
And our goal in prayer is not to get a shopping list of needs met. Our goal is communion.
Our goal is to be with God: creatures celebrating our Creator, who delights to dwell with us in intimacy and power, to approach in a posture of worship before the greatness and glorious goodness of who God is.
And communion with each other: our goal is to do this together, as the body of Christ in our city, crying out to God collectively on behalf of our city, praying together as Jesus taught us: Your kingdom come, in Portland as it is in heaven.
For more information on Seven (September 21-27), see the website here.