Fasting kills Pride

PREFACE: This is a Bible College assignment that I wrote on Sunday. Halfway through writing it I realised that fasting and Pride have strong links, so I thought that I’d share it here if anyone was interested! (I threw in subheadings for ease of reading)

The Assignment: Select one spiritual discipline that you are unfamiliar with practicing. Experiment with practicing this discipline. With reference to Scripture, relevant literature, at least one historical figure, and your own experience, examine the validity of this discipline as a practice today.

Introduction

Fasting’s ultimate purpose, and humanities’ greatest need, meet in humility. In a consumeristic, comfort-seeking, entertainment addicted culture, fasting seems to go against every fibre of my natural instincts. However, thousands of years of tradition point firmly in a different direction. I have never been one to quickly adapt to discipline, let alone one that removes something I find great joy in. Yet, it’s been strange to see how a small joy can get in the way of a greater joy. This essay will focus on my own experience with this new discipline, Jesus’ fasting paralleled with Deuteronomy 8:2–3, examples of historic Christians, and will discuss how this discipline has incredible potential to meet our cultures most foundational need.

My experience

While gluttony is hardly a word used in our 21st century, recent revelations have made me see how much I can abuse the good things of life. I have begun to see a deeply rooted desire within myself that automatically looks for satisfaction in things rather than God. Because my gluttony is not simply seeking more pleasure from food than it was made for, I have focused not only on fasting from food for 40 hours, but also fasting from electronic entertainment for 120 hours. While I was not sure what to expect, my aim was, as Dallas Willard[1] puts it, to develop “utter dependence upon God by finding in him a source of sustenance beyond food.” I used extra time, that would have often been consumed by entertainment, to meditate on other’s experiences and practices, particularly that of Christ himself.

Jesus’ example

As Christians are called to imitate Christ[2], nothing should influence us more than Jesus’ attitude towards fasting. Likewise, if anything is to signify the importance of fasting in the life of the Christian, it should be Jesus’ example in Matthew 4:1-4. As baptism marked the transition of Jesus’ focus into public ministry, his first actions are to be “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness”. The Son of God began his public ministry with a 40 day fast. However, the spirit isn’t just leading him into the wilderness but “to be tempted by the devil”. As Jesus begun the most important 3 years in all of history, to live a sinless life, the very thing that secured salvation for the world, he is led to fast. If Satan had succeeded in deterring Jesus from the path of humble, suffering obedience, there would be no salvation. We owe our salvation to the faithful fasting of Jesus. If Jesus, in his perfection, valued fasting so highly, how much more should we treasure this practice.

We see another level of meaning in Matthew 4:1-4 when it is viewed parallel to Deuteronomy 8:2–3. This is clearly the intention, as Jesus counters the temptations of Satan, by quoting several passages from Deuteronomy. All of these passages are spoken by Moses to the people of Israel during their time of testing in the wilderness. The gospel writer undoubtedly desires to be make a clear connection with word choice and narrative flow. In both passages, God leads into the wilderness, they are there for 40 days/years, they are to be tested, and both were made hungry. This next parallel points to the heart of Christian Spirituality, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” From these passages, we see that aim of Jesus’ fasting. As it also parallels Israel’s fast, we see what we should also be aiming for, (1) to identify with God’s people, (2) to prove our hearts and therefore, protect from Satan’s attacks. (1) Just as God used Joshua to bring the Israelites into the promised land, Jesus is the new Joshua bringing the new Israel into salvation. In order to do this, Jesus needed to become like us in every way[3], to represent us. Likewise, fasting is an opportunity for us to identify with the rich heritage and traditions of our faith. (2) Fasting is a powerful method of proving, and refining, where the heart is. Richard Forster[4] describes this discipline to be the most effective in revealing what controls us. He practically explains, “We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately.” He commends us to rejoice, knowing that through the power of Christ, healing is available. In the same transformation, when a heart begins to love God more than bread, Satan loses his foothold. We see Satan tempting Jesus aiming at his desires for satisfaction, fame and power, but because Jesus’ heart longs for God more than any of these worldly things, the temptation is fruitless. These passages show us that the aim of fasting is that we may come to rely less on worldly satisfaction, and more on God himself.

The examples of historic Christian leaders

Besides Jesus’ example, we have countless role models showing their devotion, and practical application, to the time-honoured discipline of fasting. Charles Spurgeon speaks of his experience combining prayer with fasting, “Our seasons of fasting and prayer at the Tabernacle have been high days indeed; never has Heaven’s gate stood wider; never have our hearts been nearer the central Glory.” For Spurgeon, fasting was one of the major factors that he identified as drawing his community close to God. John Chrysostom, the bishop of Constantinople in the fourth century, said “Fasting is … a nourishment of the soul, a bridle of the mouth, an abatement of concupiscence: it mollifies rage, it appeases anger, it calms the tempests of nature, it excites reason, it clears the mind, it disburdens the flesh, it chases away night-pollutions, it frees from head-ache.” Fasting had a double effect for John Chrysostom, not only did it dispel the burdens of the sinful nature, but it also allowed him to find a holy tranquillity centred on God. While these are only two examples of many, historical Christianity holds the discipline of fasting in great reverence.

The contemporary relevance of fasting

Many aspects of our current culture are unique, however, C.S Lewis[5] would argue that pride, the great sin, is “the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” He describes it as “the complete anti-God state of mind”, the vice that “no man in the world is free.” Pride permeates all cultures, all times, and while it may look different in certain places, it kills our capacity to love, be content, or even think straight. This is certainly true of my experience, and although I may not consciously think it, my actions often show that I believe, that things are done by me and things are done for me. I see my pride as only reading the first half of Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things”, and not the second half, “through Christ who strengthens me”. My gluttony relies on this belief. I always want more because I think that I deserve more. I find it extremely hard to be bored, to be deprived of stimulation and unsatisfied, because I subconsciously think I deserve better. Sadly, comfort is often my goal, because I am more important than those that need my sacrifice. Pride is the underlying root of all sin, across all cultures. But it’s opposite is humility, a correct understanding of our relationship with God, which results in such a deep satisfaction, that it allows for self-forgetfulness. Humility is the answer to our cultures root problems. John Stott[6] puts it this way “Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.” Similarly, the bible makes it plain that humility is one of the main focuses of fasting. Deuteronomy 8:3 “he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna … that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” We cannot help but to be humbled when we are out of control. Fasting is a powerful way of submitting control of our lives back over to God. While we need to see how loved and valued we are in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, it is a great need of this generation to first rediscover who is sovereign and of ultimate worth. As Tim Keller[7] puts it, we will not understand the gospel until we see that “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Fasting gives man a glimpse at his mortality and points him to the God who loves him anyway.

Conclusion

While I am not able to examine this discipline as valid for all people, it is certainly valid if you’re searching for any of the following: humility, tranquillity, intimacy with God, freedom, otherworldly satisfaction, or a means to emerge oneself in the experience of the historical Christian tradition. Regardless of these outcomes, to call fasting an invalid modern practice would require arguing that fasting would not help us to imitate[8] Jesus, that his teaching in Matthew 6:16-18[9] no longer applies, and that countless Christians who faithfully practice this today are all foolishly mistaken. While I certainly won’t argue that fasting is a necessary requirement for salvation, or that believers who fast are superior to others, I cannot help but see the effect that this discipline has had on people’s lives and therefore the impact that it can have today. In our instant gratification, high adrenaline, busy culture, fasting contains a rare key of life. As pride permeates through all cultures, its resolution, humility, can be uncovered by the rich, cultural-transcending, discipline of fasting.

[1] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of The Disciplines, 1st ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1991).

[2] 1 Peter 2:21, 2 Corinthians 3:18, 1 Corinthians 11:1

[3] Hebrews 2:17 “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

[4] Richard Forster, Celebration of Discipline, 4th ed. (London, United Kingdom: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008).

[5] Clive Staples Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1st ed. (Glasgow: Fount Paperbacks, 1977).

[6] Stott, John, and Carolyn Nystrom. “Christian Leadership”. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Connect, 2009.

[7] Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011).

[8] 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

[9] And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

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One thought on “Fasting kills Pride

  1. Pingback: Practical tools for Self-Awareness – Ben Merrick

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