“So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).
Extreme. Daniel sounds extreme in his practice of prayer. While many people pray, maybe even most people petition God in a crisis, who still fasts? — (Not to mention dressing in sackcloth and ashes). What is fasting and why would anyone choose such an extreme accompaniment to prayer?
In the past, Daniel has been conscious of the spiritual benefits of physical self-restraint rather than self-indulgence. Remember the teenaged Daniel and his three Jewish friends’ diet change back in their early captivity? Their rejection of decadence had borne good results. But this fasting is something completely other than that. It’s not just simplicity. It’s moving from temperate to extreme. Daniel senses that he’s at an unparalleled crossroad, that exceptional situations call for uncommon measures. He is intentional in preparing himself to petition God; he chooses to fast.
It takes intention to fast; who simply forgets to satisfy hunger? Perhaps fasting enables us to see the unseen, to enter into the realm of spirit too easily obscured by daily routine. Fasting replaces the sensation of satiety with an awareness of need. It exchanges pleasure for an aching hunger. It’s not surprising that a synonym for pleasure is diversion. When we experience self-indulgence we divert ourselves from our primary function as spiritual beings communing with God. But when we temporarily set aside the pleasure of the feast, we lead ourselves back into our principal functionality, our raison d’être. It has been said that there is no feast without a fast.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship comments, “If there is no element of asceticism in our lives, if we give free rein to the desires of the flesh (taking care of course to keep within the limits of what seems permissible to the world), we shall find it hard to train for the service of Christ. When the flesh is satisfied it is hard to pray with cheerfulness or to devote oneself to a life of service which calls for much self-renunciation.”
It’s an oxymoron: to truly live we must die to self, yet if we fast long enough, we will end life. So it must be intentional: neither dull the spirit nor kill the body.
I bring up this topic of fasting for two reasons: Firstly, Daniel models it in his life of prayer, so it is inevitable we must study it. We must observe the facts and come to a livable conclusion. We must, like responsible jury members, ask whether there is any reason, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to ignore it. Secondly, I want to hear from the Body of Christ on this topic. Something in my spirit has been nudging me to find out what my brothers and sisters are practicing regarding fasting, that I, in my self-indulgent westernization have conveniently omitted. Perhaps, in the anonymity afforded by blogging I might entice some feedback on the topic. (I promise to think neither better nor worse of you if you tell me your experience regarding fasting). Tell me: How do you fast?