I saw jets of light shining from cities and villages, and from the high places and the low places of the earth. God's word was obeyed, and as a result there were memorials for Him in every city and village. His truth was proclaimed throughout the world. --Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 28, 29. {ChS 112.2}

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fasting and Praying

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Frequently we talk about praying for various desires, but not often is there a concomitant suggestion for prayer's partner in petition~ fasting.

When I joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church I had come in with a background in various 'sacrificial' rituals connected to the faith walk of my youth. I had "given stuff up" for Lent and gone entire days without talking, during retreats. I had even done a few fasts on my own, but usually for the purpose of losing weight.

The connection between prayer and fasting was somewhat foreign to me. In my 'hippy days' (that is, when I thought I was pretty hip and cool back in the 70s)I had heard that fasting was one way to achieve a sort of spirutal ecstacy, and that it was likely that the mystics of the past were not 'receiving visions' but were, in fact, hallucinating because of some nutritional deficiency due to starvation.

I didn't find that idea very appealing.

In the 80s my Auntie Geneva gave me a book by Richard Foster, a Quaker professor, called "Celebration of Discipline". The book sat on my shelves for a decade or so, but in the 90s I was drawn to read it and I found that there is a whole other spiritual side to fasting that I had little previous understanding about.

When we have anything in our life that dominates our thoughts and goals... food, money, shopping, cars, gambling, partying, our job, sex, educational attainments, unhealthy relationships, physical fitness, even religiosity... we have generally made this item or activity "an idol". The time that we spend in thinking about, striving for, and relishing this item or activity is a replacement for a relationship with Jesus.

We most often think of fasting in terms of going without food, but fasting could be giving up or letting go of anything that has come between us and our relationship with God. The act of giving up that shopping trip or writing out a cheque to some charitable cause when you would much rather buy yourself a new pair of shoes (your 27th pair)or checking into a rehab center for treatment of an addiction-- these could all be seen as examples of fasting.

But to get the full benefit of the 'spiritual' aspect of fasting one needs to consider more than merely "giving something up". As in all steps to Christ, we begin with repentence. Yes, whatever we were bowing down to was destructive and selfish. When we truly repent we are making an opening in our cage so that we can get out and rejoin with the Lord of our Life.

By turning away from the out-of-control habit- sin- we are rejecting it and its destructiveness. For many of us, it is necessary to spend more than a couple of hours contemplating the effects that this particular ill has had upon our lives.

For me it is important to make a fairly lengthy separation from my obsessions so that I can actually begin to make out "the small soft voice" again. I have a pretty well engraved set of neuro-pathways around unhealthy eating and food obsessions. When I fast-- when I consciously invite God back into the primary position in my life-- I invite the making of a whole series of new and improved neuro-pathways... leading TO the City of God and not away from it.

The Bible talks about fasting as a way to gain humility (over self)and religious fasting was seen as a mourning over sin by the Jews. Jesus warned about making it an occasion to boast about one's piety (Matthew 6:16-18) but he also said that a certain kind of challenge could only be exorcized by fasting and prayer (Matthew 17:21).

As I understand it, the true power in fasting is not in the actual ritual (i.e., "works, that any man should boast") but in the space that it allows for the selfish 'old man' to slip out and be replaced by the Lord. Fasting is a means of making a 'fresh start'. When prayer is included in the fasting period, the power is immense.

We are all invited to put aside that part of ourselves that is a little too swelled up with self-importance and neediness and to take up our place with Jesus. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice.

**The photoimage at the top of this post was taken by Andrew Martin of Melbourne, Australia and can be found with other royalty-free photographs at http://www.sxc.hu/profile/imaspy.

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