Today we are joining churches throughout our presbytery in a day of fasting and prayer. Providentially, it is my “turn” to provide the devotional meditation for the day, and I have been thinking much about fasting over the last week or so. As I reflected on the nature and purpose of fasting, I recalled that we deprive ourselves of an everyday blessing of God (usually food, but as Pastor Babcock pointed out last week, it could be any of God’s blessings) and replace it with prayer and reflection on God’s being, work, and attributes. We do this to remember our need and God’s sufficiency and provision.
Usually, fasting is a planned event: We may devote ourselves to a time of personal fasting, or we may be called by the church to join together in a time of corporate prayer and fasting with Christ’s body. But sometimes, it occurred to me, God blesses us with an imposed fast. Sometimes God takes something in this world, a blessing he has given us, and he removes it from us for a time that we may turn our eyes again to him and remember his greatness. And what is this time, if not an extended period where we must give up those things we have grown accustomed to, even dependent on, and be reminded of the only true need we really have: The favor of our Father in heaven.
We live in a time where we have grown accustomed to plenty. Not only do we live without fear of going hungry, or unclothed, or unsheltered, we live with ready, plentiful access to good food, human interaction, entertainment, and every convenience. The privilege we take for granted would’ve been unthinkable to the overwhelming majority of humans throughout history (and, in fact, is still unthinkable to much of the world today.) And because we are accustomed to plenty, we fill our lives with it and react with fear, anger, worry, and anxiety when it is taken away.
So, just as last week I cited James, who calls Christians to “count it all joy” when we encounter trials, this week I ask that each of us would look at every day of these restrictions as the blessing of an imposed fast. What are we fasting from?
The blessing of time spent with friends and family.
The blessing of day-to-day human contact.
The blessing of fully-stocked store shelves.
The blessing of ordering our days as we like.
The blessing of weekly worship & fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The blessing of free and plentiful access to parks, theaters, ballparks, and other diversions.
When we are fasting from food, as many in our presbytery are doing today, each hunger pang is a reminder that Jesus Christ is our true food. It is a reminder to pray for Christ’s church, our families, our neighbors, and our world. But let us not only devote ourselves on this day. Rather, each time we long for something that was readily available just a month or so ago, let us respond to that “hunger pang” with reflection and prayers to God. And let us not fill up our newly-freed schedules with idleness and solitary distraction, but rather seize this opportunity, this blessing, we have been granted by our all-sufficient Lord.
—Elder Robb Leatherwood