Why we need
fasting and

By: Kyle Werner

What is it that makes food, or the lack of food, so powerful?  Why do we become so worn out, cranky, and exhausted when we need food, and then feel so uplifted and restored when we eat a great meal?  Certainly we are designed to crave food for the sake of mere survival, but as humans we crave more than this.  We long for food to be beautiful, flavorful, artful, to be experienced in great surroundings and great company.  As New Yorkers, we often find ourselves rather lonely after our rushed Seamless takeout order at our desk, or the solitary slice at the counter of an austere midtown pizza shop.  Why does food have a highly emotional, even spiritual, significance for many of us?

In the Bible we see God regularly calling his people to fast and to feast.  Through fasting we learn an increased dependence on God’s strength; our physical appetite helps intensify our spiritual appetite.  On the other hand, feasting reminds us of the original goodness and bounty of God’s creation, the redeeming work He is doing, and our fellowship in the Body of Christ.  Our regular eating routines can benefit greatly by being expanded in both directions through the extremes of these two spiritual disciplines.

When we fast, we save time, money, and energy normally devoted to food; this allows us to redirect these resources towards prayer and the feeding of others.  Christ tells us that when we feed those in need, we feed Him.  “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  (Matt 25: 35, ESV)  In addition, fasting is a conscious choice to limit our own consumption.  As Robert Farrar Capon writes, “The real secret of fasting is not that it is a simple way to keep one’s weight down, but that it is a mysterious way of lifting creation into the Supper of the Lamb…. It is as much an act of prayer as prayer itself, and, in an affluent society, it may well be the most meaningful of all the practices of religion…”  (The Supper of the Lamb, p. 115)  To willingly choose to give up what we long for, we identify with Christ’s work on our behalf.

But fasting is not the end: we are also meant to feast.  A great meal is a little taste of redemption and resurrection. Our hunger seems to intensify the urgency of every problem in our lives.  But good food, drink, and fellowship leave us restored.  It is not just a matter of meeting physical needs. The nourishment of our bodies allows our emotions to stabilize and our minds to clear.  Eating together is one of the greatest expressions of human fellowship.  To quote Capon again, “Food, like all the other triumphs of human nature, is evidence of civilization – of that priestly gift by which we lift the whole world into the exchanges of the Ultimate City which even God himself longs to see it become.”  (The Supper of the Lamb, xxvii)  Our culinary traditions and hospitality reflect our deepest beliefs about the meaning of life, the purpose of humanity, and our relationship to the earth.

Fasting and feasting enrich one another, each giving us a greater appreciation for the other.  Most of all, they remind us of fundamental realities regarding God’s presence.  Although we receive the Holy Spirit and partake in the Body of Christ, we hunger for the fullness of God’s presence.  This age is a time of spiritual fasting.  But it will not last forever.  We are destined to feast on God’s presence for eternity.  In the words of Revelation:

“Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!  For the wedding of the Lamb has come. And his bride has made herself ready… Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! …These are the true words of God.” -(Rev. 19:6b-7, 9, NIV)