In a season of feasting, celebrating and giving it is not always apparent who or what we are hungry for. The health of Faith’s family depends on an ongoing hunger for God but when all our needs are met how do we stay aware of this underlying hunger?
In John Piper’s book, A Hunger for God, he focuses the believer on the discipline of fasting and prayer. His thoughts are anchored on the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 9:14-17.
Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
When fasting is a common practice in religions, cultures and societies why should we join in? Doesn’t the arrival of Jesus do away with harsh and manipulative practices by people trying to fill some form of law? Aren’t we, in the church, living in post-resurrection days beyond the realm of ritual and self-denial? Shouldn’t we, as Spirit-filled people, live above the pulling and prodding of our bodily appetites and pleasures?
Piper notes that, although fasting is a universal practice, no one knows its origins. It has been used to mark religious festivals, political purposes, health pursuits and mourning rituals. Outside the gospels, the practice of fasting is hardly mentioned among church disciplines.
Still, Jesus says that his followers will fast after he leaves. Piper says “in this age there is an ache inside every Christian that Jesus is not here as fully and intimately and as powerfully and as gloriously as we want him to be. We hunger for so much more. That is why we fast.” (p. 38) He notes that our longing is based on the finished work of Christ and not out of an emptiness of some kind.
“We have tasted the powers of the age to come, and our fasting is not because we are hungry for something we have not experienced, but because the new wine of Christ’s presence is so real and so satisfying. We must have all that it is possible to have. The newness of our fasting is this: its intensity comes not because we have never tasted the wine of Christ’s presence, but because we have tasted It so wonderfully by his Spirit, and cannot now be satisfied until the consummation of joy arrives. The new fasting, the Christian fasting, is a hunger for all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19), aroused by the aroma of Jesus’ love and by the taste of God’s goodness in the gospel of Christ (I Peter 2:2-3).
“…Faith is a spiritual feasting on Christ with a view to being so satisfied in him that the power of all other allurements is broken. This feasting begins by receiving the past grace of Christ’s death and resurrection, and then embraces all that God promises to be for us in him. As long as we are finite and fallen, Christian faith will mean both delighting in the (past) incarnation and desiring the (future) consummation.” (pp. 42-43)
As Isaiah reminds us (58:1-12) true fasting in God’s eyes “looses the chains of injustice, sets the oppressed free, shares food with the hungry, provides the poor wanderer with shelter, clothes the naked and takes care of needy humans in our community.
Now, is there some way that our hunger for Jesus to be fully present among us might stimulate us to see those around us and meet their needs? Faith’s family needs this hunger for Jesus to show itself in real and practical ways. May God bless you as you put your hunger into practice. However you demonstrate it, know that you are loved more than you could ask or imagine. Pastor Jack