By Ben Lee
I ran into a friend at the coffee shop the other day. “I’m writing about fasting,” I told him. “And I have no clue where to begin.”
“I know what you can say,” he laughed. “When you don’t have money for food, you fast.”
We both chuckled, but deep down, I was unsettled, nervous, and slightly indignant. I felt like a fraud, knowing I didn’t have strong convictions about fasting and that I don’t fast regularly, or much at all for that matter. Moreover, I had a nagging suspicion that fasting is so much more than the act of abstaining from food, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to confront that.
I felt that I needed to, though, and as a result I experienced one of the most grueling weeks I have ever endured as my eyes were opened to the vastness of the freedom we have in Christ.
Initially, that revelation had me fuming. I didn’t like that I had the freedom to choose whether I could live selfishly or not. Earlier in the week, my friend Megan had shared some thoughts on fasting, and her words were ringing in my ears. “It’s uncomfortable? Good. Glorify God in your discomfort,” she had said. “Fasting is an act of humbling yourself before the Lord. You take the time you would otherwise spend on eating (or whatever activity you’re fasting from) and give it to the Father in worship and prayer.”
Unbeknownst to her, what she had said spoke to more than just my apathy towards fasting. My life the last few years has been incredibly difficult, and recently I wanted nothing more than to avoid the pain and choose things that were easy and fun while shirking everything else. I hated having my selfishness and pride confronted, and I was mad at God for his grace and mercy—his willingness to give me the freedom to choose whether or not to give it up. As I expressed these things to him, God asked me a surprising, yet perfect question.
“Do you remember the vow you made a few years ago?” He asked.
“Of course I do,” I replied. “How could I not?” Fresh from the wound of my wife’s infidelity, I had vowed that I would never subject anyone else to the pain I had endured.
“I am a jealous God,” He told me. “I am a jealous lover. Just as you didn’t want to share your spouse with anyone else, I want all of you.”
I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. He was right. Here I was, doing the very thing I swore I wouldn’t do to the God and friend I love.
In that moment, I realized that I was being called to so much more than a physical fast. I was being called to an absolute fast from trying to control my life, from choosing which parts of myself I would give to God. He wanted it all—the good, the bad, the ugly—because he wants and loves me for me.
His love for me is so great that he’s willing to wait and risk being spurned so that I can choose to feast on the fullness of His love and affection. Having discovered this, I can’t fathom any other response than to freely fast, freely surrender, and freely praise him as my God and King.