The Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

Feb 28, 2018 by

“[F]irst we must prepare spiritually before fasting…A fast for spiritual purposes must be centered on God and can be so only if we ask God’s help…Fasting may, but need not, involve abstaining from food.  [If abstaining from food, which can be dangerous, it is important to follow good medical advice and standards.]  Fasting helps reveal our excessive attachments, whether it be to food or to other things, and the assumptions that lie behind them (Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1995, p.71).

“The point of abstinence is not the denial of all enjoyment in life, for, …as [Rev.] Dallas Willard rightly says,  ‘We dishonor God as much by fearing and avoiding pleasure as we do by dependence upon it or living for it.’  The purpose of abstinence is to learn rightly to enjoy God’s gifts.  We need disciplines of abstinence because we have come to relate to…many…things in life [such as food, money, recognition] not as lovely gifts to be enjoyed in moderation and gratitude, but as objects of consumption to fill emotional voids.  When what we consume is consuming us, and what we possess is possessing us, the only way back to health and balance is to refrain from using those things that have control over us.  ‘To give up anything that comes between ourselves and God’ (says W.R. Inge) ‘is the core dynamic of self-denial’…

“Behind every fitting choice of abstinence lies the question, What do I do to excess?  What I do to excess reveals my inordinate desires, my compulsions, the attachments that have control over me.  They are precisely the areas of my life that need the freeing lordship of Christ rather than my own abysmally ineffective efforts at control.  Fasting is not primarily a discipline through which I gain greater control over my life, but one through which God gains access to redirect and heal me in body, mind, and spirit” (Soul Feast, pp. 76-77).

Reflection Notes:

What comes between God and me?

What do I do to excess?

What are my attachments?

What assumptions lie behind my attachments?

From what might I be feeling the Holy Spirit’s invitation to abstain during Lent?


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