Fasting: A Desire To Seek After God
We are now at the Islamic calendar of Ramadan. Our Muslim neighbours are observing their fast. Every male and female of a certain age is required to go without food and drink from sunrise to sunset. It is also a time for spiritual reflections, prayers, and alms giving.
As non-Muslims, many of us also participate in our own way. We seek to be respectful to our Muslim colleagues or school mates by not openly consuming food or drinks in their presence. We also throng the “buka puasa” stalls at Ramadan bazaars for their delicious curry dishes, desserts and kuih muih.
At the stalls in my neighbourhood, easily half of the patrons are non-Malays, jostling to purchase these goodies. And of course, at the end of Ramadan, we get a few days of public holiday as the nation celebrates Hari Raya. That is always a welcome break too. Unless, of course one hits the road and finds themselves joining the massive “balik kampung” traffic crawls.
From a health perspective, there are many benefits of fasting. The trend these days is intermittent fasting. In a slot of 24 hours, there will be no consumption of food for 16 hours. It is not just for weight loss but also for general well-being.
But fasting is also very much part and parcel of the Christian faith. In the Old Testament, fasting is associated with a time of grief, penitence and repentance. Just type the words “fast” or “fasting” into your favourite Bible software, and out comes many verses on the topic. Here is one that is often quoted:
“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” (Isaiah 58:5)
The Prophet Isaiah had rebuked the people on the true meaning of fasting – that it must be accompanied by true repentance to the Lord Almighty.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His disciples to give, pray and fast (Matthew 6:2, 5 and 16). These three spiritual disciplines were not optional practices but part and parcel of their faith journey. Jesus had assumed that His disciples would therefore be giving, praying and fasting. The early Church also practiced fasting. St. John Chrysostom has this to say:
“For the honour of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to abstinence from meats is one who especially disparages fasting.”
Several years ago, I decided to read John Piper’s A Hunger for God. I thought it must be a book about seeking God, with suggestions to pursue holiness and godliness. Boy, was I caught off guard. The thrust of the book was on fasting and praying as a spiritual discipline to seek our Lord and Saviour. Thus, true Christian fasting is accompanied by a desire to seek after God and not merely abstinence from food.
I am wondering if each of us can make a commitment to fast one meal a week, for a start. It will be a time dedicated to read Scripture and pray. In these spiritual disciplines, we aim to seek the Lord, find our rest and spiritual refreshment in Christ Jesus. A notebook to record some insights from Scripture will certainly help you in this journey. We want to hear God speaking to us through His Word. May the Lord be gracious and kind to our Malaysian Church in sending us the renewal that we need in these challenging times.
About the Author
Tan Meng Poo is Senior Vice President, Operations Asia Pacific for Our Daily Bread Ministries. He is an ordained minister with the Anglican Diocese of West Malaysia.
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