In January, I decided that it was time to pay more attention to my health, starting with my weight. This morning the scale told me I reached a goal, 200 lbs. I shed about 25 lbs. People who take note always ask, “How did you do it?” It is a simple thing – I put less into my mouth and what I do eat is of a better quality. Candy, cake, and ice cream are reserved for rare and special occasions. Junk food like fries or mega-calorie appetizers are no longer on the menu for me, except very occasionally.
“But, Jerry, isn’t it hard? Don’t you miss all that stuff?” Honesty, not really. A couple of weeks ago I ordered a sandwich and asked to replace the fries with a salad. The salad came and so did the fries, so I ate them. My body has changed so much that my system reacted to them.
Like any change, taking control of our diet requires a shift in thinking, a reordering of priorities. When I figured out that losing weight would likely mean lower blood pressure, fewer headaches, and less joint pain, I found it much easier to choose a green salad and a grilled chicken sandwich! Most Americans resist the idea of less because they equate it with deprivation. “I have just got to have that,” we say. Some of us are convinced that missing a meal will ruin our life. Some of us will not step away from a schedule packed with activities fearing that we will ‘miss out.’ We love all kinds of things that feed our appetites – pleasure, vacations, sex, drink – and they begin to own us.
A pause is necessary here. God does not hate creature comforts and misery for its own sake will not make a great Christian! A great dinner is to be enjoyed. Caring for our appearance is part of healthy self-esteem. God created us with the capacity to experience pleasure and so we should! Ascetic monks of the middle ages confused discipline with deprivation. They thought that they could get closer to God by wearing wool garments full of fleas, or by sleeping on hard stone slabs, or beating themselves with whips. Mostly their misery was wasted.
That said, let’s take a look at a practice well-known in the Scripture and nearly unknown among Christians today – fasting. Don’t stop reading now! Fasting is not just about food. It is not just a discipline for wild-eyes fanatics. Fasting is a discipline for all Christians. Its purpose is to break our devotion to lesser gods. Fasting may be abstaining from food and it can (and should) involve many other appetites. We can fast by limiting access to technology for a time, or not watching TV, or refusing to buy things for a season, for example.
Jesus tells us “And when (note the WHEN, not IF. Jesus assumed that Christians would fast) you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I assure you, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will suspect you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in secret. And your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.” (Matthew 6:16-21, NLT)
For me it is compelling to note that He connects fasting, setting aside something we enjoy for a time, with what we treasure. But it is so true. A fast is a way to re-adjust our perspective, to reorder our heart’s priorities, and to regain our first love. Nothing more. In and of itself, fasting proves nothing about the depth of our spirituality, though it can be a reason for great spiritual pride. I have known Christians who looked like skeletons, who were proud as a peacock of their discipline. Another mistake often made in fasting is making it something like a hunger strike. We might not actually say it, but underlying our fast is the idea, “God, I’m not going to do ______________, or eat __________ until I get that answer to prayer.” He isn’t impressed. Fasting is for us, not Him!
When we fast to remind ourselves that our body is subject to the Spirit, that we can make choices that are difficult to honor God, fasting can help us grow in Christ. We are to love God – with all our mind, heart, and strength. In this, we find life to the full which He promised. We understand that the body is perishing and we do not despair because of that fact. We feed, clothe, and care for our body as the ‘temple of the Spirit,’ which it is, but we refuse to make it our god. Those who serve the belly god become enslaved by the search for more and more exotic experiences to sate the senses. Lust and gluttony corrupt every part of their lives, shape every interaction, and ultimately their god is wrenched from their grasp by age and death. Those who serve the Savior are led to life, know joy, and take mastery over their body and appetites even as they take hold of eternal life, right here, right now!
Consider the wisdom in this passage. “For many walk, (live their daily lives) of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame- who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:18-21, NKJV)
Are you worshipping your physical appetites, convinced that more is always best? Do you define ‘the good life’ by food, comfort, or appearance? A good remedy is a fast – leaving Facebook for a week, eating only basic foods for a few days, turning off the television for a time – all for the purpose of listening closely to God, the Spirit. The wisdom of God reminds us to “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3, NKJV) Practice the discipline of fasting (not just food!) to allow the love of God to flourish. Cultivate the inner beauty of a clean and righteous heart that cannot be taken away by the passing of time.
Here’s a word from the Word. Ponder this truth today before you dismiss it as irrelevant to life in the 21st century. Paul, deeply devoted to the Lord, a man of unquestioned maturity, acknowledges that failure stalks us all. Here’s his counsel. “Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NLT)
Let’s get ready to “discipline the body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.”
(Lauren Daigle does this beautiful song in a way that leads me to worship)
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
O soul are you weary and troubled
No light in the darkness you see
There’s light for a look at the Savior
And life more abundant and free
Through death into life everlasting
He passed and we follow Him there
Over us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conquerors we are
His word shall not fail you He promised
Believe Him and all will be well
Then go to a world that is dying
His perfect salvation to tell
Oh turn your Oh turn your Oh turn your eyes upon Jesus
Dwan Hill | Helen H. Lemmel | Lauren Daigle | Paul Mabury
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