Every time I read Matthew 6, I wince.
Jesus speaks about how we are to “practice righteousness” (v. 1), specifically giving, praying, forgiving, and fasting. Jesus assumes that these acts will be common among His disciples.
It’s that last one that gets me. Fasting is something I have dabbled in, but it certainly hasn’t become a discipline.
Not once, but twice in this passage Jesus said, “When you fast” (vv. 16, 18). Not if, but when.
I wince because fasting is hard, and I have avoided it because I don’t enjoy being hungry, physically or otherwise. In the past, I’ve fasted from food, media, and even behaviors. The restrictions opened up time and attention that I could focus on the Lord. And I remember learning much as my flesh raged for whatever it was being denied.
It’s good, but not easy.
Fasting stirs up the hunger within us, like poking the sleeping bear, exposing what’s going on deep inside. If we are always quick to silence hunger, we don’t get to know the nuances of its rumblings. Some rumbles come from the stomach, signaling the need for physical food. Some rumbles come from the heart, signaling our need for emotional provision. Other rumbles come from the soul, signaling our need for spiritual nourishment.
Which is which? That's the problem. Hunger’s discomfort prompts us to silence it—quickly. In the frenzy, our hunger wires get crossed, and we feed Nutella to the heart or media to the soul. Fasting teaches us how to uncross our hunger wires to discern the rumblings.
And the truth is, we are saddled with an ache within that no worldly thing can satisfy.
C. S. Lewis once said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy because they were there to arouse, to suggest the real thing. That real thing is heaven.”1
Lewis reminds us that the hunger of the soul cannot be satisfied by what this world offers. Nothing in this world—no food, no activity—can silence our hunger pains in this life. We feed ourselves food and drink and shopping and gossip and power and hobbies and good deeds in the hope of relief.
But our hearts are not longing for those things. Our hearts long for heaven. We long for heaven because that’s where Jesus is, and He is our heart’s desire. And we aren’t there yet.
Interesting that Jesus calls us to stop stuffing ourselves, to stop trying to make the square peg of food and people and diversion fit into the round hole of heart and soul and spirit. When we fast, we remember that Jesus and the life He brings is what we really want when the rumblings kick in. Some day, we will feast.
How have your hunger wires gotten crossed and mixed up? What sort of fast is the Lord calling you to take?