By Lisa Schmidt
Increasingly over the past few years, I find myself more and more drawn to the idea of feasting and fasting as part of a larger rhythm of life. We have so much to rejoice in as Christians and the reality of the Gospel is something to celebrate. God is too amazing to be only celebrated at Christmas and Easter.
I love the idea of sharing a meal with others in a spirit of celebration and deep gratitude to God for His faithfulness as a regular practice of our Christian walk. Rich meats, fine wine enjoyed in the company of others with a spirit of celebration and an eye to one day when we will celebrate with believers from every time and place in the presence of our risen King – this is something to get excited about! Feasting is also a great way to be missional in your neighborhood – everyone loves a party.
Fasting, however, is a little harder for me to get excited about. In the past, I had primarily thought of fasting as either a way to make the feast more festive (celebrating Easter takes on a whole new meaning when you’ve spent six weeks journeying through Lent), or as a way of practicing self-control and remembering that I do not live on bread alone.
And while I still believe that this is true, my eyes have recently been opened to the fact that biblical fasting focuses less on the results of fasting, and more on the circumstances which bring about the fasting. Scott McKnight in his book Fasting, states: “The focus in the Christian tradition is not ‘if you fast you will get’ but ‘when this happens, God’s people fast.’”
Barry Jones in his book Dwell: Life with God for the World lists some examples of why God’s people fast in the Bible: loss in battle (Judges 20:26), relief from famine (Jeremiah 14:1-12; Joel 1:14), the death of a leader (1 Samuel 31:13; 1 Chronicles 10:12; 2 Samuel 1:12), personal sorrow (1 Samuel 1:7-8; Job 3:24; Pslam 42:1-5), the sin of the community (Daniel 9:3-14; Nehemiah 1:4-7), and personal sin (2 Samuel 12:16-23; 1 Kings 21:27-29). Put simply, God’s people fasted in response to the brokenness of the world. Barry Jones goes on to say: “Fasting is the way we engage our bodies in protest against the vandalism of shalom.”
When faced with the brokenness of this world, we often want to look away or to try and find a way to fix it. When we take either (or both) of those options, we miss out on a third option – grieving this “vandalism of shalom,” by fasting and praying. While there are certainly times of celebration in our lives as our God is a joyous God, there are also times to weep and mourn as our God weeps and mourns.
Barry Jones also opened my eyes to the fact that fully half of the references in Scripture to fasting pertain to fasting together in community. What would happen if we as God’s people expressed, in a physical way, together, our sadness at the current injustice of the world and our deep longing for the world to come more fully under the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ?
The Missional Strategies Team at Oak Hills will be fasting on Wednesday June 20th – World Refugee Day – as a response to the global and local injustices being committed against refugees. We would love for you to join us.
You can also join us by praying, along with others around the world, this prayer written by Mark Koenig the Director of Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations:
God of the journey,
We remember that Mary and Joseph Had to flee to Egypt,
Taking Jesus to safety,
Leaving home behind.
We pray for sisters and brothers
Around your world Who are forced to leave their homes.
We pray for brothers and sisters who are
Driven from home by natural disasters.
We pray for sisters and brothers who are
Driven from unnatural acts of violence and persecution.
We pray for brothers and sisters who are
Driven from home because of inadequate responses to natural events.
We pray for those who leave their countries and cross borders.
We pray for those who are internally displaced,
Finding new places to live within their own country.
We pray for those who are exposed to freezing cold and searing heat,
Those who lack food, water, shelter, and other necessities of life,
Those who are exploited, violated, and abused, and
Those who mourn the loss of place and all that brings.
We give thanks for the strength, courage, and grace of our sisters and brothers
Who are refugees or internally displaced.
We give thanks for the contributions they make in their new places
And for the ways in which they enrich our lives.
Guide the leaders of the world to find creative ways to respond,
To extend protection and provide safe haven,
To care compassionately and respectfully for the needs of our sisters and brothers,
To address the situations and circumstances that force people to leave their homes.
To do justice and to seek peace.
Show us ways that we can support our brothers and sisters whom we encounter.
Inspire us to engage in the efforts to create a world
In which all have a safe place to call home.
We pray in the name of the refugee Jesus,
We feast because the Kingdom of God has come, and we fast because it has not yet come into its fullness. We feast because Jesus has come, and we fast waiting for him to return to make all things right. I believe that both of these are an important part of our walk with God, and a key to understanding more fully God’s heart for the world that He loves. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Two local organizations that Oak Hills has worked with to support refugees are: World Relief and The International Refugee Committee
**If fasting is something new you, consider looking at the chapter on Fasting from Richard Fosters book, Celebration of Disciplines. Or here is a link to an excerpt from his book. http://www.thelighthouse.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Fasting-Booklet.pdf
If a food fast is not something you can do for health reasons, you may consider fasting from a favorite food or daily activity.