Foundations of Emotionally Healthy Activism: Fasting

With the Lord’s Prayer in mind, we see a pattern throughout Scripture that God consistently transforms us — not just through mountaintop experiences that make that last valley bearable or only in the valley when things are not going as we like. His presence is with us on the mountaintop, in the valley, and in between those low points and high peaks. There must be disciplines that we can practice to orient ourselves around the love of God and not the fear of what might happen to me as an African-American male, or you as an immigrant, woman or white man. There must be practices that ground us in His care and concern for us and not our material poverty or riches, present health or sickness, or latest story on the news.

Romans 12:1–2 says,

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

After the disciples were filled with the Spirit, they went out on mission in power and boldness. They were blessed and sent to the ends of the Earth with the Good News and the presence of God. But somehow, 2000 years later, I long to be filled with strategy, techniques, and Christian material, not Holy Spirit power. I am often blessed and sent from my favorite church communities to lunch with a fresh motivational message for another long week of work. My Christian shopping cart is full butI am not equipped to cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach the Good News of Jesus for all people. I am not challenged to press deeper into the heart of God for my neighbor instead of myself. In the words of leadership at New Life Fellowship Church, I often make my faith private, instead of personal. Sadly, I often make Jesus into a personal assistant whose specialty is self-help, not the Son of God who is my Savior and the Redeemer of all Creation.

Fasting is another discipline that allows us as prayerful resistors to enter into the longing for the Kingdom of God through the physical reminder of the lack of something we desperately need. The pangs of hunger mirror the longing of creation for the Creator God who originally spoke it into being. The sacrifice of food and comfort reminds us that our only true comfort is in the presence of the Living God. It proclaims that He who sustains us will fill us. Our God is not our stomachs or appetite. We fast to stand with the poor and marginalized though we live in a land of abundance and plenty. All of who we are gets aligned around the purposes of God and what He wants to accomplish as we wait to be filled by Him, rejecting the instant gratification of our culture for the fulfillment of our deepest longings in Christ.

Thus, we replace meals with prayer, time in scripture, and intercession for the powerful and powerless. We dedicate this time and energy towards service to God and one another. Fasting is a crucible for reorientation. Note, if one is fasting from something other than food like social media, shopping or social media, the substitutions of those habits by spiritual disciplines is the same. This is crucial because our cultural Christianity often revolves around pursuing comfort and avoiding suffering. America tells us that whatever we want, we should have and that is not the way of the Kingdom. Our resistance isn’t running off of one prayer meeting, protest, or rally, but constant encounters with Jesus in prayer, scripture and worship. The discipline of fasting shapes us so that when things are the most difficult, we still abide in God and make our homes in Christ. Specifically, while pursuing justice, spiritual disciplines allow us to constantly see ourselves, our neighbors, and enemies as people made in His image to flourish, work, rule and create.

Now, it must be said that fasting is an offering, not a deposit. God is not a cosmic slot machine or vault of blessings where we put in the right combinations or code and unlock the blessings He promised us. God will not be manipulated or coerced. He is God Almighty, worthy of worship, praise, honor and glory; our fasting is a tangible reminder of our longing to be filled with Himself and emptied of all else. Fasting, for the activist, points to the Cross of Christ and our sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfillment of our deepest desire — not the removal of a statue, passage of a law, or repeal of a conviction. This is deep and holy work as we let go of the things of this world, and press into the reality of the Kingdom and the presence of the Living God to become more full within us. Thus, the discipline of fasting and orientation around Jesus is what gives us the ability to participate in the fasting that Jesus calls all of His followers to in the famous passage from Isaiah 58.