18 February 2021

Christians who don’t want you to fast.

As I elsewhere said, if fasting weren’t in the bible, it’d nonetheless be a fad. One Christians still frequently use as a spiritual exercise, because it does strengthen our self-control. When seeking God in prayer takes priority over sustaining our very lives, it’s this kind of hardcore behavior which makes us less likely to give in to the many temptations which comfort offers us.

So what keeps Christians from fasting? Usually it’s those very same comforts.

Years ago I was in a prayer meeting where the leader challenged us to fast for a week. Really, diet. He wasn’t telling us to utterly go without food. Just go vegan for a week, and set aside sweets and coffee. Set aside a few comforts so we can focus better on God. And my knee-jerk reaction was, “I just went to the grocery store yesterday and bought a bunch of yogurt. I don’t want it to go bad…” as if we were gonna be dieting that long. Wasn’t really about the expiration date either. It’s ’cause I love yogurt.

So as we were praying, the Holy Spirit got on my case about this: “Really? You’re gonna put aside growing your relationship with me over yogurt?” Okay yeah, it does sound petty and stupid when you put it that way. But frequently our temptations are just that petty and stupid. Doesn’t take much at all to make us stumble sometimes.

Fasting is uncomfortable. That’s kinda the point. Having food in your stomach feels way better than hunger pangs. Eating something delicious is way more pleasurable than eating something just to keep your blood sugar levels stable. But, just like when you sit on the edge of a chair to keep yourself from falling asleep during a boring meeting, fasting is meant to keep us spiritually alert, meant to keep us more aware of our dependence on God. Meant to help us pay attention to what he’s telling us.

So yeah, we gotta fight the temptation to make ourselves more comfortable, and thereby compromise our fasts or diets. And the other thing we gotta watch out for—the main topic of this article, which I had to get to eventually—are the fellow Christians who are gonna try to make us stumble.

Yep. Because while you are trying to get more religious, they have no such interest. They’re not fasting. Or they’re pretending to, but they’ve swapped the fast for the most comfortable diet they can find. They’ll do a “Daniel fast,” yet fudge it so they can eat all the granola bars they want… because let’s be honest: Granola bars are cookies. Shaped like a bar, with a few healthy things thrown in, but they’re totally oatmeal cookies.

Because your activities are more hardcore than theirs, they feel convicted—“Maybe I should step up my game a little”—but they fight this feeling by telling themselves it’s wrong. That you’re too hardcore. That you’re engaging in works righteousness, as if fasting harder than them earns you special Skee-Ball tickets with God, which you can exchange for prizes. That you’re only doing this so you can feel better about yourself—“Look how Christian I am”—and look down on lazy Christians like them. To only look like a better Christian, even though you’re not really.

(Incidentally, don’t do any of those things.)

To some degree they’re projecting. That’s why they’d strive harder to follow God: To earn heavenly merit, or to look or feel superior. But it’s not that… right? You’re trying to grow. You’re pursuing God. You wanna get closer to Jesus. It’s about him, not you. And this pursuit of God can, sad to say, provoke jealousy in Christians who aren’t pursuing God, who imagine fruit grows spontaneously… or who wanna stay “ahead of you” when it comes to spiritual things, and don’t want you maturing faster than they.

In so doing, sometimes they pick really lousy excuses for why you shouldn’t fast. Not valid ones, like it being a feast day. Poisonous ones, like the idea fasting’s an Old Testament practice and we shouldn’t do it anymore. Or the ridiculous claim that fasting in the bible was dieting, not doing without food… contrary to what the scriptures themselves state.

Luke 4.2 KJV
Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.

“Nothing” as in οὐδὲν/udén, nothing. Really nothing. No food. Not even quails and manna.

Religious people bug irreligious people.

Years ago I heard a sermon on fasting where the preacher noted how often things are gonna tempt us to violate the fast. Suddenly every business meeting is gonna have pastries and coffee. Suddenly old friends will visit town for a few days and wanna meet for lunch. You’ll get invited to birthday parties. You’ll drive past your favorite restaurant and find it’s their 20th anniversary, so for one day they knocked all their prices down to what they charged in 2001. (Yes, 2001 is 20 years ago. You’re old.) Man alive are you gonna drool.

Now yeah, some of that stuff isn’t really the entire fallen universe conspiring to knock you off your fast. It’s simply the fact there’s a lot of functions in our lives with food involved. Functions we never really think about… till we’re on a diet, or a fast. Food addicts know exactly what I’m talking about. In the United States, food’s everywhere. It’s one of our favorite comforts.

So for jealous Christians who wanna throw us off our fasts, it’s not at all hard for them to point to these temptations and say, “You can take a break from your fast for just this once. Hey, you don’t wanna be legalistic about it.”

Yeah, that’s the way they think: Self-control is legalism.

Actual legalism is when your church is gonna penalize you, threaten you with hell, or simply threaten you with a lack of prosperity in the coming year, if you dare to skip a fast. Is that what’s happening here? (If so, you’re probably in a cult.) What should be happening is you’ve voluntarily chosen to fast, you’re requiring no one else to fast along with you, and it’s not gonna irreparably damage your body to do it. If that’s the case, it’s far from legalism.

But to an irreligious Christian, any spiritual exercise which they don’t wanna do, which threatens their comfort, is “legalism.” Those of ’em who like to bash religion will correctly call it religion, but in their minds this means dead religion—it’s an unnecessary practice which doesn’t bring us any closer to God.

In that, they’re wrong. Fasting, if we do it right, rejects the idols we can make of our palate, our stomach, and one’s reputation as a discriminating foodie. Fasting rejects a material need in favor of spiritual things.

Because irreligious people reject nothing, this is gonna bug them. A lot. So they need to drag you back down to their level, and then they won’t feel so bad about themselves: “You quit your religious nonsense, proving I was right.” Nah, it only proves you’re susceptible to peer pressure. And if that’s the case, maybe stay away from such people, and work on your self-control. (Conveniently, fasting helps!)

Part of the reason Jesus told us not to play up the fact we’re fasting, Lk 6.16-18 is because we don’t need the public acclaim… and neither do we need the hassle of irreligious people mocking our devotion and trying to make us stumble. And, if we promised God or others we’d fast, trying to make us sin. But you realize if they have no idea we’re fasting, they’re not gonna try to sabotage us: They shouldn’t know any different. If we cancel lunch, they’re not gonna assume, “It’s ’cause you’re fasting, isn’t it?” Don’t promote your practices, and you shouldn’t encounter any intentional backlash from anyone.

Nope, the only temptations you’ll have to fight are the usual temptations in life: The coworker who puts doughnuts in the break room, the neighbors who leave the windows open when they’re frying bacon, the husband forgets you’re fasting and brings home a pizza… You know, life. It happens. Exercise that self-control!