Shaped by God
Ash Wednesday, March 1
Rev. Jeff Meyers, Senior Pastor, Roswell Presbyterian Church
One of the primary ways that God has shaped me and that I've seen God shape others is through the practice of spiritual disciplines. These range from Scripture reading, contemplative prayer, to service. One of the oldest and most influential of these practices (even Jesus did it!), is the practice of fasting.
Richard Foster, one of the people responsible for the recent resurgence in the practice of spiritual disciplines, defines fasting as "the voluntary denial of a normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity." In other words, fasting is not done as an end in itself, but is done with a spiritual purpose in mind. Scripture records many different goals for fasting. Here are some of them:
- To reinforce prayer: Scripture refers to fasting and prayer like salt goes with pepper (e.g. Psalm 35:13; Daniel 9:3, 20; Luke 2:37; Acts 13:2).
- To seek guidance: In a world where distractions can cloud our vision, fasting clears our minds and hearts, freeing us to hear God's quiet, still voice (e.g. Judges 20:26; Acts 14:23).
- To express sorrow: Donald Whitney points out that "three of the first four references in the Bible to fasting connect it with an expression of grief" and there are many others (e.g. Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:11-12).
- To express repentance and humility: When words won't do the job, sometimes fasting speaks louder than words. We should also remember Jesus' parable in Luke 18 of the difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector: fasting does not make you better than anyone else; in fact, fasting is an expression that you realize you are not better than anyone else (e.g. 1 Samuel 7:6; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-8; Luke 18:12).
- To overcome temptation: If the will is a muscle, then controlling your appetite for food can strengthen your self-control in other areas of your life (e.g. Matthew 4:1-11).
These goals, and many others, direct us toward the spiritual ends of fasting. I have experienced growth in my spiritual life through fasting as I use the physical reminders of hunger or cravings as cues to turn to God on the journey of Christ to and through the cross. It is on this journey that I have been shaped by God.
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