The freshness of the New Year is a reminder that God lavishes us with life, provision, and new mercies. At the time of the Exodus, Yahweh told the people of Israel to pick up just enough manna each day for their households, six days a week. He gave enough for every day--no need to worry, no need to hoard, no need to gorge.
Fast-forward to now: January is a time of dieting in America, with 500-calorie-a-day menus, hot pepper and water detoxes, and 40-day cleanses. Many of these regimens are even referred to as “fasts.” I don’t personally advocate these methods, but I do not believe they are sinful. Nor do I believe they are fasts.
Here's what I have learned about fasting:
1. It's not essential to the Christian life. There are commands that Jesus gave: making disciples, baptizing, teaching (Matthew 28:19), remembering His death through communion (Luke 22:19-20), loving God and loving one another (Matt 22:37-40). These are essential to walking with God.
Fasting is not mandatory, but it is a beautiful act of worship and a demonstration of dependence on God. In the Old Testament, people fasted for a time as a way to devote themselves to God. In the New Testament, fasting, along with prayer, was a weapon wielded to cast out demons (Matthew 17:14-21 and Mark 9:17-29). It was also mentioned in terms of short-term sexual abstinence (1 Corinthians 7:5-6), so that a couple could (for a time) dedicate themselves to prayer.
2. Which leads me to my next point: Fasting is not just about not eating food. It can be abstaining from sex or from a certain food or activity for a finite amount of time.
3. Fasting is private. If you brag about it to gain the praise or pity of other people, it’s pointless. You might as well go eat that burger. Matthew 6:16-18 says: "When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you."
4. Fasting is associated with prayer. The desire for whatever we’re abstaining from drives us to talk to God. The Holy Spirit can work through this process. It is important to be familiar with the Word of God--the Bible--because the enemy likes to take advantage of our hunger to set us on a path of destruction. Luke 4:1-13 testifies to that.
5. Fasting is not dieting. Fasting is a mode of worship; dieting is a mode of weight reduction.
Would Jesus be on a diet? A quick look at the Bible reveals that since the Garden of Eden, God has loved for people to enjoy the taste and look of food (Genesis 2:9). Psalm 34:8 enthusiastically describes the worship and acknowledgment of God by saying, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” When Solomon wanted to describe the beauty and sumptuousness of love-making, he chose dates and raisins, milk and wine as some of his metaphors.
God also incorporates food into our worship and remembrance of His rescuing love for us. Before the Exodus, the people of Israel experienced their first Passover, with hyssop, roasted lamb, and unleavened bread--a sensory metaphor of the One who would come and die for their deliverance. Yahweh chose to symbolize atonement for sin through the sacrifice of choice animals; they were a sweet savor to Him. When Jesus did come, He introduced the disciples to communion, symbolizing the way His body would be broken for us, and explicitly asked us to worship, with food, to remember him.
One of the ways that Jesus proved to his disciples that He had resurrected and wasn’t just a ghost was by grilling fish on the beach and eating with his friends, just like old times.
Jesus intends to celebrate our reunion with Him by throwing a huge party, and there will be wine. Jesus, in fact, will abstain from the pleasure of wine until we’re all together (Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25, Luke 2).
From cover to cover of the Bible, the Lord has united our bodies and souls when it comes to worshiping Him and enjoying what He created. How we eat and care for our bodies is a reflection of our reverence for God. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (NIV)
I’m challenged to make my eating habits a part of my “true and proper worship.” Mind you, dietary restrictions do not bring us closer to God in and of themselves (check Paul’s take on this in 1 Corinthians 8:8 and Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Mark 7:18-20). If it did, our righteousness would be weighed by scales, calipers, and mirrors. Thanks be to God that our work, or work-outs, don’t earn us salvation; only the sacrifice of Jesus can cover us. Only the work of the Holy Spirit and obedience to God’s Word can increase our intimacy with God.
I can, however, show Him that I appreciate what He gave me as a response to His mercy and kindness by putting food in its proper place. It is a sign of God’s provision, so it is to be enjoyed. As with any good gift of God, it is to be utilized but not abused, so it should be consumed in moderation. It is not God, nor is it capable of comforting or covering, so it should not be treated as an idol.
I believe that God’s ideal for us is to enjoy rather than abuse our food and our bodies. He intends for us to live eternally with both. If a diet helps us to retain proper stewardship of the body, it is good! If food restriction is a desperate attempt at gaining control or approval, it is not good.
God has prepared a veritable table before us. Food is not our enemy. Let’s put our daily bread back in its place--a creation to be harnessed and enjoyed.
(This is a blog post I wrote that originally appeared in Manna Express Online, a magazine written by members the Christian diaspora.)