Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Prayer and Fasting

I am in the third day of a time of prayer and fasting. I am taking no food. I am simply drinking water or other non-caloric liquids such as plain tea or diet soda. I will maintain this fast until God answers my prayer or until it becomes physically impossible for me to fast any longer. I can do nothing else but pray.

Before I moved to Hong Kong, for many years, I did a three day fast from dawn Good Friday until Sunset Easter Sunday. I’ve not done that in Hong Kong. I find that Hong Kong is a tough place to fast in. According to the South China Morning Post Hong Kong has more restaurants per-capita than almost any other major city. Wherever you go in Hong Kong you smell food. That I have not maintained my Easter fast is probably to my detriment but is simply the way things are. The busy pace and crowded streets are not conducive to quietude, contemplation or fasting for personal spiritual growth.

Fasting is a strange spiritual discipline. It is difficult to see or understand how it works or why it is effective. Does God listen more closely to my prayers simply because I’m hungry? Fasting seems to go against the very nature of the promise of Jesus that I would have an “Abundant life.” How does having the distraction of hunger make you better able to pray without distraction?

I don’t know the answers to all of those questions. But, I’m beginning to have some answers.

Before, when I would fast, it was always because I was seeking some spiritual benefit for myself. This fast was undertaken because someone I know and love, someone close to me is in desperate trouble. They have made some lifestyle choices that are not just sinful but physically destructive. They have betrayed my trust. They have, evidently abandoned their faith. At this moment, all I can do besides pray for them is to fast. They desperately need some intervention which I cannot provide. Yet, I desperately want to do something. I can only do two things. I can pray and I can fast. Fasting may not help directly but it is what I can do. That may not sound like much. It certainly doesn’t sound like much when I write it down. It is huge. Fasting gives me control of a situation where I otherwise have no control. It makes the situation bearable. My hunger is comfort to my soul. What a blessing

Fasting also allows my physical body to mirror my spiritual state. We can sort of see this idea in the sixth Psalm:

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away;
Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed.
And my soul is greatly dismayed; But You, O LORD --how long?
Return, O LORD, rescue my soul; Save me because of Your lovingkindness.
For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks?
I am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears.
My eye has wasted away with grief; It has become old because of all my adversaries.

Fasting is a way to channel my mental anguish into physical action. It allows me to control my grief by bring my physical state into alignment with my mental state. I am in mental aguish over this situation. I feel like I am going to die. Fasting brings the feeling home in a real and obvious way. It focuses my attention on the object of my prayers. What a blessing

Fasting reminds me that my prayers have a goal. I think that sometimes our prayers are too amorphous, jello like. We tend to try and cover the water front. “Dear God, bless us bla, bla, bla- rescue the perishing oh Lord, bla bla bla. How much more effective would our prayer be if we kept the goal of our prayers in sight? How much more fervent would our prayers be if we knew that each prayer weakened us physically? What a blessing.

Fasting keeps my grief from turning into self-righteousness. I am seeking the restoration of a loved one; not recompense or retribution for a wrong done. Jesus told us that:

"Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17. "But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

My fast is a secret, known only to a few people who need to know. By maintaining it in secret I keep my prayer pure. What a blessing

As can also be seen from the passage above, fasting in private prevents me from allowing my grief to control my life. In this case it is the only way that I could function in society. I cannot weep at my job. People depend upon me being at work. I am commanded to go about my business. Fasting keeps me from being consumed by bitterness, grief and sorrow. What a blessing

Fasting reminds me that prayers have answers. The fast will eventually end, even if at this point I cannot see when. God may or may not answer my prayers the way I wish. But, I will have an answer and I will rejoice in the graciousness of the Lord. When David’s first son with Bathsheba sickened David fasted and prayed. When the child died he rose and washed himself and broke his fast. I have always found this passage to be remarkable but I don't think I ever understood it until now.

2 Samuel 12: 16-23
16. David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground. 17. The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them. 18. Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, "Behold, while the child was still alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do himself harm!" 19. But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?" And they said, "He is dead." 20. So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate. 21. Then his servants said to him, "What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food." 22. He said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, `Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' 23. "But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."

I will, God willing kept my fast until this situation is resolved or until I am physically unable to keep it any longer. But, I must understand that God may not answer my prayers in the way I would wish. The person I am praying for might or might not repent and be restored to fellowship with both God and my family. The situation may get better or it could get worse. But, when the time comes to break the fast then God will give me either comfort in full measure or reason to celebrate. What a blessing

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Fasting Blogger

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