He leaned back against the tree to enjoy the only shade within a thousand feet.
It had been over five weeks since he had been out in the sun, surviving the hot days under sparse vegetation and the cold nights wrapped in his cloak.
He sighed heavily. It was lonely, being out there all by himself with nothing but the wild animals as company.
Two more days.
He thought of others who had experienced what he was experiencing. It wasn’t a large group.
Elijah. Moses. Joshua.
Only three others had fasted forty days in the wilderness. And now him. Even the stones reminded him of the warm loaves of bread his mother used to make.
His baptism by his cousin, John, seemed so long ago now.
Yet despite the weakness from the heat and the absence of food, Jesus felt a power within Him that was wholly spiritual. His battle against the enemy had been fierce, but by the Spirit and the Word, He had been up to the task.
Two more days, and then the real work would begin. Though the forty days of fasting in the wilderness were hard, He was confident that they were right and that He was prepared for whatever challenges would come.
When I think of Jesus fasting for forty days (Matthew 4:1-11), I am astounded. The longest I have ever fasted was four days (and I only did that once). Now, as a post-transplant recipient, I am limited in my extended fasting abilities, but I still try to fast once a week. I have been doing this for about five years now, and a few observations have risen to the surface.
First, fasting reminds me of all that I have. There is always food in my fridge or pantry. There is a roof over my head, clothes in my closet, and a vehicle in my driveway. I have a job. I have entertainments and enjoyments.
It is easy in the midst of all those things to actually lose sight of all those things. I can forget how fortunate I am and start complaining about what I don’t have.
Fasting puts me in a place of not having – I am not having food. It brings into sharp focus how privileged my life really is.
It helps me to better obey Paul’s instructions in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Second, fasting helps to break addictions in my life. Most often, my fasting is in regard to food. But fasting can also be in regard to time spent on my phone or social media. Whether it is an addiction to food, or to work, or to screen time, going without shows me that there is more to my life than those things.
It reveals in a stark and shocking way how my need for those things has crept in. I am thinking about them all the time when I am fasting. I am missing them. Actually, I am probably going through some kind of withdrawal.
Fasting forces me to face the fact that I am more addicted to those things than I care to admit.
It also affords me the opportunity to consider whether I want my life to be controlled by those things. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:23:
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.
Third, fasting reveals my frailty. It is amazing how quickly I feel weak when I am not eating. When I am not fasting, I can easily forget that “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall” (1 Peter 1:24). I can then carry around with me an illusion of invincibility. This illusion keeps me from relying on the Lord Jesus, and any life that does not rely on the Lord Jesus is an inferior life.
Paul boasts in his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:5); I want to deny my weaknesses. Fasting brings my weaknesses to the forefront, making them undeniable. But it is only in that place that I can truly be strong. Jesus said:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Last, fasting is a reminder to turn my heart to Jesus. On normal days, it can be easy to fill up all my moments with busyness to the point where I don’t think about my Lord. I’m not doing bad things; I just do things without a pointed Christ-centeredness.
When I am fasting, I am constantly being reminded of what I am doing. I am constantly being reminded that I am trying to emulate my Saviour, rely on my Saviour, obey my Saviour, and honour my Saviour.
So, every pang of hunger is a prompt to acknowledge His work in my life.
Like a cue from offstage, lines are fed to me so that I might recognize both my needs and the needs of the ones I love. I am praying continually because I am hungry continually. It is a great help in keeping an eternal and supernatural perspective, as I am coached to do in Hebrews:
Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
Jesus left His time of fasting with renewed energy and vitality. Maybe the enemy misplayed his hand by thinking that Jesus was more vulnerable because He was fasting. The opposite was true: Jesus fought back with exceptional skill, confidence, and success.
May we experience that same victory that Jesus did as we follow Him in the discipline of fasting.
Are you hungry for hunger?
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)