Keeping Fast to Keep the Feast
Emptiness. The first and the last feeling found in any fast. Certainly, that’s what I nearly always feel. I remember being told that fasting allowed you to use the time you’d normally be eating to focus on God. Those were wonderfully optimistic sentiments.
This is the real result: your only focus becomes food. Suddenly every savory smell becomes the haunt of a meal you had once. The image of a hamburger flits in and out of your mind, but the taste of a taco takes out a permanent lease. Towards the end, even kale – yes. even kale. - will make you salivate. No matter what you try to think on, you will think about food. You will want it. Dream of how to get it. Plan for when you will get it. Fixate on when your fast will end. And you will do all this because of the emptiness. But really, in the end, it’s not the emptiness of your stomach. It’s the emptiness of everything else.
I remember when I was a young undergraduate student at Kansas State and deeply involved with Campus Crusade – now called Cru. We had an evangelism crusade that included us all wearing black hoodies with large all white lettering asking a one-word question. EMPTY? It was not particularly effective as an evangelization technique, mainly because you had to spend most of your time convincing someone that, no matter how they felt, they were actually empty inside. Perhaps a university wide fast would have increased effectiveness. Then we all would have had a shared starting point, for an empty stomach that uncovers all other kinds of emptiness.
You find how empty your energy levels are without regular hits of sugar. You find how empty your moments of delight are without mealtimes. You find an empty will, both to refrain from eating but also to focus on God. But you will also be surprised. Surprised by how little you enjoy of God’s presence and how meagerly you attend to Him. How little you actually desire God compared to how highly you desire food. Surprised as well at the thousands of joys that you have been ignoring.
But that is the point of fasting. It isn’t an exercise to make you healthier or to demand something from God through a show of deep devotion. Fasting is a spiritual formation practice that teaches our souls, through our bodies, that we are not full yet. That we are always in this life only partially satisfied. As humans, we are made to feast upon the very life of God, and until that time when we see God as He is, face to face and in all His glory, we will always be short of full.
At communion every Sunday, when we break the bread, we say this line from 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, “Christ has been sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.” During my fast this line gripped me. My fasting showed me how empty I was, but every Sunday I was reminded where the real feast was. It wasn’t in a full stomach. It wasn’t in my peer’s recognition or appreciation. It wasn’t in my career. It wasn’t in my bodily health. It wasn’t in any temporary or fleeting pleasure. The emptiness I felt in my body, and knew in my soul, is only met in Jesus. Every fast reminds me that He’s the thing I most need. That faithfully keeping the fast is preparation and training for more fully and more perfectly keeping the feast.
At the end of John the Baptist’s ministry in Matthew 9, John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus and asked why none of His disciples fasted. Jesus replied, essentially, they don’t because I’m here. One day they will fast again, because one day the disciples will be waiting for Jesus to return.
As I fast, I am reminded that one day, I will be fully. Totally and finally full. Not with the passing joys of this world, but with the true joy of the presence of my Savior, the Bridegroom, my friend, the Lord Jesus. Then I will never be empty again.
- Josh Keller