A Note on Fasting
The issue of self-control with food is huge in our culture. The food industry knows that there is a limited market for their products, so instead of attempting to gain more customers, they attempt to get their current customers to consume more. The fast food restaurants offer super sizing. Buffets are increasingly popular. Friday night fish fries (very popular in WI) offer all you can eat. Not only an increase in the amount, but there is an attempt to get consumers more emotionally attached to our food. Here are just a few advertising slogans:
“Help yourself to happiness – Golden Corral
“Come hungry. Leave happy.” – IHOP
“Hershey’s Bliss”– (chocolate bar) Hershey Co.
“Every dinner should feel this good” – Stoufer’s
“There’s a lot of joy in Chips Ahoy!” – Kraft Foods
“A big delight in every bite ” – Hostess Twinkies
“Give the Cool Whip, get the love” – Cool Whip
“Unwrap a smile” – Little Debbie Cakes
“Life’s better the Milky Way” – Mars Candy Co.
“Comfort in every bar” – (Milky Way) Mars Candy Co.
Then there are the soft drink slogans.
“Don’t you feel good about 7-Up”
“Red Bull gives you wings” – Red Bull
“Obey your thirst” – Sprite
“Have a Coke and a smile” – Coca Cola
“Coke adds life” – Coca Cola
“The joy of Cola” – Coca Cola
All around us, our culture screams eat more and drink more. Yet at the same time, there is the emphasis on body image. Diets are everywhere. Famous media doctors promote miracle weight loss pills. There are a myriad number of exercise machines that promise incredible results in only 20 minutes, three times a week (they don’t emphasize the fine print which says that diet and exercise are also required).
So how does a follower of Jesus process the cries of our culture with the clear teaching of the Word of God regarding the misuse of food and the virtue of self-control? One clear habit is some form of fasting. Notice the words of Jesus.
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Mat 6:16-18 ESV)
Jesus says “…when you fast…”—he assumes that fasting is a regular part of our spiritual discipline. Fasting is mentioned right alongside prayer and giving. Now, most of the time when someone mentions fasting, the image is of Jesus who went 40 days without food. I don’t think this is the norm; in fact I’m certain of it. I do think the norm is some regular practice of self-denial for the purpose of developing and nurturing self-control. Paul says in 1 Cor 9:27
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1Co 9:27 ESV)
He is not describing some sort of physical abuse of his body. I think it is likely he is describing self-discipline in his physical health – which could very well include fasting. My own practice is to deny my body lunch on Wednesdays. There is no particular reason why I chose Wednesday – it just fits my schedule. I have also participated in several seasons of prayer and fasting that lasted for as long as three days, but those are special experiences. The point is this – when my body asks for food on Wednesday about noon – I say NO! I train my body to submit to me, not the other way around. And in this way I practice self-control.
So instead of more food, I train my body by giving it less. And in that way, I develop and nurture self-control with food. Perhaps this is worth considering as you deal with a culture that encourages more and more food.