Fasting and the Preparation of the Heart

Fasting and the Preparation of the Heart
 by Chandler Nick

On January 7 th, Banner Church will begin a 21-day fast. The purpose is to unite the church as one body in seeking the Lord with a whole heart. Ultimately, however, your own involvement in the fast is a personal decision. Banner Church is not Big Brother; nobody is watching you.
Recognizing this, you may feel tempted to strike a deal with your stomach and feed it treats on
the sly. But I want to make sure that doesn’t happen, not because it is any of my business
whether or not you fast, but because I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the benefits that fasting

In convincing you to fast, my misguided impulse is to take the “eat your vegetables” approach.
In other words, fast because 1) it’s good for you and 2) the Great Physician says so. But, when I
think more deeply about it, I believe the guilt-trip approach is unhelpful. Fasting merely because
that is what you are “supposed to do for God” can quickly feel like a cruel playground game in
which a bully grabs your arm and twists it until you cry “Uncle!”.

There is a reason fasting shouldn’t feel this way. If you think fasting is an arm-twisting
endurance test, then you probably think God is a bully. And if you think God is a bully, you are
likely to resent Him and indulge your cookie-craving out of sheer spite. This is not the fasting
God intends. Surely God is not a bully who designs fasting as a fruitless, punitive test of
endurance. Yes, it requires discipline, and even pain. But it is purposeful discipline. By God’s
glorious and upside-down design, it is productive pain.

There is great reward in fasting, and this is why I would rather not waste my time laying guilt on
your shoulders. Human experience tells us that a positive motivation to take on a challenge is
more effective than a threatening rebuke. It would require unnecessary effort, and yield inferior
results, to guilt you into fasting. It makes much more sense to persuade you to fast, like a parent
who persuades her child that the vegetables on his plate will actually taste good.
But here’s the problem: Vegetables aren’t always tasty, and fasting isn’t always rewarding. In
both cooking and fasting, the secret to success is in the preparation.
Take broccoli as an example. Uncooked, unseasoned broccoli is bland. Eating it requires a
certain kind of endurance. Sure, you can swallow it down well enough, but it isn’t satisfying.
You might ask the chef, “Couldn’t you have roasted it, garnished it with cheese, and dipped it in
a savory sauce?” Next time, you’ll prepare the dish yourself. You’ll prepare it properly. And
voila! What once was bland will now be delectable.

Fasting is very much the same. When you prepare your heart for a fast in the wrong way, the fast
demands your unflinching willpower but offers little in return. Just like eating your veggies may
earn you kudos from Mom and not much else, this misguided experience of fasting may boost
your sense of self-righteousness, but deep down you still ask yourself, “Wasn’t that
unsatisfying?” It feels like so much loss, for so little gain.

But what if you prepared your heart properly?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls himself “the bread of life” and claims that
“whoever comes to [him] shall not hunger” (John 6:35). In light of this passage, preacher Paul
Washer argues that when we fast, “we are separating ourselves from food, but not to starve. We
are separating ourselves unto the bread of life, who is far better than earthly food.”
It is important to consider the subtlety of this argument. It is one thing to deny yourself food and
passively wait for something holy to happen as you starve. It is quite another to deny yourself
food and actively seek Christ through prayer, worship, and meditation on Scripture. Passive
waiting implies that fasting is self-denial plus nothing. Active seeking implies that fasting is self-
denial plus Christ.

Jesus did not say, “whoever waits for me shall not hunger.” He says, “whoever comes to me shall
not hunger.” The difficulty is that coming to Jesus requires a radical preparation of the heart. The
rebellious human heart does not naturally seek Christ; it prefers self. Only when the human heart
learns to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps.34:8) does it redirect course. But praise be to
God; we at Banner Church are believers! We have tasted the goodness of God. We may only
need a little refresher, and that is where fasting comes in.

Jesus is the flavor, the reward, that makes even the trying times in our lives more than worth
it—times of fasting not least of all. That is why I don’t feel silly or irreverent saying that Christ
is like dipping sauce that adds zest to the broccoli. If we will prepare our hearts to savor the rich
flavor of Christ in the midst of our fasting, what once was a bland spiritual exercise will become
a delectable encounter with the Savior.

In fact, this is the whole point of fasting. Whenever a hunger pang strikes, think of it as an
opportunity to feast on Jesus. This thought will prepare and equip your soul to enjoy Christ more
fully and more sincerely, without the crutch of creature comforts. Practically speaking this
means, crack open your Bible, and He will satisfy you with His Word. Or get on your knees, and
He will comfort you in prayer. Or lift your hands, and He will enthrall you in worship.
Whatever means of grace you use to connect with Him (and I recommend all of the above), you
will find that Christ is the better Bread, the Bread you truly desire. And by God’s grace, this
revelation will heighten your anticipation for the day when you finally taste Him in full.
I commend this to you: When you begin your fast, don’t choose a spiritual exercise without
flavor. Choose the delectable variety: an empty plate with a heaping helping of Christ.