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An Impoverished Spirit

Putting ourselves in a posture of humble dependence

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From Isaiah:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
Isaiah 58:6–9

From Jesus:
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their
faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Matthew 6:16–18

God’s people are to fast, to deny themselves their daily nourishment. Not as an expression of religiosity to win the praise of people. Not as a ritual to gain special favor with God. But to express an impoverished heart that is lived out in acts of radical kindness to others, to bring God’s light and redemption to them spiritually and physically.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” declared Jesus, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Fasting is often put aside as overly ascetic or as an ancient practice with little relevance for today. It’s not talked about, perhaps even ignored, in the church. But the biblical record calls us to it . . . now. There is great power in denying ourselves as we focus intently on our tremendous dependence upon God, desiring to be used for His purposes.

In fasting, I deny myself. I shun what normally sustains me, food, in order to pursue a higher good: God Himself. With my digestive system on “pause,” my body weakens and my longings shift. I move from earthly to heavenly sustenance, from food that satisfies for a brief time to the One who satisfies deeply forever. I begin to feed on Him, to delight in what He provides supernaturally for my sustenance. My focus moves from the world that is seen to that which is not seen and yet very real.

I move from timelines defined by meals to a sense of not needing those food breaks. My constant attention to the clock lessens. My understanding of where my energy comes from shifts. My longing for physical satisfaction through eating is replaced by a heightened spiritual hunger and sensitivity.

The noise and activity swirling around the purchasing, preparation, eating and cleanup of food are replaced by a quietness of spirit. The feeling that “I must eat because my life depends upon it” shifts to “I don’t need to eat because there is a greater power who sustains me, and I am fully and totally dependent upon Him.”

As this noise and activity fade, my sense of being able to discern God’s promptings grows. My sensitivity to Him and His voice increases.

I look at people as they strive to satisfy their hunger cravings, passionately pursuing fulfillment through food, and I realize that, through fasting, I am in possession of something much greater: Christ Himself. He satisfies in a deeper and greater manner than food ever can. Instead of becoming a slave to eating, may I become enslaved to Him. May I become one who is poor in spirit, who lives out that impoverishment not only through a deep worship of the One who is but also by all-out acts of His love, helping others who find themselves in the valley of desperate need.

I invite you today to try fasting from food for a few days. Enter into this relevant-for-today, biblical discipline, asking God to help you see in new ways your impoverishment of spirit. Trust Him, lean on Him, as your sustenance. Do this in quietness and humility before Him, not impressing others but expressing your deep longing for Him. You will discover in a new way that “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Powerless Christianity is about religiosity and ritual to impress others. Biblical fasting is about humbling ourselves to bring into sharp focus our impoverishment of spirit, so that Christ’s power may rest upon us. a

. . . “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9–10

Seven Practical Insights for Longer-Term Fasting

  1. Consult your doctor before starting a lengthy fast. You want to fast in a way that is helpful, not destructive, to your physical well-being. Do not stop taking medications during your fast unless your doctor says this is acceptable.

  2. Make yourself accountable to a trusted person who has experienced a longer-term fast. Ask that person to counsel and help you in your fasting journey.

  3. Before beginning your fast, write down at least three needs for which you do not have the answer, for which you realize that unless God intervenes, there is little, if any, hope. As you fast, bring these before Him daily, indicating your deep trust that He will respond to them His way and in His timing.

  4. Put aside pride and any sense of this being a way to earn credit with God or others. Fasting earns us no special points with God, no merit. It does not put us in a higher spiritual category than those around us who are eating.

  5. To the greatest extent possible, keep your fasting to yourself. When people ask why you are not eating, graciously indicate that you’ve chosen not to eat the meal at hand. This response usually satisfies most inquirers.

  6. Use some of the hours you would normally use for food purchasing, preparation, eating and cleanup to focus on prayer and the Scriptures. You’ll be shocked at how your pace slows and how your interest in prayer and the Scriptures grow during a season of fasting.

  7. Drink plenty of water. Natural fruit and vegetable juices are good nourishment for prolonged seasons of fasting. Your physician may advise using a product like Metamucil to cleanse the digestive tract periodically during a period of fasting.

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