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  • Writer's pictureRalph Felzer

A HUNGER THAT SATISFIES

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash


A HUNGER THAT SATISFIES

I have a love-hate relationship with fasting.  On the one hand, I love the increased sense of intimacy and immediacy that I feel with God.  Without even really thinking about it, when I'm fasting a part of me recalls why I'm doing so, and I'm reminded of how God can use my hunger to put His finger on so many areas of my life–even beyond food and drink.  There is something mysteriously sustaining about it.  On the other hand, I really, seriously, have an in-my-bones dislike of being hungry.  Now you would think that given a choice between a deeper sense of closeness with God and a fleeting, somewhat uncomfortable hunger, that choosing closeness with God would be a no-brainer.  But I'm ashamed to admit that I'm not that good a person or that mature a Christ-follower.  


Even acknowledging that, though, there's a lot to be said for leaning into the deepest, truest desires of our hearts.  It makes total sense, doesn't it, that living in this desert place suspended between Eden and the New Jerusalem, we would feel out of place?  If I'm honest, I'll admit to not always desiring God the way I wish I did.  But I'll also admit that I wish with all my heart that I did.  Isn't that strange?  I desire to desire God more than I actually do desire God.  Hmm….  Maybe there's more to my desires than I thought.


But rather than beat myself up over it, I want to (there's that word again, "want") find a way to set aside my weak, flabby desires for healthy, strong, God-directed desires.  And it also comforts me to know that C.S. Lewis recognized the same force at work in the organ of our desires:


"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are

half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy

is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum

because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are

far too easily pleased" (The Weight of Glory).


Weak.  Half-hearted.  Ignorant.  Unimaginative.  Too easily pleased.  That pretty well sums us up, doesn't it?  So what are we to do?


I remember a season of a year or two in my life when I prayed for wisdom.  Though it was a long time ago and I don't remember a lot of my choices back then, I do know that I found myself wiser after this season than I was before.  I didn't see it happening in the moment, I only recognized it in looking back.  I didn't wake up one morning living like Solomon re-incarnated, either.  And don't think I'm patting myself on the back here.  I still engage in more than my fair share of foolishness.  The difference, I think, is that now I become aware of my foolishness much sooner than I used to and, more importantly, I recognize that I am, at the heart of my still-to-be-converted "old man" inclined to foolishness.  Left to myself, I am and always will be, so inclined.


There was another time in my life when I struggled with a couple of persistent sins that I simply could not seem to shake, no matter how hard I tried or how well-intentioned I was.  That was when I decided to get serious about fasting.  I wanted to learn to set my self and my wounded, broken desires aside and learn how to really, deeply desire God, to take up the healthy and whole desires I was made for.  


I was no more inclined to fast then than I am now, but I resolved to fast from food one day a week.  I decided I would fast from breakfast on Tuesday until breakfast on Wednesday.  (I chose this deliberately because that way my hungriest hours would be spent asleep!  I told you–I'm not a very strong person!)  I didn't decide to do this once-a-week fast for a certain period of time, but I wound up doing it for about four years.  


This was quite simply the best thing I think I ever did for my spiritual life.  I would honestly rank it right up there with daily Scripture reading.  


What difference did it make in my life?  An earth-moving, paradigm-shifting difference.  Did I conquer those persistent sins?  Yes, eventually, but interestingly, not as a direct result of my fasting.  Fasting on a regular basis taught me a simple lesson, one I should have learned long before.  But it was a lesson that couldn't be learned by just making up my mind, or getting more serious about following Christ, or finding a better plan, or reading a better, more inspiring book.  


The lesson was this:  I can say No to my desires.  The flip-side is just as important:  I do not have to say Yes to my desires.  That's it.  Honest.  What this meant in my day to day living was that I could learn to say Yes to God by saying No to whatever was churning inside me, moving me, prodding me, cajoling me to serve another appetite or desire that, until then, I thought I had to feed.  It had never occurred to me that I didn't have to say Yes to those inclinations.  Satisfying them, giving in to them, was just an automatic, instinctual response.  Regular fasting taught me that these were habits that I had learned and cultivated.   Those habits had shaped my soul, and stunted my desire for God.


But here is the deeper beauty of the whole experience.  My desire for God grew.  I found Christ closer.  I sensed the Christ-life in me growing and expanding and coursing through my body like a new, more powerful kind of blood.  And that experience led to more and deeper insight and a more profound desire to love and serve Christ and His Body, the Church.


I have one more thing to say about fasting, and I almost want to make an entire article out of it (maybe I will!).  It's this:  Fasting doesn't have to be fasting from food.  I recently felt compelled to start fasting again, but I groaned and squirmed inside at the thought of entering into that again.  Yet there was something I felt was getting in the way of my relationship with God, and I knew that fasting was the way to approach it.  That "something" was personal technology.  I brag about not spending time on my phone the way other people do–but that's only because I use my iPad that way instead of my phone.  I would find myself watching British mysteries with Sandy in the evening and, for no apparent reason at all, I would pick up my iPad and just … scroll … and browse.  It increasingly bothered me that I had a hard time staying engaged in just one thing at a time.  So I experimented with fasting from technology for 24 hours–no iPad, no TV, no radio in the car, no email.  Easier than fasting from food … well, I'm not so sure.  Different.  But I knew deep inside after just one day of this, that this discipline could give Christ access to yet another corner of my not-yet-sanctified heart.  


There is so much more to be said about fasting, about its role in serving, in giving ourselves to righting wrongs, in teaching us how to pray–so much more!  But I want to encourage you with all my heart, if there's something that has been weighing on you, holding you down, or holding you back, choking off your desire for God, pray about how God might lead you to enter into the life-changing grace of fasting.


So, want to give it a shot?  Want to know more?  Weigh in below.  Or email me.  Or give me a call.  Maybe we can sit down over a cup of coffee (if you're not fasting, that is!).


Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.


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