I got reminded of something I frequently did when I was young, and that was fasting. It seems to be a subject that does seem to be puzzling and perhaps the underlying truth of fasting might be misinterpreted and misleading, when viewed nowadays. When I Google Fasting and all relevant keywords relating to the spiritual aspect of it today, I find interesting terminologies, which to be honest make me wonder, to say the least. Like “7 Steps to Fasting” or “The Power of Prayer and Fasting” or “How to Fast” or “how to fast and pray effectively” or “breakthrough fasting” or “successful fasting” or “Positive Prayer and fasting Keys”. The list goes on and on. And please know these are terminologies used by Christian denominations of all sorts. These terminologies seem to predict the utter opposite of what fasting symbolizes in purely spiritual concept. The Bible talks about fasting, but do I read things into it, and perhaps like in many other mayor categories like salvation, baptism we seem to get it wrong, so why not in fasting as well. One principal thought that struck me, is self-effort.
The fasting that is promoted looks like, smells like, feels like a reflection of ancient theologies as a journey towards spiritual transformation, and is practiced through physical abstinence. Yogis in this case should be in a sense the role models we should look up to, like waiting for enlightenment. I don’t know, but I feel that my spiritual growth comes as i recognize the complete rebellious nature of my flesh, and the necessity of the absolute surrender in Christ. It is not until i know the reality of “death to self” that i can live for Christ, allowing God to truly use and bless me. Therefore I have a problem and recognize self-efforts to please God as empty rituals which will not lead anywhere. I am not saying per se that fasting is bad, what I am saying is that if the spiritual applications are not meet, it becomes a self-effort and availed nothing, and as a friend put it: the Lord may or may not respond to and bless, depending on what He sees as the true motivation of it.
Mark 9:25-29 reads: When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it: “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” [by unconditional surrender and capitulation of self, in all aspects]
Now, it would be interesting to see what some Commentaries say to it:
Expositor’s Greek Testament Commentary:
Of course in the view of Christ, prayer, both in healer and in healed, was needful in all cases, but He recognized that there were certain aggravated types of disease (the present, one of them) in which the sense of dependence and trust was very specially required. In the case of the epileptic boy this had been lacking both in the boy’s father and in the disciples. Neither he nor they were hopeful of cure.
Robertson’s Commentaries says:
The addition of “and of fasting” does not appear in the two best Greek manuscripts. It is clearly a late addition to help explain the failure. Prayer is what the nine had failed to use. They were powerless because they were prayerless. Their self-complacency spelled defeat. Matthew 17:20 has “because of your little faith” (oligopistian). They had too much faith in themselves, too little faith in Christ. “They had trusted to the semi-magical power with which they thought themselves invested”. [Would that not be something that is promoted these days? And what we find ourselves in? Wanting the spiritual power, without paying the price?] Those spiritual forces of wickedness with their savage character were quick to determine the lack of moral authority in them and would not yield to it.
Here we have set before us a very striking and significant contrast: the contrast between the spiritual power of Jesus fresh from the Mount of Transfiguration, and the want of such power in His disciples, who represent to us the common life of the multitude and the simple. It is in our religious life just as in everything else—spiritual carelessness, indifference or neglect which must spell spiritual weakness. So, the faith to move mountains, would not materialize when our heart is indifferent and we have not been on the Mount of Transfiguration to become truly Holy ourselves.
Do we desire to cast any evil influence or any weakness out of our life? Do we ask despairingly how it is that we have not been able to cast it out? Our Lord’s answer comes to us in these emphatic words—This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer.
In other words, if we really desire that our soul shall be cleansed and strengthened, we must unreservedly surrender it to Him in prayer and self-denial, in spiritual exercises and communion with Him.
Christ’s own practice corresponds with His warnings and injunctions. These withdrawals of Jesus into the solitude of the desert or the mountain, these hours in which He was alone with the Father, are but another name for those exercises of prayer, fasting, meditation, communion with God, without which it is not possible to eradicate from the soul those influences of sin which destroy its harmony and undermine its strength.
To be effectual, prayer must be accompanied by faith, and the disciples who had proved powerless either had not prayed, or had prayed without faith. They may have thought that the power to heal was inherent in themselves, and that there was no need to pray; or they had little trust that God would hear their prayer.
I feel on one hand we want to fast, to show gratitude and honoring, but on the other hand we are not willing denying ourselves, ask for the breakings and chastening’s, forsaking own “SELF,” dying to own conceptions and unconditionally yield to His bidding. I cannot help it, but it does not exactly sound like wanting to do it Gods way, but rather I do it my way. Sound to me like self-indulgence.
Namely we are called to follow Christ, whose earthly life was one of suffering and privation. We must learn to renounce our own ways of thinking and knowing and apply what faith requires above all and that is an acceptance of the mastery of God Himself, something we can never penetrate. It induces us to give ourselves to God in trust and love, to leave our entire life in His hands. Faith means rising above the things that we cling to so doggedly, things which according to our natural judgment seem to provide some measure of fulfillment. The genuine Christian I believe, puts his reliance on God’s mercy, realizing that from Him alone all goodness comes. Going back, somehow we think there is a glimpse of some goodness in us, which God must recognize. Are we not as those who Jesus himself called lawless?
He called them lawless because they directed themselves by their own accord, instead of being first transformed by Gods renewing, changing us into His image, being filled by the Holy Spirit and then just obediently do the submitting as God comments.
Now the thing that should make us wonder is that prayer and fasting are mechanisms which directly integrate into the deeper relationship with God. To be able to get into this kind of relationship, fasting at such will have to be in complete compliance and submission with God, as well as being seen and identified as such from God himself. Unquestionable when Jesus was at the Mount of Transfiguration, he was the “Beloved Son” without blemish and sin. He knew where he came from. He knew the Father, He knew the spiritual principles that governs the world, the universe and everything ever created. The spiritual entities the disciples were meant to engage with knew too well, that they did not have the authority to cast them out. Demons of such malignity, as in the possessed boy, were quick to discern the lack of moral power and would yield to no other than Christ.
So, that leaves us only with one conclusion, that the fasting that is not in alliance with Gods principles are vain attempts of our own comfortable self-centered lives, our self-preserving goodness? How is it that people can spend their days so happily delight in pleasure, and enjoyment, satisfaction and in pursuit of recreation and of all the ease they can get? Let Christ Himself be the armor that you wear; give no more thought to satisfying the bodily appetites!
God forbid, that I should ever substitute self-imposed inventions for the real rules of holiness.
I will not pursue this subject further, although I have no desire to finish speaking of it, for I see that Christ is known very little by those who consider themselves his friends. We see them seeking in Him their own pleasures and consolations because of their great love for themselves, but not loving His bitter trials and death, because of their great love for Him.
The first law of Christian self-denial is a readiness to surrender and follow Jesus to the cross. If anyone comes to Me without hating his own life, he cannot be My disciple. The man who will not take up his cross and follow Me is no disciple of Mine. The words sound uncompromising, but when viewed in the light of the cross and resurrection, they are eminently reasonable. The fact is that Christ has given a solution and an answer beyond the range of human reason. Its roots are in an experience that comes from the spirit of God; an experience however, that fulfills all the noblest and deepest aspirations of the human heart.
For our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they can know no rest until they rest in You.