“Rise up, my darling! Come away with me, my fair one!” Song of Solomon 2:13
Last year we had the great privilege of travelling through Death Valley in the USA. It is one of my favourite places in the world. The space, the scenery, the colours at dusk and dawn, the night-time skies and the silence are absolutely captivating. On the way into the valley, I stopped the car, the whole family got out into 49-degree heat and for a moment we kept still and didn’t say a word. You couldn’t hear a thing – not a bird singing, not the wind, not a car. In fact, the only thing you could hear was the silence, which was simultaneously captivating and unsettling.
We are so used to noise and distraction that we feel uncomfortable in silence. Consequently, we often rush to fill the spaces that God wants to fill with his words. However, it is not just noise and sounds that can clutter our lives, and prevent us from hearing God; there are a raft of other distractions, demands and deadlines that play their loud chorus in our daily lives and demand our attention. The line between legitimate and illegitimate demands become blurred, as does the distinction between what we want and what we need. Sometimes, maybe more often than we imagine, we need to step away from the clamour so that we can actually hear. We need to step away from what we think is so necessary in order to see and experience that: “people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Fasting is a tool that we have been given that enables us to do just that and to do that in the midst of our daily life. To learn to still the distractions by sacrificing the seemingly most basic of needs – food! As I was writing this blog I was reflecting on how fasting is an invitation to deeper intimacy rather than a work we perform to make things happen. A call to come away with him – and out of the noise, clutter and distractions. Yet in the place of deeper intimacy we do indeed see things happen.
I have often found that three things take place when I fast:
- The first thing is a battle. My flesh cries out for the things it wants and in so doing often reveals areas in my life where I have developed unhelpful attachments. If you want to know if you are addicted to something, just have it taken away from you and see how you respond! This battle also often manifests itself in unhelpful heart-attitudes coming to the surface – it really does feel like a light is being shone into our hearts. As the psalmist says “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” If this doesn’t seem pleasant that is because it isn’t. Jesus was tempted and faced spiritual warfare when he fasted in the wilderness and we shouldn’t expect anything different. If we persist however and don’t give up, we walk into an opportunity to gain insight into things that God has been trying to speak to us about but we have been too distracted to listen.
- The second things is that one’s sensitivity to God is heightened. It is as if the space between heaven and earth is reduced from a brick wall to a thin veil. The fact that this can take place at the same time as the battle mentioned above can be confusing and yet you can notice it the longer you go on. You notice it in the depth of your prayers and your worship. Importantly you notice it when you gather together as community in times of prayer.
- The third thing I notice is that the breaking of the fast always leaves me disappointed. The thing that my body has been craving never quite meets expectations nor does it compare with the moments of intimacy that the fast has provided for me.
We have an amazing opportunity this month, as a community, to stop the car and get out into what is both a beautiful and unsettling intimacy with God through the gift of fasting.