The Common Good

The Discipline of Fasting

Sojomail - March 31, 2011


"Markets don't work in the way they are supposed to unless there are some well-enforced rules."

-- Elizabeth Warren, in charge of establishing the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, speaking to the Chamber of Commerce. (Source: New York Times)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

The Discipline of Fasting

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Since our fast began this past Monday, I've been re-reading one of the classic books on spirituality by my friend Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. This time, I started with his chapter on fasting, and would recommend it to all 5,000 of the Sojourners' supporters who have chosen to fast, pray, and act with us around the budget this Lent. This chapter provides a better understanding of the history of fasting in the church, its biblical basis, its purpose, and some very helpful tips for fasting.

Here are some quotes from the book:

"Fasting must forever center on God. … If our fasting is not unto God we have failed" (54, 55).

"More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us" (55).

"We cover up whatever is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface" (55).

"Fasting reminds us that we are sustained 'by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God' (Matt. 4.4). Food does not sustain us, God sustains us" (55).

"Therefore, in experiences of fasting we are not so much abstaining from food as we are feasting on the word of God. Fasting is feasting!" (55).

"Fasting helps us keep our balance in life. How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives. How quickly we crave things we do not need until we are enslaved by them" (56).

"This is not excessive asceticism; it is discipline and discipline brings freedom" (56).

"In many ways the stomach is like a spoiled child, and a spoiled child does not need indulgence, but needs discipline. … You are to be the master of your stomach, not its slave" (57).

On that last point, I have been astounded during these first three days of not eating, with nine meals missed now, by how food is everywhere in our culture. We are saturated every day with aggressive advertising that relentlessly tempts us to desire and buy food. Try to watch an NCAA basketball game, or anything on television, without having endless varieties of food served up to your mind and imagination. "Oh, that looks so good," is the advertisers' constant refrain as they vie for your endless consumption of one kind of food after another. America is obese because of the assault of food -- an idolatry made of something that was meant to both sustain us and bring community in our social relations. Instead, we binge.

The purpose of this fast is to focus us on those who go without adequate supplies of food, health care, or education on a daily basis, and I pray that this fast helps us prioritize our lives and budgets differently.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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