There is no doubt that the national hobby of many Singaporeans is eating. To get a glimpse of the extent of our obsession, you just need to consider the countless photos and comments about food that Singaporeans post on Facebook or Instagram. Furthermore, these days we even have apps for making restaurant bookings, checking out food reviews and offering us the best bargains.
With the above in mind, I suspect that is why the Christian discipline of fasting is hardly a popular practice amongst believers in Singapore. For many foodies, myself included, fasting would probably be amongst the most immediate application of “denying yourself” (Lk 9:23) and “dying to self” (Jn 12:24). After all, if fasting is commonly understood as a voluntary act of abstaining from something for the purpose of growing in self-discipline, fasting from food is probably one discipline that we should recover.
Although fasting during Lent is not mandated by Scripture, we do know that fasting was a common practice amongst God’s people. In the Bible, we learn there are many reasons why God’s people fasted. Often, Israel fasted to mourn for her sins, to demonstrate repentance and to return to God. Individuals such as David and Nehemiah also fasted and prayed as a way of humbling themselves before God in worship and seeking His guidance. Jesus himself exemplified it (Matt 4:1-11), revealing his intimacy with God the Father and his dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Finally, when Jesus instructed his disciples about fasting, he said “when you fast”, and this suggests that he expected his disciples to do so (Matt 6:16).
It is true that, as with any spiritual discipline, there can be a tendency towards excess and legalism. However, considering how counter-cultural fasting is to Singaporeans, perhaps it is not such a bad idea after all. Moreover, if anyone is thinking of fasting regularly, he is to take heed of Jesus’ reminder that it is meant to be a secret between God and him (Matt 6:16-18). If one boasts to others about his commitment, it would be of no spiritual value whatsoever. In addition, for those with health concerns, we should consult a doctor if we are contemplating to fast.
As we enter into another season of Lent, we should be intentional about taking time to pray and reflect upon the saving work of Christ on the cross. Rather than listening to our stomachs or merely concern ourselves with dieting and exercising, Lent can be an excellent occasion to delight in the God who will satisfy our hungry souls (Isa 55:1-2, Jn 6:35) and live out our calling as a disciple of Christ.
Indeed, fasting is to be understood as God’s means of grace to enable us to enjoy relating with Him even as we seek to resist temptation. When we fast during Lent, we are not merely dieting or giving up our favourite food for this brief period of time. Instead, we are adopting a worshipful posture.
It is a posture that asks God to search our hearts and reveal our sins (Ps 139:23) so that we are not presumptuous before Him. At the same time, because our focus is on the Cross, we will not be overwhelmed with despair over our own brokenness and failings. Not when God has already demonstrated his grace and mercy towards sinners by the giving of His only begotten Son. Not when through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, those who hope in him can also experience victory over sin and feast in the fullness of God’s love.
At the end of the day, fasting is more than just about abstaining from food. For some of us, the lavish way we spend on food could be an issue. For others, our constant worry over which health supplements to consume or which food product is more organic may become a potential stumbling block. As we fast, it would be far better to think about how we can increase our appetite for God.
Sometimes, our hearts may be crowded with too many things that we have little room for God. But as John Piper so aptly puts it, “When God is the supreme hunger of your heart, He will be supreme in everything.” And so for starters, let us dig in! Let us savour the sweetness of God’s Word (Ps 119:103) and let us feed on Jesus, the heavenly bread of life (Jn 6:33-35).
March 9, 2014