Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

The “in order to” Problem

FastingMT.jpgWhat is fasting? Try defining it, and I’ll make a suggestion. Go ahead — in your mind define it.

Here’s my suggestion: If, in defining fasting, we are tempted to define fasting as something we do “in order to” get something, I suggest we need to look again at the deepest wells of the Christian fasting tradition: the Bible. In Fasting: The Ancient Practices
I suggest that in the Christian tradition we somehow got sidetracked.


Instead of seeing fasting as a discipline we use “in order to” get answers to prayers, “in order to” become more attuned to God, or “in order to” become more spiritual, the Bible’s focus is on fasting as a response to life’s sacred, grievous moments.

Lent is a time for fasting, but I suspect most of those who spoke of “fasting” were talking about “abstinence” (not the same as what the Bible means by fasting). And now that Lent is over, we can think again about what fasting is.

This book is in a series that is now four books tall: Brian McLaren, Finding Our Way Again, Robert Benson, In Constant Prayer, and Dan Allender, Sabbath. It’s a series on the recovering the ancient practices.

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posted April 16, 2009 at 3:34 pm

So, would you say that fasting is an ancient Christian practice, but not a spiritual discipline?

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Brian from NZ

posted April 16, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Thanks for pointing out the difference between “in order to” and a “discipline”. I think it has merit. Although I do wonder why people are disciplined in their faith or life, if it isn’t at some level “in order to” do, get, be something or someone.

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posted April 16, 2009 at 3:54 pm

The definition that came to my mind is, a purposeful withholding of something that is good, for the purpose of mourning, anticipation, or sacrifice. I’m sure that is left wanting. I’ve always thought of it as a practice in solidarity.

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Bry Leigh

posted April 16, 2009 at 4:21 pm

My Granddad always told me that fasting wouldn’t get me to Heaven any sooner but to God much quicker.

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Jeff Borden

posted April 16, 2009 at 4:45 pm

I think I have come to understand fasting as a response to the grievousness of sin; period. I do agree and note that many of the mentions in Scripture coincide with times of grief, mourning, sadness, and/or moments of the intimate and sacred. I also note, for my own journey, fasting serves to bring intimate awareness to my own brokenness and need for God’s sustaining grace. I do not view fasting as a spiritual bartering tool, but as I said, an act that recognizes my need…looking forward to the hope and future when we live in the fully realized glory and presence of God.

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posted April 16, 2009 at 7:46 pm

I’ve always had this love hate relationship with fasting mainly because of many explaining it as an “in order to” so much so that it just gets me disinterested. That’s why I’m looking forward for this book (if it does get here). It is interesting what you noted here “the Bible’s focus is on fasting as a response to life’s sacred, grievous moments” and the whole point of Lent in particular. I’m not familiar with the church calendar because the church tradition that I’m at does not follow it but i’ve since taken interests in all things ancient. I think I have to restructure how fasting is supposed to be from now.

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posted April 16, 2009 at 7:58 pm

I’ve tended to say that fasting is equivalent to celibacy, as nutrition is equivalent to chastity.

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Jim Martin

posted April 16, 2009 at 9:00 pm

This one point in your book was extremely insightful and very helpful to me. After reading the book and really thinking through this, I agree with you very much regarding this. For me this was a light bulb moment as I thought about fasting and its practice in the life of a Christ-follower.

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posted April 16, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Scot, I finished reading your book on fasting Monday and it is the best book I have read on the subject. Your definition and process of showing how people fasted in the Bible and why we should do it today was wonderful. In the past I fasted in order to gain insight and closeness to God and often felt empty and unsatisfied when I didn’t feel like I received my desired result. Your book has helped me to rethink and see fasting as not a way to get something.
I am now reading constant prayer.

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posted April 16, 2009 at 9:59 pm

I’m still unclear. It’s not “in order to.” Ok. So is it “just because” or “because of?”

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posted April 18, 2009 at 1:55 pm

I agree with you on this point. As a child I saw fasting as a “giving up” of red meat, 3 full meals, etc. While I still give a little attempt at fast thru Lent, I also see “being mindful” as more of the point. Now, I won’t try to come close to saying what Church doctrine defines as the “purpose” of fasting, but the “being mindful” seems to bring me into the present more fully. Now, I will also add that I have a memory disability-so remembering what day it is, where we’re at in the liturgical calendar, etc. is difficult for me, “being mindful” is in itself a task. But I keep working on it-failing daily, but trying none the less.

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