How Fasting Promotes Compassion

I wonder if one of the reasons we don’t stop is to keep ourselves from feeling.

When I was in college, I went with a few buddies to a local wing joint. They had about 20 levels of “hotness” for their wing sauce. By no means were we going to eat anything associated with “mild.” On the other hand, I’m not sure anyone had it in them to go all the way to the top. Each guy made their selection, but Michael and I went the highest — about a 1/4 from the top of the list.

After some fun joking and absurdities, the unhealthy goodness finally came. The moment the plate was put in front of me, I knew I was in for it. The smell began burning inside my nose, and clear liquid began to fall. I looked at Michael, and he smiled a nervous smile — always keeping a positive outlook on life.

We dug in.

The first taste was actually flavorful and not quite as bad as I had expected. Michael seemed pleasantly surprised as well. So, we continued our display of manliness in front of our other “so-called” men. We were so proud.

Then, things took a turn for the worse. Into our second or third wing, we began to feel the fire on our lips and a burning in our stomachs. I looked over at Michael and saw his lips were bright red. I could only imagine what I looked like. Michael looked at me, keeping his rosy focus and said, “Just keep eating and you won’t feel the burn!”

In reality, he was right. If I didn’t stop for a drink or a fry, I just kept experiencing that first joyful taste. Breaking the rhythm in any fashion resulted in immediate pain.

So, we did what any normal college guy would — we devoured our food.

Finishing our final bites, we had stayed true to the course and “proved” our masculinity in front of our onlooking friends. But, our pride soon turned to an intense burning and an immediate trip to the little boys’ room.

When we finally had to stop, we started to feel.

When I think about fasting, I immediately think of chicken wings.

(Well, not really. But food is usually involved.)

Just like stopping allowed me to feel the burn, so fasting is an opportunity for me to feel the needs of others.

I had not really put “stopping” with “fasting” before, but Isaiah 58 does this in an unexpected way. The whole of the chapter seems to be about True Fasting. But God takes an interesting turn right at the end.

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (vv. 13-14, NIV)

Notice, God sums up His discourse on fasting by referring to Sabbath.

In his book 24/6, Matthew Sleeth has given another name to Sabbath – Stop Day.

In other words, fasting and Sabbath both have an understanding of stopping. Likewise, they both call for a change in focus.

If we stop long enough, we might actually feel.

  • Stop eating long enough to know what it feels for a child to go hungry.
  • Stop driving long enough to know what it’s like to walk and enjoy God’s creation.
  • Stop buying long enough to realize that our purchases influence conditions of slavery.
  • Stop watching TV long enough to hear God share His heart with us.

But the truth of the matter is — most of us just don’t want to feel. We’re avoiding the pain, and in doing so we’re also missing out on healing and joy.

We keep our lives so busy we don’t have to see how our choices are affecting others.

We keep our bellies so full we can’t possible think of a starving child.

We keep our noise level so high that we can’t hear anything or anyone else.

We keep ourselves.

In keeping ourselves, we lose touch with God’s call to love Him and love others — and we look nothing like Jesus.

I may not like the burning sensation, but I would rather feel than be numb.

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