Saturday, December 08, 2007

Prayer, Fasting, and Suffering

Postmodern Western culture habituates the unwary to develop ungodly responses to suffering as their second nature. We flee it through diversions, of which there is a plethora. Some suffering can be alleviated through natural means. But much suffering cannot be so dispatched; it stubbornly resists what is at hand. Think of serious illness, chronic illness, demonic oppression. "This kind only comes out through prayer and fasting," said Jesus. For the Christian, this should drive us to our knees--and out of our kitchens and restaurants.

Prayer with fasting is entirely countercultural, and urgently needed today. We are systematically ensnared by worldly enticements: comfort foods, endless amusements, chemical escapes, religion without reality. We get along--or pretend we do--without recourse to the supernatural, without desperation for a manifestation of God's holy Kingdom. We have marketing, technique, salesmanship, sin.

But there is an ancient, Christian discipline: prayer and fasting. We deny ourselves in order to seek God with all our being. We empty ourselves to be filled more with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. We throw ourselves back into the Scriptures to guide and rebuke our thoughts, to reorient our imaginations, to alter our wills. We feed on the Word of God, not physical food. We hunger for the Bread of Heaven. We talk to God more than to others. We wait; we wail; we wonder. We seek God for our only provision, our only solution, our only resolution. We seek God, denying ourselves of what usually distracts, distorts, and deranges us.

Do American Christians pursue God in this way? Do our pastors exhort us to do so? Do small groups fast and pray? Jesus said, "When you fast...," then gave instructions. It was assumed that his disciples would do this after he ascended to heaven. Prayer and fasting preceded Paul's great missionary outreach that began in Acts 13. The church "ministered unto the Lord" through prayer and fasting. Then the Spirit spoke, commissioning Paul and Barnabas. This is our problem: we are not commissioned, because we have not sought God on God's terms. Instead of being commissioned, we are scheduled; instead of being edified, we are entertained; instead of fasting we are feasting (on ashes).


Beyond Words said...

I agree, but I think the problem started with modernity and just got worse in post-modernity.

Pastor Mike Paris said...

we wait; we wail; we wonder

beautiful double alliteration, powerful phrases, good message.