~ Fasting From The Self ~
"Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, 'Are you for us or for our enemies?' 'Neither,' he replied, 'but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.' Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, 'What message does my Lord have for His servant?’ The commander of the Lord's army replied, 'Take off your sandals for the place where you are standing is holy.' And Joshua did so." (Joshua 5:13-15, NIV)
Embedded in this account is a powerful lesson about the orientation of the self. Joshua's first response was egocentric: Are you for us or against us? That there was a third option did not occur to Joshua: "Neither." Upon learning to whom he was speaking, Joshua quickly shifted from the focus on self to God. The question was no longer one of "for or against," but rather "What does the God who says 'neither' want to tell me?" Furthermore, the "me" turns into "His servant." And the answer? "Take off your sandals. You are on holy ground." What a wonderful upside-down switch in Joshua! From self to servant, Joshua now understands God is not taking the sides that people have created, but will follow His own intentions. Joshua, as servant, asks the only justified question, "What is it God wants me to know?"
Fasting from food for sanctification and prayer is, in a literal way, fasting from the physical self. The food one would have consumed would have been transformed into one's body, becoming that body, physically. Leaving the food on the vine or store shelf for another to eat is literally sacrificing your body to nourish others. This is just one way fasting is sacrificial and loving.
By denying yourself you are nourishing others. There is a gain, however. In that sacrifice, your body and soul go into a cleaning mode, the result being sanctification and purity, your gift to God. This helps to get some of the self out of the way so one's prayers can be more fervent and selfless.
Let's go further and consider this remarkable mandate by the apostle Paul. "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, but did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness" (Philippians 2:5-7, NIV). From the original Greek text, "made Himself nothing" should best be translated as "emptied Himself." That is what a fast is, an emptying. Jesus emptied Himself! Isn't that the ultimate fast? Fasting from your own self? And that is what we are told to do!
"…We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5b, NIV) is fasting from the thoughts that come from the self. "Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips" (Psalm 141:3, NIV) means to fast from the words that gives flesh to the thoughts that originate in the self. In the process of taking over Jericho, "Joshua had commanded the people, 'Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout'" (Joshua 6:10, NIV). Fasting from words was necessary for this mission.
The psalmist writes, "Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain" (Psalm 119: 36, NIV). James explains, "But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such 'wisdom' does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil" (James 3:14, NIV). Jesus taught, "When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" (Matthew 6: 3, NIV). Acting without self-ambition or self-glorification is fasting from the self.
When fasting from food, there is a point at which the body needs nourishment to continue living, generally between forty and fifty days for a healthy adult. Then if only healthy and purely nourishing food is consumed, the constantly dying cells of the body will be replaced with much more vitalized and well-functioning cells, renewing the entire body. While some cells are short lived, like blood cells, and others more lasting such bone cells, every cells is replaced about every seven years, some many times over.
In both the physical and spiritual realms, death brings renewed life. "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds" (John 12:24, NIV). Jesus could use so many analogies from the natural world because it reflects much of the spiritual world, the two being intrinsically connected.
Paul wrote, "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3, NIV). That statement sums up the entire gospel. Yet the Scriptures often speak of the physical body and soul (mind and emotions), still in a fallen state, to which the spirit, in Christ, is connected. Jesus' body felt everything ours do. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15, NIV). We are taught to "put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…" (Colossians 3:5a) so that our reborn spirits in Christ can continue to be "renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (3:10b).
Rather than having one's spirit feed on one's "earthly nature," "earthly self," or "old self," one can practice a life-long fast from that self. After listing them, Paul tells us "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (3:14). Agape, or the love of God, is perfect nourishment for our spirits, because it is not "self-seeking" (1 Corinthians 13:5), continuing the fast from the self.
So upon what shall our spirits be nourished, if not by the faulty self to which we cling so strongly? "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…" (Colossians 3:15a;16a, NIV). This requires a fasting, an emptying, of our hearts, "so that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is head over every power and authority" (2:2b-3; 9-10). What an incomprehensibly incredible, loving God we have!
Click here for Part Two: More On Fasting From The Self
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © October 20, 2001
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