Article by Barbara Cornell.
Syndicated from Barbara Cornell’s personal blog.
Fasting for spiritual reasons is a concept that is relatively new to me, as it was not part of my religious upbringing. But I’ve come to understand that fasting is a necessary activity. I’ve read quite a few others’ ideas about fasting, but I tend to do things the hard way: I figure it out for myself through trial, error and searching. Things that come any other way just don’t have the same value to me.
It’s been my experience that God never fails to respond to a fast. That’s empirical, direct observation. But I’ve always been interested in the «why» of things. Why would God especially respond to a fast? Does God benefit from my refraining from food? That’s an obvious no.
I’ve heard many say that it is the sacrifice that God responds to, «God always demands a sacrifice.» I’m skeptical. Rarely does God demand a sacrifice for no other reason that the sacrifice itself. Even when he asked for sacrifices of animals on the altar, there was a reason for it: because a thing is only as valuable to us as whatever we’ve given up to get it. You see it all the time. A pair of jeans at WalMart for $15 feels less valuable to us than the very same garment (some blue denim sewn together in the shape of your butt) purchased for $200. Put a $10 price tag on a purse and we think it’s cheap, put a $2000 price tag on the same purse and suddenly it’s a value statement. Studies have proven that people can be given the same wine in two bottles, one making it appear cheap and the other expensive, and people genuinely better enjoy the wine they believe is more expensive.
This verse came to me this morning when I was thinking about why God responds to a fast:
«And he saith, ‘Thy name is no more called Jacob, but Israel; for thou hast been a prince with God and with men, and dost prevail.’ And Jacob asketh, and saith, ‘Declare, I pray thee, thy name;’ and he saith, ‘Why [is] this, thou askest for My name?’ and He blesseth him there.'»
Jacob had been instructed by God to return home to his brother Esau, who was still pretty unhappy about that whole stealing of the family fortune thing, and on the way Jacob knew he was in great danger from his brother, but he went anyway trusting that God would keep his promise to fix that situation. The night before he was going to meet Esau, he stayed up all night and met a «man» (an angel) and wrestled with him all night, refusing to let go of the angel of God until the angel blessed him. And the angel told him he would receive the blessing he asked for, specifically because he stepped up to the battle and endured.
I’ve never heard anyone equate this story with fasting, but it occurs to me that this is at the heart of why God responds to a fast.
You remember the story of the caterpillar? A man sees a caterpillar struggling, wrestling to emerge from his cocoon. The man could easily break the caterpillar out of his cocoon, and it seems pretty cruel for the man not to help, especially since it costs the caterpillar so much to get out but it would cost the man nearly nothing to do it for him, but if the man does help, the caterpillar would certainly die. Because it is the struggle itself that gives the caterpillar the strength to survive.