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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

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Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” – Matthew 9:14-15

The topic of fasting is addressed repeatedly in Scripture, and yet the practice is largely neglected in our modern American society and church. The words of Jesus in Matthew suggest that our feasting should be replaced with fasting because our bridegroom has gone away—we could not mourn while he was with us, but we must mourn in his absence.

A woman suggested to me recently that the purpose of denying ourselves food (whether total abstinence or a certain kind of food) is to “stay grounded” in a culture of utter abundance. It’s a reminder that we are needy, even though we may feel otherwise. As I reflected on her words, I realized that too many times when I have fasted, my motivations have been fear or a need to justify myself before the Lord, promising great things to him and hoping to be proven worthy in his eyes— and not a returning to my truest self, my self in Christ. When I fast to remember who I am, and more importantly whose I am, I am free to enter into worship. I am not focused on my own performance (“Can I make it till the end of this fast without eating?”) or my own anxieties about my standing before the Lord (“Am I making a vow to him which I cannot keep?”), but I am able to focus on him and especially his absence. I am able to rejoice that he has left me a Comforter, the promised Holy Spirit, to lead me along in this world, but I also mourn that I am not with him and I am not yet home.

The great hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” reminds me of this longing:

'Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
 She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.'

When we fast, we remember that this world is not our destiny, but we know that our final destiny is sure: Christ will be victorious, and we will rest in his presence eternally. When we enter eternity, we will no longer fast, because we will be in the presence of our bridegroom once again.

Jane Hendrickson
Ministry Fellow at Yale
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