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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

And Jesus said to them, "Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days..."
- Luke 5:34

If we have never experienced what typically are the collective symptoms diagnosable as an eating disorder, then at the very least, we have certainly experienced the effects of being in a culture that is preoccupied with food, body image, and control.

Within the ministry at Harvard when a student takes the initiative to call a fast, it has become quite common for a student or two to inquire whether fasting is a good idea for them considering they formerly struggled, occasionally, or regularly struggle with a preoccupation with food. These students genuinely want to experience God through fasting but feel that their motives are "tainted" or that fasting might trigger the urge to engage in further maladaptive restrictions. There is no one-size-fits all solution to this very real struggle, but often, I'll direct the student to the point of fasting.

In Luke 5:33-39, Jesus responds to the question of why His disciples do not fast. In His answer is a clear reference to Himself being the bridegroom. By referring to the metaphor of a bridegroom, Jesus is declaring himself as God. Those participating in this conversation with Jesus would recall the Old Testament allusions to the bridegroom imagery:

For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
- Isaiah 62:5

And I will betroth you to me forever.
I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice,
in steadfast love and in mercy.
I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.
And you shall know the Lord.
- Hosea 2:19-20

Most pronounced is the underlying tone of fasting being related to the physical presence of Jesus. Jesus is foretelling His future physical absence when He chooses obedience by way of the cross, culminating in His resurrection. We are currently "in that day" (verse 20) as we await the fullness of Jesus' presence. What are the circumstances, then, that would surround the absence of the need to fast? When Christ returns, He will be fully glorified, acknowledged by all as Lord; His people will serve Him; He "will shelter them with his presence. [There will be] no hunger, no thirst...and he will wipe every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:15-17).

Therefore, what we are to do in our fasting now that we have the Holy Spirit and await Jesus' physical presence, is to seek the Lord to accomplish Revelation 7:15-17. We cast our dependence on Him who is the only one capable of accomplishing these things. This is the motivation behind fasting: hope; this is a hope that Christ can and will fulfill all that is broken, empty, and absent.

Many of you have already shared that you're seeking the Lord specifically with regards to sanctification and healing. Whatever struggle or form of brokenness we are experiencing, I encourage us all, as I do our students, to use the time to seek God for the grace to experience restoration. Bring to God the areas in which we feel most weak, so that he can be glorified, and so that if need be, He can wipe the tears from our eyes. It's often difficult for us and for our students to recognize that the point of fasting is to demonstrate this reliance on Him, not to show God and others how we're already pious.

Whether or not my students struggle with control and food restrictions, the principle remains the same. I encourage them to fill up that time of absence or abstention with more of Him. Take your hurts and insecurities to Him during the time you might normally use to eat a meal or go for that dessert. If fasting from food is more harmful than beneficial at this time, we can ask ourselves, "how can we amplify our time of dependence with God?" Is there something we can replace with more time spent with Him?

God bless you all as we respond to our God who "rejoice[s] over you" (Isaiah 62:5) and who has given us the opportunity to "know him" (Hosea 2:20b) through Christ!

Jane Tsang
Ministry Fellow at Harvard