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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

As I was strolling in the Gastown section of Vancouver, British Columbia, I came across a storefront with a t-shirt on display that read: “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry.” I posted a photo on both Instagram and Facebook and received quite a number of likes. I deduced two conclusions from this: 1) many of my friends know what it’s like to be “hungry;” and 2) our appetites have a lot more control over us than we care to admit.

I’ll illustrate my point with a headline I read in The New York Times in mid-July: “Amazon, a Friendly Giant as Long as It’s Fed.” You could replace “Amazon” with “Kevin” and the statement would be no less accurate. Perhaps this is true for you, too.

All joking aside, the truth is that I find it to be endlessly frustrating that I almost inevitably get angry when I am hungry. My belly holds an inordinate amount of control over my attitude and disposition. I am not happy when my dining schedule is interrupted; I get “hangry.” This holds with other dimensions of my life, too. At its root, this is my problem: I get angry when I don’t get what I want, when I want it. This expresses itself in manifold ways: when I miss a meal; when someone or something gets in the way of accomplishing a task, etc. I don’t like being interrupted.

Now, there are a myriad of reasons to fast. Two of the primary purposes are to develop self-control and to heighten our awareness of God. We intentionally interrupt our normal patterns of eating in order to get comfortable with not getting what we want when we want it. In other words, fasting helps us practice getting comfortable with interruption. Getting comfortable with interruption is, as we shall see, almost a prerequisite for following Jesus, who is not only the great interrupter of our lives but models for us how to live into interruption.

Consider this scene from Matthew 19 where Jesus, unlike His disciples, deals well with “interruptions.” In the midst of doing ministry in the region of Judea, we read that “…children were brought to him [Jesus] that He might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Matthew 19:13-15)  To the disciples, the children were an unnecessary distraction, an interruption of the actual work Jesus had to do. Jesus saw things quite differently.

In his little book Out of Solitude, Henri Nouwen illustrates the point quite nicely. He writes:

“While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, ‘You know . . . my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.’”

That is the great conversion in our life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return.”

I think there is a wonderful transferability of fasting in this regard. When we fast, we deny our bellies what they want, when they want it, so that we can respond better to things not going “our way.” This sort of self-control bleeds into dealing well with the inevitable interruptions of our plans and projects – we can respond well when we don’t get what we want, when we want it. This is to say, fasting equips us to live well.  

Kevin Antlitz
Ministry Fellow at Princeton