“As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after thee
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship thee”
– As the Deer (first two lines from Psalm 42:1)
Last night, I cooked myself a pretty homely meal: a lettuce and chicken noodle soup. While it tasted fine and certainly filled me up, upon reflection, I can immediately come up with at least five things I did wrong while I was cooking it. 1) Stove was too hot when I put the lettuce in. 2) Didn’t chop the lettuce into even pieces. 3) Didn’t sear the chicken first to create more flavor. 4) Boiled the chicken way a tad too long. 5) Let the noodles get stuck together. And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Now, I won’t bore you with the 20+ more things I should’ve done differently, but it suffices to say that I wasn’t really treating my final food product with love and care. I would not have cooked in such a haphazard way if I were serving a friend or trying to impress a girl. And I certainly would have been more careful if I were cooking for God (more on cooking for God in a literal sense in a future blog post). So why did I lower my cooking standards? Well, because I was hungry … really hungry.
Is it really that bad that I “lowered my cooking standards” so that I could create my meal faster and eat it? Perhaps it’s not “bad” per se, but it is an indication that when I’m hungry, I’ll make compromises. I’ve certainly seen many people and been one of those people who will put other priorities aside when feeling very hungry. When particularly hungry in a group setting, I’ll sometimes completely zone out my friends’ conversations and just scarf down my food. During times when I want to commit to eating healthy, if I’m starving and can’t find a healthy place to eat, I may just resort to fast food. I’ve also seen many many instances in church settings where people shamelessly rush through saying grace whether it’s out of self-hunger or feeling the pressure of other people’s hunger. And certainly, I know that we all have those female friends who go completely “om nom nom nomz” when hungry and end up receiving the sarcastic “wow, you’re so lady-like when you eat” comments (just to clarify, I’m not trying to be mean, in fact, I think it’s endearing for a lady to break those social norms of “being lady-like” when eating).
These sorts of compromises are pretty representative of the gravity of the consequences we face when most of us allow our hunger to dictate what we want; these consequences simply range from being mildly rude to pretty amusing. And I suppose that makes perfect sense. Very few of us have truly experienced hunger in a despairing and life-threatening way. A hunger that’s so painful it consumes your every thought no matter how hard you try to focus on something else. A hunger that would lead you to forgo all dignity and beg on the streets. A hunger that would push your moral boundaries such that you steal or harm others for food.
I believe that there are two keys to truly appreciating the hunger (and thirst) metaphors in regards to how we should desire God: 1) to remember that the physical hunger we experience for food points us to our ultimate hunger for God
“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 3:8)
and 2) to actually experience and appreciate the sensation of deep physical hunger through intentional, God-centered fasting. There are multiple reasons to fast, but the one I want to focus on for now is just the most straightforward one: fasting restricts our physical nourishment and causes us to desire it more. When we experience the pain and weakness of not having our physical sustenance, it gives us a glimpse of the pain and weakness of not having our spiritual sustenance. When we feel the overwhelming desire to consume food to restore us, it gives us a glimpse of just how overwhelming our desire to consume God’s Word should be.
If our hunger for earthly nourishment can drive us to make the “compromises” I listed above, should not our hunger for God, the ultimate nourishment, cause us to set aside all other priorities that we have? In light of that, I have two more thoughts on fasting:
- While fasting is often associated (at least in my mind) with times of either deep sorrow or need for reorientation to God, I believe the practice of fasting is just as, if not more important, during the good seasons. So often, we are reminded of our deep spiritual need when things are rough, when tragedy strikes, when we really feel like we can’t make it without God. Fasting reminds us of our weakness and how we ought to hunger after God.
- While there are various types of fasts in regards to time and what foods to actually abstain from, and it’s really between you and God to know what is right at different times, I strongly suggest considering a fast that will physically challenge you. I am certainly not saying this in the sense of trying to “prove your Christianity” through “more sacrifice.” Rather, as mentioned above, experiencing the physical weakness and deep desire for food serves to give deeper appreciation of our need for spiritual food and teaches how we deeply we should desire spiritual food.
I feel there is so much more to say on the topic of fasting, but this is where I’m leaving it for now. Perhaps in the future I’ll examine other aspects such as learning self-control through fasting, some simple suggestions for how to fast, and more.