Book review: Fasting

February 21, 2011

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is much explored, but seldom practiced in contemporary Western Christianity. But it wasn’t always so.

For the first sixteen centuries of church history, abstaining from food and drink for spiritual reasons was a common practice for believers. But something happened. Scot McKnight explores the traditions of the discipline in his new book Fasting.

Contributing to the disuse of fasting is a body image problem. Rather than embracing a biblical understanding of the human existence, the church today sees the body and spirit as separate entities that are usually at war with one another. That duality often results in a complete abandonment of any physical undertaking to nourish or strengthen the spirit.

What is perhaps most unique about McKnight’s perspective on fasting is what he believes should inspire the Christian to fast: a grievous sacred moment. He suggests that avoiding physical indulgence should be a response to sin, sickness or the absence of God’s presence. This perspective is markedly different from the prevailing opinion that fasting is a means to obtain something you want from the Lord.

Originally published in 2009, this new edition of Fasting includes an added study guide.

Fasting is a thoughtful and valuable addition to well-known books including, including Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard and Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I hope that its effect on my life would be that fasting becomes a living reality for today, not just a dusty ideal embraced by forgotten saints of long ago.


Rotten sinners just make me want to throw stuff

February 17, 2011

You can’t blame Moses for losing it. He comes down the mountain after receiving the ten commandments, and the losers in the valley had gotten completely out of hand. They had melted down their gold, made an idol for themselves, and began to worship their blasphemous creation.

Understandably, Moses goes ballistic:

“So I took hold of the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes.”

(Deuteronomy 9:17 ESV)

Doesn’t it just make you blow your top when someone sins against you? Make you mad enough to throw stuff? Especially when the offenders are folks from the church? Me too.

But you know, I’m not so sure that I have all that much in common with Moses. Listen to what he did after destroying the tablets:

“I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD to provoke him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the LORD bore against you, so that he was ready to destroy you. But the LORD listened to me that time also.”

(Deuteronomy 9:18-21 ESV)

Moses’ response to the moral failure of Israel didn’t stop just with throwing things. He threw himself into fasting and prayer. He loved the people of God enough to deny himself food and water for 40 days and nights. And the Lord heard his prayer and did not destroy the rebellious nation.

There’s a lesson here for me … maybe for you too. Consider this passage from the book Fasting by Scot McKnight:

“How do we respond when we discover the fresh, fatal sins of others? The story about Moses’ body pleading (fasting) speaks against our tendency to publicize our complaints about others. We have become a culture of cultural critics and a church of church critics. Perhaps more of us need to be quick to convert our concern about the moral failures of others into body pleading for them instead of public words against them.”

My reaction to the sins of others should be grief, not anger. What might be the effect of denying myself through intercession and fasting, rather than indulging myself through hypocritical indignation?

How do you react when confronted by the sins of others?

“Never did so great a mind produce so little.”

October 18, 2010

Nothing was ever achieved without discipline: and many an athlete and many a man has been ruined because he abandoned discipline and let himself grow slack. Coleridge is the supreme tragedy of indiscipline. Never did so great a mind produce so little. He left Cambridge University to join the army; but he left the army because, in spite of all his erudition, he could not rub down a horse; he returned to Oxford and left without a degree. He began a paper called The Watchman which lived for ten numbers and then died. It has been said of him: “He lost himself in visions of work to be done, that always remained to be done. Coleridge had every poetic gift but one — the gift of sustained and concentrated effort.” In his head and in his mind he had all kinds of books, as he said himself, “completed save for transcription.” “I am on the eve,” he says, “of sending to the press two octavo volumes.” But the books were never composed outside Coleridge’s mind, because he could not face the discipline of sitting down to write them out. No one ever reached any eminence, and no one having reached it ever maintained it, without discipline.” — William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the creative genius behind classic poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel and Kubla Khan was notorious for his meager literary output, in spite of this towering gifts. Perhaps his opium addition contributed to his slothful approach to life and work.

While I lack his abilities, I find all too often that I can relate to poor work ethic. Though I don’t have Coleridge’s fondness for opium, I do have diversions that numb me to more important pursuits.

What about you? Is there anything that has helped you grow in self discipline?

Does your soul need to hit the gym?

August 4, 2010

“The present benefit of spiritual discipline is a fulfilled, God-blessed, fruitful, and useful life. If you get involved in spiritual gymnastics, the blessings of godliness will carry on into eternity. Although many people spend far more time exercising their bodies than their souls, the excellent servant of Jesus Christ realizes that spiritual discipline is a priority.”
— John MacArthur, Jr.

In many ways, I need to get off the couch spiritually, and into the gym. What about you? What kind of a workout is your soul getting these days?