Spiritual Hunger Games
I have vivid memories of fasting when I was a kid. I remember the odd sensation of my stomach doing backflips in the early afternoon. I remember the newfound awkwardness that lunchtime presented in the public school cafeteria. I remember thinking that ingesting any sort of calorie might undo all of the spiritual collateral I had stored up to that point. And I remember not understanding how any of this was convincing God to respond more favourably to my prayer request.
This might be why I came to the point of choosing to use one spiritual discipline against another: I took a Sabbath from fasting for about 15 years. And I didn’t think I was missing anything until I realized that my full stomach was numbing an absent hunger that I no longer felt. I finally realized that if I truly wanted to hunger for God it might make sense to make my physical body hungry.
Fasting is regarded as a spiritual practice. These practices are healthy habits that bring us closer to God. Dallas Willard described these as activities within our power that enable us to accomplish what we cannot do by direct effort. They are training tools that enhance our spiritual lives. After all, star performers or athletes didn’t achieve their excellence by trying to behave a certain way only when they’re performing a concert or playing a game.* Their excellence came from a devoted commitment to practice.
What then are Christians practicing for? What is our “performance”? I have made the mistake of thinking our performance is similar to the stage or the field – the place where the crowd is watching and critiquing. But this ignores the importance of our inner life.
I believe we’re practicing for the field the Apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 6:12 – “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.” The intensity of this battle reminds me of the need to be prepared.
Our spiritual habits prepare us for the moments when we’re not at our best. For the moments when sin is crouching at our door (Genesis 4:7), be it a public or private moment.
My high school tennis coach used to tell me that practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.
When we’re out of shape, practice feels anything but pleasant. But when a practice turns into a lifestyle, it leaves us hungering for more.
I would love to hear your thoughts about spiritual habits. Please leave a comment below.
- Keith Reed
* This example comes from Dallas Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), 4.