It’s amazing, though, how many times my thoughts turned to a craving for sweet, carbonated, fruity-flavored water.
But it’s also pretty amazing that, after only two Lenten fasts under my more comfortably-fastened belt, how easy it is to turn those thoughts to prayer, to thankfulness for how blessed I am to have sweet, carbonated, fruity-flavored water available at every turn. Some folks in the world are dying for a drink of plain pure water. Literally.
So I’m looking into ways that the money I deny the beverage-vending machines can be funneled to an outreach that’s trying to provide that drink of plain pure water to the folks who need it most.
You can’t just pick one on the Internet. You can never be sure, that way, into whose pockets your spare change will end up. If you have contact with one that you have found beyond reproach, I’d be glad to hear from you!
Now I have to back up and correct a possible misperception.
I didn’t begin fasting at Lent in 2005.
Angi and I have fasted and prayed together and separately a number of times before that. The first time was when we began in earnest our adoption process, and the answer to our prayers was Matthew, now 14. Another time was when we filed again, and the answer was Laura, now 10.
Another time was when my father died suddenly at home but was revived too late by paramedics. While his coma persisted several weeks, even when he breathed on his own after being removed from the life-support equipment, I fasted and prayed for his full recovery. The answer was his final demise.
And I understood how King David felt when he said of his perished infant son, “He will not come to me, but I will go to him.”
If prayer for some folks is the end of a rope, fasting is the end of another rope that can help tie your life back together. They’re almost always tied together in scripture – with two notable exceptions: the story of Esther, and the account of Jesus’ fast in the desert before being tempted by Satan.
The absence of a mention of prayer in Esther is kinda understandable; God isn’t even mentioned. But He’s there, all the same. The story could not have turned out the way it did had He not be an active character as every moment of the drama unfolded. So if Esther and her handmaidens were not praying in accord with their fasting, why did they bother? Were they just dieting under these extreme circumstances? Helping Esther shed a few unglamorous pounds so that she’d have a better chance that her husband the king would hold out his scepter to her; admit her in to plead the case for her people?
If not fasting and prayer, then why fasting at all?
I believe the same may be true of the other instance. The synoptic gospel writers chose, for their own mute reasons, only to mention that Jesus went out to the desert alone, and fasted. Why? For His health? Some folks may claim that total fasting can improve your health, but I can’t imagine that forty days of it would be that helpful.
I believe He prayed. I believe that He knew that the Spirit was leading Him out into the desert to be tempted by the devil, and that His ministry could not begin in earnest until the two of them had faced off. I believe He knew that the best preparation was to talk directly to His Father, reminded each moment of His dependence on providence to sustain Him in every way; reminded by each pang of hunger and each moment of light-headedness and each stumbling attempt to overcome hideous physical weakness.
I believe Jesus went from a husky, strong, hammer-wielding carpenter to a gaunt, frail, dirty, nearly-powerless, suffering servant for a good reason. He demonstrated His willingness to become His Father’s Son; to serve as high priest of His people. I don’t think the writer of Hebrews is referring exclusively to the Passion when he says of Jesus:
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 5:7-10
It says “days,” you see; “days” plural. Not just that last day. “Days.”
I think it’s quite possible that Jesus had a pretty good idea of the endgame even at this point in the desert; even before the game was afoot. He knew He needed to be prepared for what was to come – for more than the temptations Satan would prod him with at the end of the forty-day fast. There would be temptations to use His might to benefit Himself, rather than His God and His people, every day and every mile and every town and every moment.
Temptations to call down fire on the ungodly. Temptations to pay no Roman tax. Temptations to comfort a woman of ill-repute kneeling at His feet, and to do so in a more sexually satisfying way. Temptations to give it up when His cousin was murdered. Temptations to cut and run when people wanted to chuck Him off of a cliff. Temptations to heal everyone and leave no doubt. Temptations to summon ten legions of angels.
Even temptations during those forty days of fasting – unprompted by spoken devilish words – to break that fast and just get started with His ministry.
So, to me, it is inconceivable that Jesus’ fasting was not accompanied by prayer.
If there were types of demons that could only be cast out by fasting and prayer, I believe He was using whatever it took to make certain there were none that would defeat Him.
There are times when prayer alone just isn’t enough. So, obviously, fasting by itself can’t be enough.
They’re a package deal, fasting and prayer.
You can be sure that I won’t be fasting this Lenten season just for the sake of fasting this Lenten season. This fast will be balanced by prayer, much prayer, and for a lot of concerns, a lot of hopes, a lot of beloved brothers and sisters.
And for a lot plain, pure water.