“For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles. They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind” (Isaiah 40: 30-31, Message).
“Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble…” Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.)
“Fasting in the biblical sense is choosing not to partake of food because your spiritual hunger is so deep, you determination in intercession so intense, or your spiritual warfare so demanding that you have temporarily set aside even fleshly needs to give yourself to prayer and meditation.” Wesley L. Duewel
The reality is that life-leaking moments happen to all of us. As the prophet puts it, “even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall.” But the good news is that opportunities for life-renewing moments are also available to us, to all of us. Fasting is one of those life-renewing opportunities that don’t cost any money. We have a thrilling opportunity to gain fresh strength, to spread our wings and soar like eagles; to run and not get tired out in the race of life; to walk in exploration of the land of the living and not lag behind.
The prophet starts out reminding us about our mortality – “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades…” (Isaiah 40: 5-8, NJKV). Who among us does not identify with that? We are constantly reminded of our mortality – fading beauty, developing wrinkles, graying or blading hair, diseased body. It will be depressing if that is all there is to our humanity. Thankfully, there is more to us than our dying bodies. No wonder the Apostle confidently declared: “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17, MSG). How could we give up on life, when there is an opportunity for inward renewal? There is the ‘outside’ where things seem to fall apart on us; but then there is also the ‘inside’ where God is at work to renew and refresh us. There are more to us than our frail bodies. We are spirit beings, have a soul and live in a body. The spirit/soul is the inward part; the part that defies our mortality; the part that lives on long after the body is dead and decayed. There may be trials, pain and difficulty in our external world, but if there is fresh strength within the soul, we carry on with a joyful exploration of the country in which we live and have our being – the land of the living. In the place of fasting, we provide God a wonderful of opportunity to make new life within us, new life that touches our mortal body, and heals the soul. Could that be the reason the Wise Preacher wondered aloud in Proverbs 18:14 (MSG): “a healthy spirit conquers adversity, but what can you do when the spirit is crushed?” A healthy spirit sustains a person in their physical infirmities, adversities, and sickness. But if a person is crushed within, from where will their strength come to overcome the vicissitudes of life? We are then brought to this place where we admit that renewing the inner person is very important in our long journey in the land of the living.
I have always been fascinated by that simple word, ‘but’ in the Scriptures. It is an interesting word that negates the previous line of thought and redirects our attention to a new reality. Even youths may fail, ‘but’. The body may age and become frail, ‘but’. The marriage may end up in flames, ‘but’. In this case, ‘but’ reverses the negativity and brings us hope. “But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.” We are drawn away for the insistent noise of pain and mortality to God who works within; to the possibility of a new life; to the hope of a new beginning; to the possibility of recovery. It rings a note of joy and assurance deep within the soul. Those who wait on God will get a fresh start, fresh strength, and fresh grace. Those who wait on the Lord are the ones who get this fresh start. So, what does it mean to wait upon the Lord?
Central to Christian fasting is this idea of “waiting on the Lord.” Fasting involves letting go of food or other pleasures in order to wait on God. Fasting is therefore an integral part of waiting on God, but not nearly the whole picture. Fasting provides the right condition for us to wait on God. It is a blessed means to a wonderful place of waiting on God. You have been to a good restaurant in your neighborhood. From the moment you come in, someone receives you and gets you seated. Another attendant comes along to ask what you want to drink and eat. Any appetizers? Sweetened or unsweetened tea? Do you want your steak medium or well-done? After you are served, the attendant comes along periodically to ask: ‘Is everything okay? Anything else you may want?’ We all know what it means to be waited on, to be attended to, to have someone anticipate our desire and meet them. Well, to wait upon God is a lot like that. During period of fasting, we make out time to wait on the Lord. We extricate ourselves for self-indulgence and indulge his presence. We commit to listen and hear what he wants, to what he says, to the instruction he gives. Waiting on God is becoming attentive to God. That is the first and perhaps the most important aspect of that waiting. What is he saying? What is he doing? In the light of what he is saying and doing, what am I doing; which direction have I been going? But like the restaurant attendant, it isn’t about us, but about him – his will, his way, his glory. Perhaps this is our greatest need: the need to pause long enough in our rat race to gain divine perspective, to gain the big picture, to find out what he is doing at this time and in this place. We may become so consumed in getting to the destination that we lose sight of the journey itself. We may become so enamored by the challenges of getting by in the land of the living that we are really not living the life he wants from us. But the country we live in is designed in such a way that the journey is as important as the final arrival. It is not only the land we are called to explore, it is the life we are living, the very expression of our being, our personality, our purpose. Every step in the land of the living is meant to be in itself an arrival of sorts (94), a celebration of grace. Taken in by the need to provide for the kids, for example, are we now working so much that we no longer have any time to spend and enjoy them as they are growing up? We love them so much and are away all the time providing for them; but then we wake up one day and they are all grown up and ready to move on in the world without our input in the areas that matter most – character formation, love affirmations, attentive presence. When we wait on the Lord, we give him an opportunity to tell us what he is seeing, what he desires, what he wants to be done. Fasting gives us an opportunity to be present to the One who is ever present to us; to be present to this place and to the people in this place; to be present to what God is doing in this phase of our journey. This land of the living is filled to overflowing with God-shaped events, God-breathed words, God’s salvation, God’s unexpected provision and recovery, God-arranged ‘chanced’ meetings, God-inspired come-back stories. This land of the living is the land in which God’s story is being played out daily. Are we paying any attention to the unfolding story? It turns out, we are central to this God-story. It’s God’s story, but in many ways, it is our story too – the story of God’s love and mercy and grace towards us. But are we paying any attention? God wants us to be involved in living out the dynamic story of God’s love and rescue even in the midst of a difficult country. During fasting, we are forced to quiet down enough to pay attention – to God. Those who wait up on the Lord shall renew their strength. In such listening during fasting, we learn enough about what God is doing to become aware of our own part in the plot.
There is also another element of this waiting on God and attending to him. It involves attending to God. During fasting, we take a break from ‘me, I and mine’; to attend to him – to do his will, to serve him and his people, to intently give ourselves and what is ours to him. Listening to him, we gain wisdom to respond in obedience. We choose to prioritize life and our health based on his wisdom in the place of waiting. What has he said and what are we doing about it. Waiting on him means not only being attentive but saying a resounding ‘yes’ to his will and to his way. My sense is that an important component of waiting on God is to wait for God, literarily. We wait for God. We are so used to instant gratifications that patience has become even more important in this God-blessed world in which we live. Patience has to have its way fully with us and in us, so that we may become the persons God is making us into. In this land of the living, quick fixes aren’t much help. Life is long and sometimes painstaking. Fasting teaches us to be patient – to wait. What is the alternative? Take matters in our hand? Many can testify that that hasn’t quite worked out as well as we will like. You hear the usual story, of a husband who may be feeling short-changed in a marriage. He prays, he talks to his wife, and maybe even attend some counseling sections together. The wife is wondering how he could be feeling like that, and making what appears to be her best effort to address his concerns. He is not happy, but neither is she. Both of them love each other and will want to see each other happy. Patience knocks daily at their door, but more often than not, he is locked out. Soon, the husband is feeling like he can’t take it anymore. He proposes a divorce, and to his surprise, she eagerly agrees to it. As it turns out, she is also feeling like she can’t live like this one more minute. They divorce, but they meet a few months later at a social event and wonder why on earth they parted from each other? What happened? Did we separate too quickly? Should we have allowed patience more time to do its work? Waiting is hard for us, but waiting for God we must if he will complete his work of grace in us. Waiting is painful, but fasting trains us to grow in it. Listen to how Paul puts it to the Hebrew Christians: “But you need to stick it out, staying with God’s plan so you’ll be there for the promised completion. It won’t be long now, he’s on the way; he’ll show up most any minute. But anyone who is right with me thrives on loyal trust; if he cuts and runs, I won’t be very happy. But we’re not quitters who lose out. Oh, no! We’ll stay with it and survive, trusting all the way” (Hebrews 10: 36-39, MSG). May I suggest that we stick it out with God’s plan till the promised completion? It is tough to endure. Life doesn’t always give us what is fair, but when we give patience opportunity to complete its work in us, God becomes glorified even in the midst of the challenge. We are called to thrive on loyal trust – trusting God that he will come through; staying with his plan through to the end. In fasting, as tough as this is, we receive grace to try.
Fasting itself may not be much fun – our body craves food and nourishment, and rightfully so. But the Prophet reminds us that there are immense benefits to the whole being, especially to the inner person, when we fast. The first of the benefits listed here is ‘fresh strength’ or renewed strength. What is this strength? It is that inner zest to live and keep living; that courage that comes from the inner being that carries on even when there seem to no need to keep going. It is that kind of inner empowerment that Paul prayed that the Ephesian Christians may have: “ I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3: 16-17, NIV). This is the kind of strength that comes from God’s breathe, God’s renewal in the inner being. It is the kind of strength that comes from the Holy Spirit, who out of his vast riches of grace imparts some into our inner being. Have you ever gone through a season in life when it seemed like you are defeated, hunkered down, even broken? It is those times when life-leaking events have happened; a new disease is diagnosed at the doctor’s, love given is not returned. At such times, the inner person becomes broken, and loses the strength to carry on with the rest of human activity. A broken spirit, who can bear it? But then after a while, something happens in your soul that gives you a new hope, a new courage to start afresh, to keep going, to smile, to love again. That is what the Prophet calls fresh strength, renewed strength. Fasting creates the condition for God to renew our strength from within, to kindle a new fire, and to breathe a new life within our soul. Those who wait on the Lord shall receive fresh strength.
There is more. “They spread their wings and soar like eagles.” Having received new strength in the place of fasting, we spread our wings and soar like eagles. Life is no more a boring chore we have to endure. Instead, it becomes truly an exciting adventure – daily anticipating what God will do next, taking each step in hopeful expectation, turning each corner knowing that he who knows the end leads the way. We believe that we will see the goodness of the Lord in this land of the living. We dare to dream, again. In fact, we dream so big now that others who don’t understand think we are being presumptuous. We come in good company with the Psalmist as we test and see that God is good. We fall in love, again, and go at it with all our heart as though that heart has never before been broken. Life takes on a new meaning, a new urgency. We learn a new trade, or go back to school. We go to work with a song in our heart, not because the conditions of the place have changed, but because we have been given fresh strength within. We accept God’s love and move on in the world, not because the scar of our hurt is totally gone, but because we know he holds the future in his hand. Pain has clipped the wings of many who should be soaring like the eagles. Past hurt and disappointments have debilitated a lot of otherwise productive persons. But having waited on God through fasting and prayer, and having received his fresh grace within, we dust ourselves up from the sad dust of self-pity and despair and take our place in life. Fasting in God’s presence tend to have that effect on us. This land of the living isn’t all it is meant to be without our active participation in it. Now, we are thankful for this land, for this moment, for this day, for this place. We spread our wings and soar like the eagles.
If you thought that should be enough, then you don’t yet appreciate the full power of waiting on God in fasting and prayer. “They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.” I have always wondered why this is the progression as mentioned by the prophet: first, we fly and soar as eagles; then, we run and are not tired; and finally, we run and won’t lag behind. You would think that we will start off walking first, then running, and finally take off flying. But when a person has been granted new strength from the riches of God’s Spirit, they come out flying. How can we come out of an encounter with God’s fresh grace and merely walk? No, we come out going through life with a swagger. You think that Abraham walked up to his wife and family and nonchalantly told them his story, after God of glory met him and told him to go to a country in which God will bless him and make him a father of many nations? I don’t think so. His joy and enthusiasm must have been the equivalent of soaring like eagles. When you first fell in love with your spouse, what was it like? Were you cautious and careful about what others thought about the two of you? I bet you came out swinging at this new way of living and loving with all your energy. You came out soaring like the eagle in this sky of loving and being loved. When you first started that business you had long dreamed about, did you attend to business the very first day bogged down, cautious and indifferently? I hoped not. Instead, my sense is that you went to work that day excited and truly glad for the opportunity. You were soaring in the sky. Being above in the sky, the challenges of this new life are there alright, but not significant. After all, we are way above them all, in the sky. God’s renewed grace and opportunity always have that effect on us. But soon enough, the initial exuberant feelings tend to wear off, and we get into this wide-eyed phase in which we notice the challenges associated with this opportunity and begin to deal with them. And here is the miracle that the prophet talks about: we see the problems and deal with them, but they no longer weary us. We are running now, down here in this rugged land of the living, aware of the twists and turns; but we are okay with it. We are continuing to run the race he has called us to run, not unmindful of the challenges, but in spite of them. Periodic fasting and waiting on God create the condition for that to happen. We have to continually renew. There is no going around it. There is no easy way out. But the way we are given becomes pure joy. We are not praying for challenges – we still earnestly believe to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living – but we are ready to step over what was meant by the enemy to be a stumbling block. We run and don’t get tired, because we have learned to draw from God’s strength in the place of fasting and prayer.
In the final phase of the journey, we are no longer able to fly or run as we used to. We can only walk at this time. Though we walk, we don’t lag behind. We are more hesitant now in our bold declarations of faith, but we don’t lag behind one bit in trustful obedience compared to the younger, surer ones. We are no more cock sure about many things as we used to, but we are even more certain of God’s over-reaching grace. We may be considered weak by some, but God’s strength is being made ever perfect in us. We may have seen many difficult days and shed many tears, but we have also seen so many God-moments that we stand in awe of him. We don’t have too many words as we used to, but our heart is filled with inexplicable wonder of his glory. As we bow before him during fasting and prayer, we marvel that he has loved us through these years, stuck by us and have done us good. We get up from our knees amazed, grateful for life, yielded to him. We may not clap as loud as the young folk, but our thanksgiving rings just as loud and true as theirs. We walk and do not lag behind. We may not always study the bible as often and as long as we used to, but his word has been treasured up in our heart, so much that in him we live and love and have our being. Only as we periodically continue to wait on him, are we able to walk and not lag behind even in the twilight days of life or of that project.
The Preceding are excerpts from the book, Fasting For Life (https://www.amazon.com/dp/1629986267). Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved. Feel free to check out the full book – it will be well worth your time.