By Brenda Wong

Spiritual Disciplines of Advent: Fasting

“I wish I had more time.” We’ve said and heard this often. We long for more time for ourselves, loved ones, fun activities, hobbies, work, and rest. Even cooking a meal is difficult because we lack time to shop and cook. Using a drive-through is popular and convenient because we don’t have to spend time parking and walking.

Yet when our lives get interrupted by sickness or an unexpected crisis, we are forced to find needed time to rest and be with our loved ones.

In this “hurried life,” how can we find more time with God?

And how can we go deeper with God this Advent season when shopping, parties, and Christmas events get added to an already packed schedule?

Interrupted by God

When Jesus was born, God interrupted lives so that people would have more time and space to receive Jesus.

Luke writes in the first chapter of his Gospel about the birth of John the Baptist: “Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (v. 6). Being from a priestly background, they knew how to be set apart for God and his purposes. Yet God interrupted their lives, and he did it when they were very old and Elizabeth could no longer conceive. One day when Zechariah was serving God in the temple, an angel told him that he and his wife would have a son and that he was to name him John. The angel also said his son would be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah who would prepare the Israelites for the coming of the Lord.

Because Zechariah found it hard to believe this, God did not allow him to speak until the baby was born. In other words, he had a mandatory fast from speaking for nine months. Elizabeth chose her own kind of fast. Luke writes, “Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months” (v. 24).

Imagine being married and having your partner suddenly be unable to speak for nine months. At the same time, you don’t see any of your friends for five months. Through these mandatory and voluntary fasts, Elizabeth and Zechariah were given extra time and space to spend with God.

God also interrupted Mary and Joseph: “Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). Joseph wanted to break his engagement with Mary, but God spoke to him in a dream: “‘Joseph, son of David,’ the angel said, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ . . . When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus” (Matthew 1:20-21, 24-25).

What a crazy interruption for an engaged couple! God chose Mary to carry Jesus, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph obeyed God and married Mary but they did not have sex until Jesus was born. Imagine being in that situation. They both said a radical yes to God. They allowed God to disrupt their plans and then fasted from sexual pleasure as they waited for Jesus to be born.

Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph fasted in anticipation of Jesus’ birth and ministry. That gave them more time and space to be present and ready for Jesus’ coming.

Advent as a Time for Fasting?

Fasting is abstaining from something that we normally do to make space for God. It is common during Lent, when we focus on the death of Jesus, but we don’t usually fast during Advent. I love Advent and find it a season of joy as we remember Jesus’ coming and anticipate his coming again. But could God have more for us during Advent? He had more for Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph. He interrupted their lives and they chose to make more space for Jesus.

Zechariah and Elizabeth experienced a season of silence and solitude when they fasted from talking and people. They had more time to draw deeper into God’s presence.

Mary and Joseph fasted from sex even though they were newly married. It was a daily reminder of the sacred calling that God gave them as a married couple. They were already obeying what Paul would later instruct married couples to do in 1 Corinthians 7:5, to not abstain from sex except for times of prayer.

How can fasting prepare us for Jesus’ coming?

As we see in the Advent story, there are all types of fasts. Fasting from food is what is most familiar to us. When we fast from food, we experience a greater dependence on God. Because we need to press further into him for strength and satisfaction, sometimes we can also hear him more clearly.

An InterVarsity staff partner and I once felt led by God to fast from food for 40 days, and in a miraculous way, God sustained us. (This long fast is not for everyone, and should be approached with much prayer in community, with consideration of your health and after many shorter fasts.) During this fast, we even went to two weddings and joyfully drank juice while others were feasting on our favorite foods. I’ve also fasted from all food and from specific types of food for much shorter times. When I want to eat something that I am fasting from, it pushes me to pray and seek God instead. Fasting in community provides greater strength and accountability, and many of my fasts were done in solidarity with others in my church or team. In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus’ disciples were not able to cast out an evil spirit. Jesus tells his disciples that this type of healing requires prayer and fasting. When we fast, we depend on God’s Spirit in a greater way.

Another possibility is fasting from media or something we love to do so that we can spend more time with God. When I limit my time on social media, I see how I am powerfully drawn to what others are doing and what is happening in the world around me. Fasting from media reveals to us our over-dependence on technology and ways we don’t depend on Jesus. It creates space for us to repent from depending on substitute gods instead of depending and focusing on God.

Though any type of fast is not easy, I usually feel greater joy, dependence on, and satisfaction in God during and after the fast.

An Invitation to Fast This Week

During this first week of Advent, I invite you to fast from something to focus on Jesus’ first and second coming. Fasting as we begin Advent will center us more deeply on Jesus in this hectic and distracting season. Fasting will also be a reminder to us that Jesus is the one who makes all things new as we wait for him amidst difficult and overwhelming situations in our lives and the world. You may fast from all food, or fast from something that you love to eat or drink, like meat, sweets, or coffee. When you crave those foods, say a prayer and ask for more of Jesus, and that you would welcome him in a deeper way this Advent season. You may also fast from one meal per day and spend that extra time with Jesus.

You could also consider fasting from a form of technology and use that time to spend in prayer or Scripture to draw near to God. You can choose to spend specific times this week not engaging with people but engaging with him. Or take a day or evening in silence and solitude, or choose to not play any music in your car or at home and enjoy the silence and space to connect more deeply with God.

Pray and ask God if there is something you can fast from this week so that you can more fully receive Jesus. Make a choice to be interrupted by God so that you can grow closer to Jesus this Advent. God invites you to come to him, focus on him, hear his voice, and receive what he wants to give you. As we abandon ourselves to Jesus and wait for him, Jesus is the greatest gift we can receive this Advent! More of him is more satisfying and fulfilling than what anyone can give us or anything we can do.


 

Image designed by twentyonehundred productions team member Jono Gay.

Brenda has spent 40 years leading, discipling, and developing InterVarsity students and staff in San Francisco and Hawaii. She has a passion for multiethnicity, justice, God’s presence, and superna

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