“God humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
As the Israelites stand on the edge of the Jordan preparing to finally enter the promised land after wandering around the desert for 40 years Moses reminds them of their history. Moses reminds them that over the last 40 years they have had good and bad moments but through it all God has been with them and has watched over them and has protected them and has provided for them. As Moses prepares to recite the Law to the people he first recounts the great deeds of God and what he has done for his people. Why? So that the Israelites will know that the God who is getting ready to set up expectations for how they are to act is a God who has proven he can be trusted. These are not just arbitrary limits set up by an unknown being, this law is a way of life sent from a God who deeply cares about their outcome. God will protect them if they are willing to live within a set of limits.
But that’s the problem, Israel often fails to live within the limits. Israel often decides to make their own rules instead of following the rules of God, and thus God is constantly calling them back to the covenant. But the problem is not just with Israel, all of humanity often fails to live within a set of limits. Humans don’t want to be told what to do. It seems that as soon as one is told not to do something it creates this desire deep down inside of that person to do the very thing they were just told not to do. It’s a conditioning, instilled from birth, that as humans the sky is the limit and anything can be accomplished if one simply tries hard enough. The very essence of modernity and the enlightenment are based on the assumption that human beings have the ability to do anything. That through science and knowledge and exploration any problem or issue can eventually be solved, it is just a matter of time.
This is not a new or modern development, it is as old as time itself. The very first sin is an example of humans not wanting to live within a predetermined limit or boundary. In the Garden, God gave Adam and Eve every fruit to eat except for one. That one fruit provided a limit to human freedom and it was the only limit required from God. Following that limit was a way of recognizing that Adam and Eve were dependent on God and that he was in control. Instead, Adam and Eve broke the limit because they determined they wanted to be in control, they wanted to live by their own rules. And it has been the same ever since, humans always want to set the limit, they don’t want to live within God’s limits.
Marjorie Thompson in her book Soul Fest describes the problem this way: “The fallen human now lives as if there were no legitimate limits. While we bow temporarily to practical limitations, limits are to be assaulted through the powers of intelligence and technology until they yield to human ingenuity and control. The appetites are given free rein. It is considered a God-given right to use every resource and creature on earth for personal enjoyment or gain. The goal of human life is to acquire more, to experience more, to stimulate every sense to capacity and beyond. A life that recognizes no limits cannot recognize the sovereignty of God. When created things have become an end in themselves instead of a means of divine grace, they can no longer offer real life. Death and suffering entered into creation because our human forbears could not keep the fast.”
If humans are to make the claim that God is Lord they must learn to live under his guidance and expectations. Humans must learn to live within the limits that God has set. Humans must give up the desire to do whatever is necessary to make one happy and learn to be content living within the limits and under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That is one reason that the spiritual discipline of fasting is so important. Fasting is more than just going without food for a set amount of time. Fasting is more than just spending more time in prayer when one is hungry. Fasting is learning to say no to the desires within us so that we can say yes to God. Fasting is a way to teach us that just because we desire something does not mean that we have to act upon it. Fasting is a way of recognizing that it is not food that sustains us, but it is God who sustains us thus making him Lord. And if God is Lord then we must live within his boundaries and follow his stipulations for life.
In fasting one learns to live within a limit or boundary, “I will not eat food for the next 12 hours, even if I am hungry.” Living within that boundary of food helps us to live within other boundaries of life. As we learn to say no to food we learn to say no to other desires. And we learn that it is not food, or things, or desires that are most important to us, but it is God and his law that is most important to us thus teaching us to live within the limits that God has set for life.
Fasting, this simple discipline of learning to go without food, is a method God uses to teach us how to be disciples. Through practicing the discipline of fasting God is teaching us how to live within predetermined limits. These limits are for our good because they were set by our loving creator who knows what is best for us because he made us. So we practice the discipline of fasting, and we learn to say no to food, so that when we are tempted to follow our own plan and step out of the limits God has for us we can respond like Jesus did when he was tempted, “For it is written, man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of Lord.”