While this quote is lengthy, I’m confident you’ll not only be challenged but also changed if you take it to heart. Read it slowly, prayerfully, and contritely. After reading it, ask yourself, “How hungry am I for God?”
Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God…Half of Christian fasting is that our physical appetite is lost because our homesickness for God is so intense. The other half is that our homesickness for God is threatened because or physical appetites are so intense. In the first half, appetite is lost. In the second half, appetite is resisted. In the first, we yield to the higher hunger that is. In the second, we fight for the higher hunger that isn’t. Christian fasting is not only the spontaneous effect of a superior satisfaction in God; it is also a chosen weapon against every force in the world that would take that satisfaction away.
The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14.18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.
Jesus said some people hear the word of God, and a desire for God is awakened in their hearts. But then, “as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasure of this life” (Luke 8:14). In another place he said, “The desire for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). “The pleasures of this life” and “the desires for other things” – these are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. They are gifts from God. They are your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and Internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.
Therefore, when I say that the root of Christian fasting is the hunger of homesickness for God, I mean that we will do anything and go without anything if, by any means, we might protect ourselves from the deadening effects of innocent delights and preserve the sweet longings of our homesickness for God. Not just food, but anything.
The issue is not food per se. The issue is anything and everything that is, or can be, a substitute for God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, delivered a great sermon on fasting when he was preaching through the Sermon on the Mount in 1959-1960. In it he said,
Fasting if we conceive of it truly, must not…be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting.
When you take your stand on the finished work of God in Christ, and begin to drink at the River of Life and eat the Bread of Heaven, and know that you have found the end of all your longings, you only get hungrier for God. The more satisfaction you experience from God, while still in the world, the greater your desire for the next.
The more deeply you walk with Christ, the hungrier you get for Christ…the more homesick you get for heaven…the more you want “all the fullness of God”…the more you want to be done with sin…the more you want the Bridegroom to come again…the more you want the Church revived and purified with the beauty of Jesus…the more you want a great awakening to God’s reality in the cities…the more you want to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ penetrate the darkness of all the unreached peoples of the world…the more you want to see false worldviews yield to the force of Truth…the more you want to see pain relieved and tears wiped away and death destroyed…the more you long for every wrong to be made right and the justice and grace of God to fill the earth like the waters cover the sea.
If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I want you.” – Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer by John Piper (pp. 14-16, 23)