Our desires and habits are not set in stone. Like many, I think a morning coffee is enjoyable, but I won’t go so far to say that I need it to function in the morning. Thirty days without it and I will probably be fine, because in reality it is a habit, not a need. This is true for many of our bodily cravings, although some are more powerful than others.
As I prepare a sermon about Ezra, a priest who led Jews back to Jerusalem, I’m seeing how two simple words can change the way we think about fasting and physical pleasure.
The exile was over, and King Artaxerxes of Persia’s decree allowed the Jews to return, but they had to do so without government protection. Understandably, Ezra was afraid and sought God’s help:
“I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions” (Ezra 8:21).
Notice those the words in bold. Fasting is not an expression of humility before God, but according to Ezra it makes true humility possible.
Fasting enables us to acknowledge that our love for physical pleasure often exceeds our taking pleasure in God. Fasting reminds us that “life is more than food” (Luke 12:23), and that it is God who “satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:9).
Fasting makes us humble before God, and it also helps us differentiate between needs and bodily cravings.