With his book Fasting, Scot McKnight has provided something evangelical churches in America very much need right now – solid teaching based on careful research regarding the practice of fasting. After years of neglect, it is encouraging to see fasting making something of a comeback in American church life. For too long it had been confined to the holiness and peace church traditions, and of course the Catholic church. But as fasting has garnered new interest, there has been a good deal of misunderstanding and questionable practices surrounding it. McKnight confronts these gently but firmly and grounds his writing in the ancient practices of the church. While not the easiest read for the lay person, it is quite manageable and is organized very well. I think it would make a particularly good subject for a small group study, especially for groups that might think of doing a group fast at the beginning of next year or for the Lenten season. I recommend this book and I especially recommend the spiritual discipline of fasting, which will transform your life. I think it is especially necessary and powerful in north American culture; fasting relativizes and calls into question so much that is both wrong and accepted as good and normal in our culture. The follower of Jesus in this culture needs (now more than ever) to be an active faster.
“Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion.” Mark. 4.38
In the story this verse comes from, the disciples were freaking out over a big storm that was threatening the boat they were all in. Some of these guys were fishermen by trade, being out on the lake was as natural to them as being on land. They knew this storm posed a real threat to their lives. Kind of like the storms that may be swirling around in your life today. If you’re freaking out, you are in good company, since Jesus’ hand picked followers did too.
His heart was completely at ease. His mind was completely at rest. A peace emanated from him that calmed the storm itself and his timid followers. But note that he was asleep during the storm, not after he had sent it away, but in the midst of its rage. Moments of crisis reveal the truest, deepest nature of a person. When the tension is highest, the pressure greatest, the danger most present, then you find out who you really are. The same is true for God. Jesus was so calm and cool through the drama because that is God’s nature. He doesn’t get surprised, doesn’t get stressed out, doesn’t worry that things won’t go his way. God works all things together for his will and our good, so things always go his way in the end. He does get upset, but he is slow to anger precisely because he does not get so worked up about things. His anger is true anger, not merely impatience or selfishness masking as anger.
Meditate this week on the mental image Mark gives us of Jesus curled up with a pillow, sleeping soundly while the lightning flashes, thunder booms, wind howls and rain pours. In the midst of your storm, picture Jesus calmly napping beside you, not out of indifference, but out of a complete self-assurance that he has this – your life – under control. Instead of yelling and shaking him awake, maybe we should curl up next to him and share his pillow.