Fasting for God
I should probably begin by saying I’m not a Muslim. But, like many Muslims around the world, I’ve been fasting this past month for Ramadan. Long story much shorter, the experience has deepened my faith in ways I could not have imagined – as well as deepened my empathy for fellow humans.
I’m not entirely sure why I decided to start fasting; after all, I’ve never fasted before. Maybe it’s because I live in the Middle East, and with so many other people fasting in the majority-Muslim country in which I currently reside, I thought it would be an experience I’d like to try in order to better understand the culture. Maybe it’s because I thought I’d like to attempt fasting at least once in my life, and this presented an easy opportunity since everyone else seemed to be doing it and local government and businesses encourage it. Or maybe it’s for another reason entirely, some unconscious desire I’ve been unable to fully understand.
Regardless of the exact reason, the experience has certainly been eye-opening. The first few days were by far the hardest. Even after a few hours, I found myself craving food – anything! – to fill the belly. It was all I could think about. “Food! Need food!” screamed the brain, over and over and over again. It was hard to focus on anything else, even work. And once the call to prayer went out at about 7pm – the dulcet tones of the muezzin wafting through the desert air as it broadcast from the minarets of the many mosques dotting the skyline – I devoured anything in sight as if I were consuming my last meal.
After the first week, however, my body and mind began to get used to it. It still wasn’t easy, but at least it was more bearable. I get terrible migraine headaches if I don’t drink water and coffee throughout the day, so being able to at least consume liquids helped somewhat, too – and also made me realise how incredible it is that many Muslims not only go through Ramadan without eating during the day, but without drinking, either.
What’s been eye-opening about the whole experience is how fasting is a staple of Islam that Muslims do in order to follow the tenets of the faith and to strengthen their own belief – as it can be for Christians, too.
Fasting, of course, is discussed time and time again in the Bible. Prophets in the Old Testament did it. The Apostles in the New Testament did it. And many other people who were not prophets or Apostles did it, too; the point being, fasting seems to have been a lot more common for early Christians than it is today.
It’s telling that, early in the Gospels, after Jesus spends 40 days fasting in the desert, the first thing Satan tries to tempt Him with is by telling Him to turn stones into bread. The reasoning is fairly straightforward: Satan is trying to get Jesus to break His commitment to God by focusing on more immediate, earthly needs than the far more important work of saving humanity from sin. In that sense, the Devil is playing to Jesus’ human side, hoping the weakness of the flesh will temporarily overpower His spiritual side. Praise be that Jesus resisted this temptation!
Having done just a minor fast, I can now honestly say that, were I in Jesus’ shoes, I know I would be sorely tempted; the hunger Christ was experiencing must have been almost overwhelming. But by resisting Lucifer’s temptation, Christ was able to prove that He was wholly committed to God – and fulfilling God’s plan for salvation for all of us.
Fasting isn’t for everyone, of course. But for those who do decide to fast, it can be a great way to gain a greater appreciation for the things Jesus went through to save us – and for us to refocus our lives away from whatever else it is we’re doing and back where it belongs: on God.