“One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet” (Proverbs 27:7).
How often I’ve experienced this! Hunger enhances our ability to enjoy food—both physically and spiritually. Many of my most inspiring biblical insights and encouragements have come from being so engrossed in Scripture, that I unintentionally skipped meals.
Physical hunger is a powerful motivator. It is also a fitting illustration of the intense level of desire we should have for God, his word and his will. Sometimes, however, we experience difficulty sustaining a fervent desire for the things of God. It happens to the best of us.
What are we to do when the spiritual feast that is set before us loses its attraction? The same as if it was a literal feast: We allow hunger to work in our favor until the feast is once again enticing. Fasting has a marvelous ability to strip us of worldly affections, distractions and dullness of heart. It’s not “fun” in itself, but it can lead to a richness of intimacy and satisfaction.
This may seem paradoxical, but the Bible is full of such paradoxes. Here are seven common ones:
1. Exaltation through humility (James 4:10)
2. Strength through weakness (2 Cor. 12:10)
3. Receiving through giving (Acts 20:35)
4. Freedom through slavery (Romans 6:18)
5. Gaining through losing (Philippians 3:7-8)
6. Living through dying (John 12:24)
7. Finding through losing (Matthew 10:39)
I would like to add an eighth: Feasting through fasting. In other words, giving up physical food for a season in order to focus solely on spiritual nourishment.
Literal famines are a sign of God’s judgment, but God also uses them to make people more hungry for his words, as we see in Amos 8:11:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD God, “When I will send a famine on the land; not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord.”
For the believer, intense longing for God is always a good thing, as we see in the Psalms:
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:1-2)
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
When Job was going through his intense physical trials, he experienced leanness and hunger (Job 16:8). The effect was a greater esteem and desire for God’s word: “I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food” (Job 23:12).
Can we truly say, along with Job, that we treasure God’s word more than our necessary food? If not, then fasting can be a healthy re-set for us, both physically and spiritually. Sometimes, in order to feast, we have to experience some famine, because there is simply too much competing for our hearts’ and attention.
If you’ve not really feasted on the things of God this year, it’s never too late. And there are many different ways to fast. Skipping a meal for an extended time with God, or skipping a day’s worth of food is a pretty simple discipline. Multiple days are obviously harder but, if well-planned, can be very enriching. Many Christians opt for a “media fast,” unplugging from their phones, computers and televisions.
This December 31, when we’re all singing “Auld Lang Syne,” will we be able to look back and say that we truly “feasted,” or will this year have passed just like any other year? Will we sense personal fullness or leanness? Hunger is what causes our eventual eating to produce maximum satisfaction. The question is: Who or what are we hungry for?
Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance. (Isaiah 55:1-2, NASB)