Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hunger of the Spirit

My pastor is preaching a Lent sermon series on spiritual disciplines. Last Sunday's, on fasting, challenged us to replace meal time with prayer time. I did--three days straight without lunch. Today, that was no punishment. I had a business breakfast that fed us so generously I can still feel it after 1 p.m.--eating lunch would have been more painful than doing without!

Fasting has been called the neglected discipline, in our well-fed society where more people worry about being obese than going hungry. Everywhere we go, we are confronted by restaurants, vending machines, and grocery stores. (Even my church's sermon on fasting was followed by a spaghetti dinner.) Many of us have come to think of constant nibbling as our due. If the refrigerator is nearly empty, our voices grumble louder than our stomachs. If a business meeting fails to provide refreshments, we wonder about the planners' competence. If we get caught on the road with inadequate provisions and no convenience stores in sight, we turn the trip into a gripe session. I personally did a lot of internal grousing on Monday, when my route over a dozen errands failed to pass anywhere offering free samples (which "don't count"). Tuesday was easier; I stayed home all day.

Small wonder that fasting and solitude tend to go together. Both involve escaping clamor--the clamor of the world in one case, the clamor of our own flesh in the other--so we can better hear the voice of a God Who is generally too polite to shout. The secret of successful fasting--as opposed to the counting-minutes-until-it's-over or the look-how-pious-I-am variety--is to redirect our hunger for material food into a hunger for the spiritual food that nourishes through joy in doing God's will. Then we can respond, when tempted to set aside heavenly concerns for earthly cravings, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Mt. 4:4, NIV).

And our waistlines won't expand in the process.

The hunger of the flesh is great,
But hunger of the spirit greater;
The need for earthly bread grows faint
Beside the need for our Creator.

And yet, the cravings of the flesh
Speak louder than the Spirit's whispers:
God's voice is soft as airy mesh,
But mortal lust's a whip that blisters.

If you rely on human sight
And on your heart alone to guide you,
They soon will turn you from the right,
Away from God Who walks beside you.

If you would hear God's still, small voice,
If you would be His humble servant,
You must reject, by conscious choice,
Earth's joys and lures, however fervent,

And, oftentimes, reject the good
To find the best--to hear God speaking--
Postpone your work, postpone your food,
Set all aside a while, for seeking

God's voice alone--no earthly care
Allowed a chance for intervening--
And, extra time thus made for prayer,
To find the way God's will is leading.

The need for earthly food is great,
But need for heavenly food is greater:
So make some extra time to wait
And hear the words of your Creator!

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