Jonah Project 37

Jonah 3:8 

But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 

If you want to learn about how to fast, you could go to Youtube or eHow and watch a video or read a short essay titled “Fasting in 5 Easy Steps.” I did just that and found the following piece of silliness on titled “How to do a One Day Fast”, all designed to cause the least amount of discomfort and thus, the least lasting change in your life (quotations from eHow in italics):
1. “Figure out what time dinner should be. You want to take advantage of sleeping as part of the fast.”(My note: According to eHow, fasting is about avoiding feeling any hunger, so why not sleep through most of the fast.)
2. “Sleep as long as you can during the night. The longer you sleep, the less time you have to be hungry before the 24 hours is up.” (My note: After all, who really wants to suffer even one hour of “having to be hungry.” I wonder what this person would write about fasting from too much sleep.) 
3. “When you awake, keep busy so your mind is not on hunger.” (My note: Again, the emphasis in eHow in fasting is avoiding the awareness of being hungry, and thus avoiding any life change.)
4. “Drink water and diet sodas to hang on.” (My note: Water–Yes, diet sodas–Who are you trying to kid! What foolish advice. As though you couldn’t possibly make it through 24 hours without food, so to help you “hang on” and somehow make it through the rigors of fasting, have an unhealthy sugar beverage to get you through all that suffering.)
5. “Eat carefully after you’ve finished the one day fast.” (My note: Yes, it is wise to have a simple meal after a food fast, but again, fasting is not primarily about food, or about hunger. Fasting is about the transformation of the soul.)

Or you could turn to the Book of Jonah, chapter three, and discover anew the ancient, life-transforming practice of fasting in three not-so easy steps. 

Step One: Undress. Fasting begins with undressing, getting bare before God by literally taking off our clothes, and re-clothing our lives with humility. The biggest hurdle to true fasting is human arrogance, the attitude that “I don’t need any help; I’m fine; I’ve got it under control.” When we get undressed, we admit that we are vulnerable. The first thing the people of the Assyrian capital city of Nineveh did to begin their fast was to strip naked, and cover their bodies with scratchy, uncomfortable sackcloth, the universally recognized clothing of humility. Today, as I mentioned a few posts back, an equivalent might be putting on a hospital gown. Whenever someone puts on a hospital gown, they are in need of big time help. No one wears hospital gowns to work, on vacation, or to church. They are embarrassing and even humiliating. In all my hospital visits, I’ve never seen anyone look good in a hospital gown. Same as sackcloth. Fashion goes out the window. Trying to impress others is flushed down the toilet. Sackcloth as a covering tells others, “I’m broken, humbled, hurting, and in great need of help.” The people of Nineveh went so far in this cry for help that they even dressed up their animals, their donkeys, oxen, goats and pigs in sackcloth. In essence, they were declaring, not only my body, but also my my livelihood, my business, my sustenance to keep my family fed, all this is in danger of being lost if I don’t get help. Fasting is a desperate act. This desperation is heard loud and clear in step two. 

Step Two: Pray. Pray as though you’ve been pulled into the ocean by a rip tide, and are not wearing a wetsuit or life vest. Shout for the lifeguards to come and rescue you. Without help, you’ll drown. That kind of prayer. Cry out urgently for help! “Let everyone call urgently on God.” So declares the wise King of the Assyrian Empire. This is a national emergency. Red alert. No pretend prayer. Pray to get God’s attention. Call and keep calling. Jesus tells us that we “should always pray and not give up.”[1] Tell God what’s wrong with your life. Confess. Get it all out. Cry for help. The beautiful thing about this step of true fasting, is that God is overflowing with compassion, and loves to hear the cries of His children. God is not far away. God is not distant. God has good ears and a huge, loving heart, coming to the aid of all who call urgently on Him. 

Step Three: Repent. This third step may be the hardest, for it asks us to make radical changes in the way we live, and the way we treat others. We do not like letting go of power. We have a hard time getting rid of bad habits. Repent, literally means “another mind”, or “a new way of life” (Greek: metanoia).  Without God’s grace-rescue, this is simply impossible. With God, all things are possible. “Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.” So writes the King of one of the most violent empires in the world at that time. We all have tucked away within our hearts, in our ways of living, some evil ways, some dark closets where unpleasant things lurk. Giving up, waving the white surrender flag, opening our lives to God for the healing, cleansing, forgiving, renewing work of God’s Spirit deep within our souls, this is the true purpose of fasting. As a result, we begin to live with less violence, less selfishness, less corruption, and thus make room in our soul to live with more kindness, more selflessness, and more compassion to those around us, even if those around us are our enemies.

“Breathe Deep at the Beach”, by Thomas Robinson.

[1] Luke 18:1.