Hungering and Thirsting: To strengthen our will, or awaken our true need?
We are in the middle of the month of Ramadan, a month of fasting from sun up to sun down for all Muslims worldwide. It commemorates the first revelation of the Qu’ran to their prophet Mohamed. It is also one of the 5 Pillars of Islam. It’s purpose can be summed up in these statement:
“If man can control these desires in this month, which are usually permissible for him, then he can surely control himself from other desires which are not permissible throughout the remaining months.” (Zain)
“To develop and strengthen our powers of self-control, so that we can resist wrongful desires and bad habits, and therefore “guard against evil”. In fasting, by refraining from the natural human urges to satisfy one’s appetite, we are exercising our ability of self-restraint, so that we can then apply it to our everyday life to bring about self-improvement.” (Ali)
“To attain nearness and closeness to God so that He becomes a reality in our lives. ” (ibid)
“To learn to refrain from usurping other’s rights and belongings. In fasting we voluntarily give up even what is rightfully ours; how can then we think of taking what is not ours but belongs to someone else?” (ibid)
“Charity and generosity is especially urged during Ramadan. We learn to give, and not to take. The deprivation of fasting makes us sympathize with the suffering of others, and desirous of alleviating it; and it makes us remember the blessings of life which we normally take for granted.” (ibid)
The purpose of fasting is to create a hungering and thirsting. As fasting cuts off the earthly needs, it tends to open our eyes to see our spiritual ones. Many religious leaders received great revelations after fasting many days, and not just those of Judeo Christian background. Buddha and Mohammed received revelations that began their “ministry” after fasting. Moses and Jesus also started to lead and teach after fasting.
But what is the real purpose of fasting? Is it to strengthen the will and improve ourselves? Or does God have a greater purpose? Isaiah 58 is a chapter about the LORD’s fast, in it He says,
“‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it? ’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am. ’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail”
The point of fasting, is the same as any other any other Christian discipline, to create a hunger in us that cannot be satisfied with earthly things. The only thing that can satisfy this hunger is Jesus, and His resurrected life living in us. And that resurrected life should be so obvious, that others will be able to see Him in us. How can it be seen if we are not able to resist the temptations of this world? After fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus was able to withstand satan himself. If Jesus is alive in us, so will we. How is our life different that those of devout Muslims? They fast and pray, probably more that most of us, and seek the face of Allah, and hunger for righteous. So what is different? While Muslims do all these things for rewards, in this life and in heaven, the Christians do things for the glory of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I think it can be summed up in a statement from T. Austin Sparks, commenting on 1 John 5:11 “This is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
“The expression and manifestation of His risen Life signifies that you are the embodiment of the thing which you declare – that besides the doctrinal statement there is the living expression. Thus the resurrection and the lordship of Jesus are bound up with this expression which is called the “testimony.” The testimony is not a system of truth. It is that extra factor to the statement and presentation of truth which is the power of a Life which conquers death. How, then, will you prove that Jesus has conquered death? The proof of it will be a death-conquering Life that expresses itself in you.”
Zain, Maulana, June 27,2013; http://haqislam.org/the-purpose-of-ramadan/.
Ali, Maulana Muhammad, http://www.muslim.org/islam/ramadan.htm.