I remember being in Haiti when a young Haitian boy, about 7 years old, walked up to me with his hand out and spoke two of the few English words he knew: “I’m hungry.” Through an interpreter I learned that it had been a couple days since his last meal of beans and rice. That’s all he ever really ate – beans and rice. A very nice meal, on rare occasions, might include a chicken leg, and sometimes he might find (steal) a banana.
I’ve said “I’m hungry” many times – maybe waiting to be seated at a hostess stand, or before a big meal with family. My kids often say “I’m starving!” when they’ve had to go a few hours without more than a snack. But that little boy’s limit of hunger was much higher than mine or my children.
Over the break I got to take my family on vacation. One morning as we left a hotel with central heating and air conditioning and drove to the airport after a week that included Legoland, Disneyland, and fun in San Francisco, I hit a different limit. I heard those same words coming from the back seat: “I’m hungry!” Followed by, “Daddy, my stomach hurts I’m so hungry!” I was fed up with complaining. “Why is it raining?” “Traffic is so bad.” “How far is the airport?” “I’m so hungry!”
I think Monica and I are pretty good parents, but we’ve done something terribly wrong. We are much like thermostats, changing the temperature to ensure our children’s comfort. We’ve engaged when they were cold, hot, hungry, and generally whenever they are uncomfortable. We’ve constantly given our kids choices on what they can eat. We often cater to their preferences.
Here's the problem with that: I believe that often our preferences rob us of paradise. We were not meant to do whatever we want. In fact, when Paul describes those who are enemies of the gospel, he says “their god is their stomach…”(Philippians 3:19). Meaning, they eat whatever they are hungry for. They feed their appetites. Said otherwise, they follow their preferences. As I’ve spent the last 10 years studying a generation of young adults, I believe this marks us. We long to satisfy our every craving. We constantly seek to fix anything making us uncomfortable. This has caused us to be weak-minded, with no real resolve to fight sin. We are more like tourists than soldiers. We’ve embraced earthly citizenship rather than our calling to be strangers and aliens.
Imagine with me two scenarios. One is a trip to the airport with three kids in the back talking over each other expressing every single thing that might not be perfect. Their words are void of gratitude, even after a loving father has lavished on them experiences for their enjoyment. They point out that it’s cold and rainy, traffic is bad, the car is stuffy with luggage and every seat occupied, and that granola bar they had 30 minutes ago did not fill them. In fact, it left them “starving!”
Now, for another scenario, imagine a car filled with children giving thanks that they have a car, and that the traffic allows them to see the sights, as they trust that their daddy knows when they should eat. They have preferences that are not being met, but they know their father is a great provider of everything he believes they need, and they trust him.
Which scenario is more like paradise? When our preferences for something turn to discontentment, paradise is farther out of reach. However, when we see that our unmet preferences make us stronger and more dependent on Jesus, Paradise is closer to us.
Jesus calls us to fast. That is to go without food. Why would Jesus want us to go without something that our body needs? I believe there are several lessons to learn in fasting. One of them is learning that we need Jesus more than food. Another lesson is that we don’t have to follow our cravings. We can build resolve to fight the cravings of our flesh. Through sanctification we are learning to trust God’s Spirit over the desires of our flesh. We don’t have to be slaves to our preferences. As Paul says, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation...” (Philippians 4:12).
How can we “learn” this secret without ever actually being in want, or hungry? By hungry there, I don’t mean how I feel while waiting for my table at my favorite restaurant. I’m more referring to a hunger like what the boy in Haiti felt. It is a hunger than many of us may never know in the normal course of our lives. However, unlike that boy, we can willingly choose this hunger through fasting in order to realize that we need Jesus more than food, and to realize that we don’t have to follow our every craving.
You don't have to do whatever you want. In fact, it is not good to do whatever you want. People who do whatever they want become dysfunctional. They are selfish. Some of them are the most depressed and ungrateful people I've met. It is good to use your life for the purposes that God intends. We should seek to do whatever He wants. As we look to start a New Year Revolution, we are recruiting soldiers. Not weak-minded people who need to feed their every desire, but real fighters who demonstrate victory over the battles of sin in their lives. They resist the urge to sin and seek to please their Commanding Officer, not getting entangled in the affairs of this world. Is that you? If not, we are also training soldiers, and we’d love to help you get there. Come start a revolution with us!