A glass of chocolate milk sounds really good to me right now. There are times in my life when I feel so hungry that I can’t even think straight. This isn’t one of those times…but I still want some milk. It’s funny how powerful a draw food can have on us. Most of us tend to eat it without much thought, but ours is a culture that indulges and abuses food. John Piper, however, has spent a great deal of time thinking carefully and strategically about food. Particularly Piper has thought about how not eating can help increase his hunger for something else, something greater, something more satisfying. Actually it’s a someone: God. It was 8 years ago that I first read Piper’s book on fasting, and it made a lasting impression on me then. When I reread it just a week ago it dug even deeper into those grooves in my memory. A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer is a powerful book. In fact Piper communicates the truth of God’s beauty and glory so well in this book that you will find your hunger for more of him increased weather you are fasting or feasting.
Piper’s aim in the book is really devotional. He writes, “My aim and prayer in writing this book is that it might awaken a hunger for the supremacy of God in all things for the fjoy of all peoples” (22). He tackles this goal in primarily two ways: (1) by arguing for the goodness of fasting, and (2) by demonstrating the danger of feasting. Each of the 8 chapters falls under one of those headings, and all 210 pages builds a practical theology for fasting and prayer in relation to the pursuit of God.
Piper realizes, of course, that most of us have never fasted and that many will in fact argue against it. I recall being in high school and arguing with youth leaders of the absolute danger of inviting teens to fast for 30 hours. Many will contend the same thing. So Piper spends some time in the first chapter building an exegetical case for fasting. He is always at his best when he is expounding the Scriptures and here he doesn’t disappoint. His argumentative mind premtively strikes against all the rebuttals we might have against fasting. He proves again and again that Jesus not only teaches about fasting, but in fact expected his disciples to fast. And because the disciples fast in lieu of Jesus’ absence, Piper rightly asks:
Shall we long for him less than [they] longed for him? Does the fact that we have watched him live and love for three years and even now have his Spirit – does this make us feel [their] longing less or more? Oh, what an indictment of our blindness or our dullness if the answer is: less. (89)
The Bible expects fasting as a spiritual discipline for those who long for the Lord’s appearing. Piper argues this well both in chapter one and throughout the book repeatedly.
A really simple way to put Piper’s whole point is that fasting is spiritually good for us. Fasting causes us to give pause to our self-indulgence and think with great focus on our need for Christ to come. “Our homesickness for God is threatened because our physical appetites are so intense” (14). Fasting from these intense appetites, then, is “a way of saying, from time to time, that having more of the Giver surprasses having the gift” (44). In beautiful and affective language Piper argues that fasting is a way to test our desire for God. If we can’t or aren’t willing to forgo the convience of food in order to focus our time in prayer to God then perhaps our love for him is very small indeed. “His gifts leave a hunger for him beyond themselves, and fasting from his gifts puts that hunger to the test” (46). On this point the book is filled with power-packed statements that inspire a faithful response to God. He writes:
Fasting is a periodic…declaration that we would rather feast at God’s table in the kingdom of heaven than feed on the finest delicaces of this world. (61)
The birthplace of Christian fasting is homesickness for God. (13)
In the heart of the saint both eating and fasting are worship. (21)
The text continually paints a picture of the goodness of fasting that readers can’t help but want to act immediately and decisively in obedience.
But Piper is equally concerned with the real danger of food. It’s not, of course, that food is itself bad. But we use and abuse it. “We are less sensitive to spiritual appetites when we are in the bondage of physical ones” (90). In many cases, Piper says, we numb ourselves to God’s absence by indulging in food and more. We are so often controlled by the things of this world. Piper concurs:
Psychologically, that sort of thing is spoken of a lot today, especially in regard to people who have much pain in their lives. We would say they “medicate” their pain with food. They anesthetize themselves to the hurt inside by eating. But this is not some rare, technical syndrome. All of us do it. Everybody. No exceptions. We all ease our discomfort using food and cover our unhappiness by setting our eyes on dinnertime. (19)
It is because of this reality, and because of the truth that God is better than food, that Piper has written so powerfully in this book.
A Hunger for God always invites me to revisit the disicpline of fasting. But the truth is that the content of this book is so compelling that whether you fast or feast you will find your hunger for God increased. In fact one of the interesting features of this book is that Piper isn’t primarily concerned with fasting itself. Nearly every religion in the world fasts, he points out (chapter 1). He is primarily concerned with awakening our hunger for God. “The question for us is not mainly whether we fast, but whether we hunger for God like this” (62). The book is, of course, about fasting. But if we were to take a step back and see this book in a broader frame we could easily say that this book is about what all of Piper’s books are about: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. That has been Piper’s message for years, and it is exactly the type of message that awakens hunger for God regardless of what I do with my food.