Imagine a young couple in the labor and delivery room experiencing the birth of their first child. Hear her groans, see the sweat, and feel the anxious tension. Now place a bag of potato chips in the husband’s hands and picture him munching away as he watches his wife give birth. As if it were on TV. It’s just wrong!
Or picture a man standing in the baptismal with his pastor. He’s wearing a white robe and preparing to confess Jesus as Lord of his life as he publicly identifies with the death, burial, and resurrection of his Lord in baptism. Then, out from the folds of his robe, he brings forth the bag of chips and starts munching.
“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”
“Her mother and I.” Munch, munch.
These are sacred moments. And in sacred moments, we do not eat. It seems wrong to eat. We don’t think about not eating in the moment – it simply feels unnatural and unthinkable.
Scott McKnight defines fasting as the “natural response of a person to a grievous sacred moment.” McKnight emphasizes that fasting is a natural response. Like not eating during your wedding vows because the moment is too sacred. Like not eating as you look into the casket at a funeral because the moment is too grievous.
McKnight emphasizes that fasting is a response to a very serious situation, not a device to take us from a good level to a better level.
Did you get that? Fasting isn’t an instrument to get God to hear our prayers or to help us master a primordial impulse or to accomplish anything. It’s something you do when circumstances are bad enough that you don’t want to eat, and it would seem wrong to do so. Or when circumstances are incredible enough that you don’t even think about food.
I am a Kansas State football fan. For decades, K-State had the worst record of any college team. Most losses, fewest wins – the losers. They were routinely trounced by other Big 8 (now Big 12) teams like Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. I will never forget being at the K-State versus Nebraska game on November 14, 1998, when we, the oppressed, ignited our revolution. Nebraska held twenty-nine consecutive victories against K-State, but the stadium Jumbotron boldly declared before the game: “Today one dynasty ends. And another dynasty… is born.”
K-State had not won against Nebraska for twenty-nine years – twenty-nine consecutive losses. So that message stirred a deep desire for vengeance. A growl in the gut. When the game clock hit 0:00 with K-State winning by a score of 40 to 30, the stadium erupted in an adrenalin-fueled roar of triumph. Everyone, myself included, could do nothing but scream, jump, and pump our arms in the air, high-fiving and hugging complete strangers as the thousands who could find their way onto the field simply ran in random directions in a continuous yelling swarm. Fans started climbing the goal post, clinging to it like ants, to bring it down (even though it was our own) in order to, what else, drag it around. It was a nearly unstoppable, bodily response to a sacred moment.
Our bodies also respond to tragic moments by natural, nearly unstoppable expressions of sorrow.
My sister died when I was fifteen. When my dad told me, my mind reeled, and I was plunged into emotional turmoil. Throughout that day and for many days afterward, my parents, brothers, and I were doubled over, on our knees, pouring out unstoppable tears. I remember being on my knees, hugging myself, as I swayed with my head low to the floor. If you’ve ever lost a loved one or faced a terrible grief, then you understand what I’m describing. The body responds instinctively, almost uncontrollably, in grievous moments.
Whether it is as profound as the death of a sister or as trivial as winning a football game, when we feel a major experience deep in the gut, our bodies will be compelled to respond.
McKnight writes, “Sometimes we yearn so much for what we know God wants for this world, and sometimes we become so depressed over what our world is like in light of what God wants for us, that we are compelled to fast.”
We’re living in a grievous, sacred moment.
Grievous because almost eighteen-thousand children continue to die every day from preventable causes. Grievous because we give far less than 1 percent of our personal incomes to anti-poverty work. Grievous because our nation allocates only 0.17 percent of its budget to help the poor, although the average American thinks we give 20 percent. Grievous because our churches spend 96 percent of their offerings on themselves, to pay for the facilities, staffing, and production costs of our weekly experiences. Of the 4 percent that does go beyond the church walls, only a small fraction goes to anti-poverty work. Meanwhile, the Goliath of extreme poverty is defying the army of God and slaying the innocent in the valley.
Eighteen-thousand every day. It feels as though we are munching potato chips while staring into the casket.
Yet this moment is also sacred. As we’ve shown, extreme poverty has already been cut in half. Preventable child death has been cut in half. We are witnessing a groundswell of new intentions and expectations among God’s people. We have been defeated twenty-nine times in a row, but we are ready to boldly declare that today, in our generation, one dynasty ends, and a new one is born.
It is a sacred moment because our generation has the unprecedented and history-making opportunity to eradicate extreme poverty from earth. This is our moment. And if we feel the trembling possibilities of this moment, we won’t even be able to think of munching down the chips.
When we feel in our guts what God feels when hungry children die while those who claim His name spend millions on worship centers, we will physically respond. An instinctive, nearly unstoppable action. A response driven from our alignment with God’s heart.
We will be compelled to drill water wells in Africa, fight government corruption, and ensure that children don’t go hungry.
Excerpted with permission from Hope Rising: How Christians Can End Extreme Poverty in this Generation by Scott Todd, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2014.
* * *
Do you recall feeling that extreme bodily reaction during a sacred moment? How do you respond to extreme world poverty? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you about how we can serve the most needy in our world.