In the days directly following the death of my mother, I was so overcome by grief that I couldn’t eat or sleep. I didn’t want food, I just wanted my mom back. All the green bean casseroles and sympathetic words in the world couldn’t console me. I just wanted my mom back. Ten years later the ache has dulled, but when provoked by memories of life with her around, it comes on again like a flood, and just as King David once proclaimed, tears are the only acceptable food until it subsides (Ps. 42:3). All I want is for her to come back.
This is the ache of a lovesick heart.
This is the foundation of the Maranatha fast.
As followers of Christ, one of the disciplines we’re called to – aside from prayer and biblical studies – is fasting. To fast is to abstain from food or some other source of pleasure in order to devote yourself more wholly to a concentrated time of communion with the Lord. Throughout the Old and New Testament, we discover various types of fasts. There are typically nine fasts derived from the Bible, but here are three in a nutshell:
1) The Daniel Fast – only fruits and vegetables; intended for heath purposes and healing.
2) The Widow’s Fast – sharing your food with the hungry and poor.
3) The Absolute Fast – no food or water. This is the fast Jesus did in the wilderness. One of the funniest verses in the gospels is Matthew 4:2, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” You think? Can you imagine being in the wilderness with little to no shade and no food or drink for over a month? Oh, Matthew, you’re silly.
Of all the books and articles I’ve read on biblical fasts, I’ve yet to see any mention the fast that Jesus highlighted as the ultimate fast for believers.
"Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’" Matthew 9:14-15
See, there were a number of fasts that the Pharisees and even the disciples of John the Baptist did in that day. You think 9 types of fasts is a bit overkill? Well, the Pharisees would fast for rain, for direction regarding war, to ward off calamity, to have/interpret dreams, and for many other reasons. It had become as common to their lifestyle as buying a latte from Starbucks is to ours.
Fast forward to today where we still use fasting to receive something. We do the Daniel fast to lose weight, we do the Esther fast to ask God to help us with a big decision we need to make or for breakthrough in a particular area, we do an absolute fast to pray about a really big issue or to prove that we’re really devout Christians. These desires aren’t necessarily bad, but Jesus’s statement leads me to believe that there is something greater to fasting that we can’t tap into when we use the discipline solely for gain.
Now, I’m not dissing anyone who does these kinds of fasts. I used to be the fasting queen in college. I fasted once a week for years and even did an absolute fast for forty days, although I sometimes cheated with yogurt smoothies, bread, and the occasional bucket of chicken. In that season fasting was about controlling my flesh, and ultimately I got great results. By consistently telling my flesh no through fasting, it was much easier for me to refuse certain temptations whenever they arose. Nowadays fasting an entire day gives me bad migraines, so I’ve been searching for a way to maintain the discipline without causing me to have to lie in bed and sleep all day instead of praying.
A few years ago I spent a few weeks of my summer at the International House of Prayer doing the Summer Leadership Program through the Luke 18 Project. One of the leaders read Jesus’s declaration in Matthew, and it was like something clicked. Immediately I could identify the grief Jesus spoke of as the grief I felt when my mother “went away”. I could vividly recall how my fasting wasn’t the result of trying to accomplish anything in the natural or spiritual realm, but it was merely the result of a heart that was longing so desperately for the return of a dear friend and mother. So often I had fasted for the sake of fasting, but never had I grasped the concept of fasting being a natural product of a heart that aches for the return of Christ.
There’s a reality, a story, that is much greater than the lives we live and the situations we encounter on a daily basis. Yes, you may be married and have a family of your own, but that’s not the greatest reality. Yes, you may be working your dream job or attending your dream school, but that’s not the greatest reality either. The greatest reality is that because you are a Christian, you are a bride in a perpetual state of preparation until the day your bridegroom comes. While you live on this earth you are waiting along with all of heaven and earth for the day your bridegroom returns to marry you and take you to a better place.
Do you live in an awareness of this reality or have the cares of this life taken precedence over your betrothal to Christ?
Ancient Jewish customs required a bride and groom to engage in a legally binding contract before the marriage even took place. Terms of what the man was promising to the woman and what she in turn would promise to him were laid out and sealed by the drinking of a shared cup of wine. From that point on, the bridegroom would leave his betrothed and go to prepare their new home. The bride would not see her groom again until the day he returned for the wedding, and no one knew when that would be, only the father. See, the father was the one that approved his son’s handiwork and told him when the home was suitable enough for his daughter-in-law.
Can you imagine how the bride would feel waiting for the day her lover would return to her? Can you imagine how as her anticipation grew and time drew on, her pillow would be soaked in tears?
In the same way, we have a contract (the Word) with our beloved, and it was sealed by the blood of Christ. Jesus told us that he has gone to prepare a place for us and no one knows the day or hour he will return but the Father (John 14:3, Matt. 24:36). As the bride, our part of the contract is to make ourselves ready and ensure that we can present ourselves as a pure and spotless bride. In the meantime, what is the state of our hearts? Are we a lovesick bride with an intense yearning to be reunited with our groom or are we like the bride of Hosea who has found other loves to satisfy us?
The application of the maranatha fast doesn’t mean that we should don our sackcloth maxis and cover our heads in ashes as we wail in the streets. The application is merely to challenge you to check your heart and ask yourself if your heart is bothered by the fact that “things as they are, are not okay when [your beloved] is missing” (Jon Thurlow, “Things Are Not Okay”). I chose to call this particular fast the Maranatha fast because maranatha is an Aramaic word that means, “Come, Lord Jesus, come”.