Nobody likes running. Runners will disagree with me, but only because they have forgotten. Non-runners know: God gave us running so we would know what death feels like. Think about it. The first thing that happens when you start running is your body starts to attack itself. Its first attack is on your breathing. A muscle designed to keep you alive by operating involuntarily is suddenly confused. “Oh, we’re going fast now? Whoa, too fast!” So then you just decide to take control of the breathing consciously, “I’ll just match the rhythm of my… ” But you’re thoughts have been interrupted by a shooting pain in your side. Call it a cramp or a side stitch, but what is happening now (according to science) is that your internal organs are reading your vitals and know you are dying, so they’re trying to abandon ship. So, yeah…nobody likes that, they’ve simply forgotten how bad it was. It started with a very small, very quiet desire to burn off some country fried steak calories. When that desire became great or urgent enough, they forced themselves into some sort of running routine. If they were disciplined enough, they stuck with it. At some point they began to notice how good they felt after a run. Eventually the desire for the “runner’s high” pushed them through the pain, and even the dread and reluctance once felt as they laced up their shoes becomes joyful anticipation. The point is, you don’t accidentally become a runner. There are plenty of other ways to burn calories and stay healthy. If you like running, it is because you forced yourself to do it enough that you acquired a taste for it. You wanted to like it.
If the British lady on NPR a while back is correct, there are tastes we inherit, tastes that are natural and universal, and tastes that are acquired. I inherited from my father a taste for BBQ. All children in every culture and environment naturally respond well to sweet flavors. Finally, there are acquired tastes. Because my parents never bought us Fruity Pebbles growing up, I acquired a taste for bran. Now I’m an adult and can buy myself Fruity Pebbles (and believe me, I do), but my favorite cereal is still Corn Bran Crunch. I’m convinced Corn Bran Crunch is not a universal taste, but like running, it can be acquired. Psalm 63 employs the imagery of universal and acquired tastes.
1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
9 But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t long for God in the manner David describes here, but I want to. But can we make ourselves want something more? Yes, and I think David shows how in verses 1 and 5.
Verse 1: “Oh God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” David is using natural and universal desires as a reference point to describe his desire for God. Not only that, but those natural desires have been heightened by a lack of water. As if he were in a dry and weary land. The superscription of the Psalm says “A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.” Now wilderness here is not Colorado, backpacking wilderness where you dip your Nalgene in the crisp, cool mountain stream and drink away. In Israel, wilderness means desert. David is in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Going without these natural desires gets one thinking, and if you’ll notice, David isn’t just thinking about water.
BUT WHEN WE DAY-DREAM ABOUT FOOD, WE DON’T DREAM ABOUT MERE SUSTENANCE, WE DREAM ABOUT INDULGENCE.
In verse 5, his hunger doesn’t drive him to think of the most accessible, or basic food source he might encounter in the desert. Instead he says “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food.” Bread would be fine…any form of digestible vegetation would be wonderful! But when we day-dream about food, we don’t dream about mere sustenance, we dream about indulgence. David doesn’t indulge in country fried steak. He indulges in the Lord. The Lord gives him the kind of satisfied, full, happy feeling that he gets when he has a steak.
The Church inherited a practice from OT Israel that seeks to reproduce the dry and weary land David describes–the practice of fasting. I would suggest that if we want to acquire a taste for God, we need to reclaim the practice of fasting.
When Jesus begins his ministry on earth, he does not go to a posh retreat center, or a pastor’s conference. He goes to the desert. He goes to a dry and weary land where there is no water or food. Now as the eternal Son of God, he is able to create food out of nothing, and as a fully flesh and blood human being, he desperately wants to eat. Satan is quick to point this out, “Hey man, you’re the Son of God! You are surrounded by stuff you could turn into bread. Why not just transubstantiate yourself up some waffles?” Jesus’s answer to Satan gives us the meaning of fasting: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.” Jesus’s soul was satisfied by the Father. Jesus prepares himself for ministry by honing that desire.
Fasting is an opportunity to take good and natural desires that God has given us, and to actually amplify those desires by not fulfilling those desires. So that we might raise in our hearts the question, “What do I really, really want?” Fasting is about denying ourselves some of God’s precious gifts for a time in order to acquire a taste for the Gift Giver.
HABITS FUEL DESIRES.
Now, simply cutting cheese or caffeine out of our diet doesn’t automatically make us love God. Not eating country fried steak doesn’t make us a runner. Habits fuel desires. Fasting is a change in our daily or weekly habits that amplify the hunger or desire those habits fuel, what this does is allows us to engage in new habits and practices that help us acquire a taste for God. So people will say fasting is about taking on as much as it is giving up.
David isn’t very helpful in telling us exactly what this meditation looks like or how to do it, but it’s poetry…what do you want? A few habits I would suggest picking up a Bible Reading Plan. Our church happens to have a great one that is organized around the church calendar. Pick a Psalm or a chapter of the Bible to commit to memory. Replace some TV time with a time of prayer. Wake up early and pray at the beginning of the day. Schedule a regular time to meet with a friend and pray.
Psalm 63 invites us to the desert–to the dry and weary land where there is no water. Let us thirst that our souls might thirst for God. Let’s day-dream about the most indulgent, most satisfying sustenanceimaginable…the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. Allrights reserved