Worship as Prayer

27 10 2014

The first “contemporary” worship service I attended was at Willow Creek in the early 1990’s. I was in college and, in fact, attendance was part of a class assignment for a course on church growth. And even in those days when I possessed extensive ignorance in the areas of ecclesiology and liturgy, I noticed the distinct lack of prayer in the service. When discussing this in the classroom, it was argued this was intentional because it was a “seeker” service. The more intensive “praying” took place in small groups throughout the week. There were just too many non-Christians in the Sunday services to warrant the use of the very Christian act of prayer.

 

Setting aside, for now, the pros and cons of using Sunday “worship” services as the main evangelistic tool of the church, it must be pointed out that churches like Willow Creek influenced the way thousands of churches conducted their worship services in North America (and now, the world). Which means this lack of prayer in the main service has now become common-place in “contemporary” worship services in country, small town, suburban and urban congregations. When I sit through these sort of services (and sitting is about all that the “audience” gets to do, except standing to sing) I increasingly feel like I have been to some kind of a show that may be distantly related to Christian worship, but does not quite pull-off the real deal.

 

The truth is painful (and controversial) but it must be said and repeated: most of our Evangelical “contemporary” worship services would be unrecognizable to believers from Justin Martyr to John Wesley. The lack of a distinct and unified prayer of the people of God is an immense contributor to this very lamentable reality.

 

This lack of prayer in our “worship” services has, I believe, been a major impetus for the many prayer movements that have experienced dynamic growth in the last 20 years (The International House of Prayer, IHOP, comes immediately to mind– and while, on the one hand, IHOP takes “contemporary” worship forms to a new extreme with 24/7 worship music lead by a band; on the other hand, IHOP conceives of every facet of their services as prayer which is much closer to Biblical and historic perspectives of worship).

 

My concern and anger are piqued because most of Evangelicalism’s fastest growing churches are training Christians that prayer is either a minor component of Christian practice or it is something best left to the paid professionals. There may be a prayer here and there, and the pastor may pray, but when do God’s people learn how to pray as individuals, much less as a cohesive whole?

 

Hence my preference for ancient liturgies, East and West, and the emphasis on the worship service as the unified prayer of God’s people– a service that is prayer from start to finish. But Evangelicals, by and large, dismiss these prayers as wrote and unreal because they are not prayed from the heart. How can they be since they are just printed words mouthed in unison? But my rebuttal is based on the didactic importance of prayer: how can the heart, or mind, pray well when it has never been invited into the Church’s prayer life that has been going on for 3,000 plus years (going back to the Psalms)? Old and New Testament followers of God prayed written prayers as one. And so did Christians for the vast majority of Church history. How is it that some of us now know better or have graduated to a higher level than the giants of the faith who have gone before us?

 

I’m afraid we place too much emphasis on “heart-felt” emotional prayers and not enough on serious corporate prayer that forms and shapes those who join their voices to it into Christ-like, living sculptures. In fact, if our extemporaneous, “heart-felt” prayers too often seem inane, shallow and self-focused, we need not look far for one of the main culprits. Written, corporate prayers are not meant to replace other forms of prayer, but to breath life, vibrancy and depth into them. Our own time tends to pit written and extemporaneous forms prayer against one another– making them mutually exclusive. But they are meant, and have been used as such down through the millennia, to be the right and left lungs of the prayer life of God’s people. We dare not keep the Holy Spirit on a short leash by using only one prayer form to the utter neglect of the other.


Please take these following paragraphs from the late Robert Webber with the weight and seriousness they deserve. If we are no longer praying God’s story for the sake of the world, we are no longer Christ’s body or bride. We’re just another association with faded semblances to a vibrant Christian heritage. (What follows is from his final book: Ancient-Future Worship)

 

The first crisis of public prayer is its neglect. By neglect I do not mean to suggest that congregational worship has no prayer within it. Indeed, most if not all churches will do prayers. They may begin and end with prayer. A prayer may be said before a sermon or at its ending; intercessory prayers may be made for the sick, for shutins, for the needs of the congregation, local city, country, and even for the world (however, many contemporary churches do not have a place for intercessory prayer). What I speak of here as the neglect of prayer is the failure to conduct all of worship as the prayer of the church for the life of the world.

This failure to grasp all of worship as a cosmic prayer has several underlying causes. The first and, I believe, most fundamental reason why worship is not seen as prayer is the failure to grasp that corporate prayer arises from the story of God. We think of corporate prayers as arising within ourselves. Yet the story of God . . .is the story of the world and of human existence. Worship prays this story. But this thought and the application of this thought for the content and structure of worship is neglected simply because it is unheard of by many.

A second reason why worship is not seen as the prayer of God’s people for the world is because worship has been turned into a program. Worship, influenced by broadcast communication theories of the media revolution, has become an entertaining presentation. The commitment to worship “programming” has been intensified by the contemporary Christian music industry. Because people are drawn by entertainment, showmanship, and celebrity, many local churches have turned to a presentational worship to attract the masses.

Consequently, the nature of worship has shifted from corporate prayer to platform presentational performance. Worship, instead of being a rehearsal of God’s saving actions in the world and for the world, is exchanged for making people feel comfortable, happy, and affirmed. Worship, no longer the public prayer of God’s people, becomes a private and individual experience. Beneath the privatization of worship is the ever-present individualism of our culture. This focus on the self results in prayers that are concerned with my life, my needs, my desires–prayers that seem indifferent to the needs of the poor and the problem of violence and war that devours nations and societies and ignore the works of God in Christ to bring to an end all evil, death, and sin. . . .

Worship as public prayer may be described as follows: “Public prayer lifts up all creation to the Father through Jesus Christ by the Spirit in praise and thanksgiving for the work of the Son, who has reconciled creatures and creation to God.” Because this is what the public prayer of the church does, the story of God is the substance of the inner content that shapes the outer form of public prayer. Worship prays God’s story.

 

 

Paul instructs the churches in Philippi, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The “your” here is second person plural. This is a corporate activity flowing from and resting on the accomplished work of Christ Jesus. The prayers we pray when we gather for worship need to more intentionally unite us into the true story of Jesus. Written, responsorial, and Eucharistic prayers are indispensible for this task.

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Unworthy

6 11 2011

Once again, this day, I presided at the Lord’s Table… why I am allowed to do this I may never understand.  But it is precisely my understanding (human reason) that I must set aside as I approach the Table, and simply bow my heart and body to the grace there bestowed.

What follows in an ancient Eastern prayer that I prayed today before worship (a prayer of St. Basil the Great):

O Lord, I know that I am unworthy to receive your Holy Body and Precious Blood; I know that I am guilty, and that I eat and drink condemnation to myself, not discerning the Body and Blood of Christ my God.  But trusting in your loving-kindness I come unto you who has said:  He that eats my Body and drinks my Blood shall dwell in me and I in him.  Therefore, O Lord, have compassion on me and make not an example of me, your sinful servant.  But do unto me according to your great mercy, and grant that these Holy Gifts may be for me unto the healing, purification, enlightenment, protection, salvation and sanctification of my soul and body, and to the expulsion of every evil imagination, sinful deed or work of the Devil.  May they move me to reliance on you and to love you always, to amend and keep firm my life; and be ever in me to the increase of virtue, to the keeping of your Commandments, to the communion of the Holy Spirit, and as a good defense before your dread Judgment Seat, and for Life Eternal.  Amen

 

 





Ancient – Present Prayer

17 07 2011

“Remember God more often than you breathe”, says St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 389). Prayer is more essential to us, more an integral part of ourselves, than the rhythm of our breathing or the beating of our heart. Without prayer there is no life. Prayer is our nature. As human persons we are created for prayer just as we are created to speak and to think. The human animal is best defined, not as a logical or tool-making animal or an animal that laughs, but rather as an animal that prays, a eucharistic animal, capable of offering the world back to God in thanksgiving and intercession.

I hope the preceding and subsequent quotes from Kallistos Ware on prayer stir your heart and soul as much as they have stirred mine. These comments come from his introduction to a little prayer book that is a translation of Greek liturgical manuscripts from the late 700’s (which means the prayers are much older than that, as they would have been in use several centuries before being written down).

Ware is speaking as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, but I find his comments “spot on” and applicable to believers across most denominations. Also, he reminds us why the prayers of the early church ought to be a regular part of our praying.

This next comment describes how the Incarnation should guide and shape our prayer life:

Orthodoxy recognises no sharp distinction between the sacred and the secular, every aspect of our daily life and work is blessed by the Church and so brought within the realm of divine grace. As Christians we are necessarily materialists; ours is an incarnate faith, earthy, rooted in this world. Thus our Orthodox service books contain prayers for sowing, threshing, and wine-making, for diseased sheep or cattle, for blessing cars, tractors, and fishing nets, for insomnia, for children starting to learn the alphabet or students taking their examinations. In the older editions there are even rites for cursing caterpillars and removing dead rats from the bottom of a well. Jesus Christ at his human birth took upon himself our whole nature — body, soul and spirit — and so he is rightly involved in everything we do. We meet him everywhere.

Ware points out four themes that forcefully emerge from praying with the ancient prayers of the church: Mystery, the Trinity, Community, and Mission.

  1. The [ancient] prayers are marked by a strong sense of God’s holiness and mystery, by a spirit of reverence and wonder. We approach the living God “in fear and trembling”, “in love and awe”. . . . [The one who prays] feels the nearness as well as the otherness of God. Transcendent, ineffable, he is also at the core of everything, closer to us than our own heart, “everywhere present and filling all things”, as we say to the Holy Spirit in an invocation at the start of each service.
  2. [The ancient prayers are] deeply Trinitarian. “Between the Trinity and hell there lies no other choice”, says the Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky. The threefold invocation, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, with which each prayer concludes, is not an optional extra but sums up the very essence of our prayer. We do not simply address God, but explicitly or implicitly we always pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. To pray is to be taken up into a network of relationships, an interpersonal dialogue, that exists within God himself. As we pray we hear the Father say not to Christ only but also to ourselves, “You are my beloved Son” (Mark 1:11); and by the power of the Spirit we respond in union with Christ, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6), becoming sons in the Son. So through prayer we are assumed into the perichoresis, the mutual love or “round dance” of the Trinity. God as Trinity is the source and end-point of all our prayer.
  3. All prayer is communal – prayer of the total family, of the entire Church invisible as well as visible. Prayer is our entry to the communion of saints. [The Lord’s prayer and all the ancient prayers use “our” and “we”, never “mine” and “me”.] … The Christian is the one who says not “I” but “we”. Prayer is “heaven on earth”. . . . This does not diminish the love that we feel for Christ our Saviour, “the one mediator between God and humans” (1 Timothy 2:5), but renders him all the closer to us.
  4. In prayer we do not think only in vertical terms about the Church in glory and the communion of saints, but we also think horizontally about our involvement with the rest of humankind. . . . [Portions of these ancient prayers] form an all-important reminder that the Church is by its very nature missionary, outward-looking, existing not for itself but for the sake of the world.

    This last comment speaks to the purpose and goal of prayer. Read the last sentence at least 3 times—and let it really sink in.

    “Pray without ceasing”, says St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:17); and the Russian Orthodox Fr. Georges Florovsky writes: “A Christian has to feel himself personally in the presence of God. The goal of prayer is precisely to be with God always.” I hope that the prayers in this book, designed for the different hours of the day, will help us in small but significant ways to do exactly that: to be with God always, to make our prayer, not just an intermittent activity, but a dimension present continually in all that we undertake– not simply something that we do from time to time, but something that we are the whole time. For this is what the world around us needs: not that we should say prayers occasionally, but that we should be at each moment a living flame of payer.

      (From Kallistos Ware’s forward in Praying with the Orthodox Tradition)





Undoing Adam’s Failure

13 03 2011

Prayer.  Fasting.  Almsgiving.  These are the classic disciplines of the Lenten season.  But when we pray, we should always pray with Scripture.  In Evangelical circles, it is often stressed that a healthy relationship with God requires daily Bible reading and study.  I don’t disagree, but beyond reading and study, a disciple of Jesus should also know how to pray the Scriptures.  The Psalms are the obvious example of Scripture that we can pray, but even with Biblical narratives (like Genesis or the Historical Books) and discourse (like the Prophets or the Epistles) one can also learn to pray.  The key is to remember that the Scriptures are God’s words to His people, AND that  prayer is not only talking to the Lord but also listening to Him.  By allowing Him to speak to us through the Scriptures, we can enter into dialogue with our Heavenly Father through the Holy Spirit.  These holy conversations will steadily transform us as we practice them frequently and steadily improve at listening.  So, this Lent, practice praying the Scriptures!

Now for my Lenten confession:  It’s frightening to count up the paltry amount of time I actually spend with Scripture.  As part of my Lenten discipline then, I hope to increase my time reading, studying and praying the Bible.  And during this Lent I will endeavor to record some of my engagement with God’s word by posting my thoughts here.

The lectionary readings for this first Sunday in Lent (from the Revised Common Lectionary) are these:

  • Old Testament Lesson:
    • Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 32
  • New Testament Lesson:
    • Romans 5:12-19
  • Gospel Lesson:
    • Matthew 4:1-11

These Scriptures remind us that the message and focus of Lent is really NOT how horrible we sinners all are (as true as that may be).  To focus on ourselves is a hopeless and despair-filled endeavor.  The focus of Lent is renewal, new life; and the One who has brought about this blessed new reality for us hopeless rebels. It seems I constantly fall back into sinful ruts– thought patterns, as well as patterns of behavior.  I know all too well that I cannot break myself out of these hellish cycles and deep, dark ruts with human resources alone.  Only the Second Adam can offer me real, lasting help.

“If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”  (Romans 5:17)

Look at Adam back in Genesis 3.  He stood by and allowed his wife to be manipulated by a scrawny little snake.  Don’t believe for a moment that Adam had skipped off to the nearest bush for a bathroom break  when the serpent slithered up to Eve and spoke his lies.  Genesis 3:6 indicates that he was with Eve.  And even if it can be argued that he was not there for the serpent’s spiel, he could have stopped his wife when she offered him the fruit.  But I have little doubt that Adam was fully aware of what the serpent had told his wife (because I believe he was right there to hear it).  But at precisely that moment when he should have stepped up as the man God created him to be he goes silent and passive.  He should have lovingly corrected his wife.  Even better, he should have told the serpent to shut up and leave– and if the serpent refused, Adam should have beat it’s little brains in with the nearest stick!

We all know he didn’t do any of those things and we get to enjoy the continuing consequences of his actions– especially as we mimic Adam again and again in our own lives.  But here’s the good news proclaimed especially at the beginning of Lent:  Jesus does what Adam should have done, and therefore so can we!

I love that scene from the Passion of the Christ where Jesus stomps on the head of snake as Satan whispers his temptations in the garden (imagine that, we’re back in a garden just like Genesis 3!).  Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 and undoes what Adam allowed to happen.

This can be viewed most clearly in the Gospel lesson from Matthew 4, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  By the power of God’s Spirit and Word, the Second Adam rebuffs the devil’s temptations and half-truths and leaves the desert victorious and ready to begin his earthly ministry.

But the old Liar is still at work.  Most of us read that and assume we could never resist like Jesus did– being the eternal Son of God and all comes with some advantages, right?!  We all feel too much like the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve– we fail and fail and fail again.  But this is a lie.  If we have been baptized into Christ then we possess the power of his death and resurrection, if we choose to make use of it.  If we claim that we trust Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and our ticket to heaven, then it is also possible to trust that Christ is in us and we need not succumb to the devil’s tricks and fleshly temptations.  It truly is within our reach to follow Jesus rather than Adam and Eve.  To believe otherwise is to have already bought the serpent’s lies– which means the battle is over before it’s begun.  I’ll safely guess that our Enemy prefers this to engaging in one-on-one combat with each of us.  You’d think he was intimidated by those in whom Christ resides!

If you’ve recently allowed the Evil One to knock you down, Lent gives you the opportunity to get back up and enter the fight once again with renewed confidence and optimism.  For we are now sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of the Second Adam– the One who danced on the head of the serpent.  Glory to Christ forever.  Amen.





Lent: Making Room

6 03 2011

Tomorrow Christians of the East will observe Clean Monday– a day on which they will clean their houses as a sign and symbol of the spiritual cleaning they are about to embark upon during Lent. Two days later, Christians of the West will observe Ash Wednesday– at their services they will be marked with ashes in the sign of the cross on their foreheads, and the minister will say, “From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return; repent and believe the Gospel!”  Many Christians, both East and West will tackle the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a way to make more space in their souls for God.  Others will “give something up” in an effort to participate in Lenten discipline.  Some give up TV or coffee or candy bars, while others attempt to eliminate other pesky addictions they may have.

Of course, all of this sort of thing is terribly dangerous.  So dangerous, in fact, that some Christians and denominations discourage and even ban such activities.  It is all considered as an attempt to win points with God or as an opportunity to exhibit spiritual pride– as in, “I’m a better Christian than you because I didn’t watch any TV during Lent!”   Works righteousness, pridefulness, and legalism are real pit-falls that lay in the path of the Lenten sojourner.

 

The truth is that these dangers will not be any less for the Christian who elects to avoid altogether the sorts of spiritual disciplines associated with Lent.  One can, for example, take pride in the fact that she does not need to fast in order to be a more spiritual person.  Actually, the argument FOR taking up fasting (or silence, or simplicity, or almsgiving, etc.) is much stronger than the dangers that can often accompany it.  You see, disciples of Jesus, as a whole, have never abandoned such spiritual disciplines despite the obvious danger they pose and the abuse all too often made of them.  (A truth we must all learn is that just because something in Christianity has been misused and abused does NOT necessitate its removal from our midst– otherwise we would have to get rid of preaching, singing, and even the Bible, for have all been misused over and over!)

 

If your goal is to make more space in your life for Christ so that He can bring more of Himself into you, then your mindset is in the right place for taking up Lenten disciplines.  For myself, by God’s grace, I hope to take up some fasting, and increased praying; and I also hope to greatly decrease the time I spend connected to various forms of media, especially TV and the internet.  By this I hope to gain more of Christ and His freedom.  I want to be free from the dictates of my belly and my need to be pacified through entertainment.  I want to be free from seeking after everything else in order that I might feel validated, important or significant, when there is only One Source from which I can truly receive these and more (and I hope the effects will spill over into my struggle with anger and impatience!).  The danger of legalism and pride are real, but they can no longer be allowed to keep me from attempting the discipline of fasting food and entertainment.

 

So, it would be best to stop placing our Lenten focus on what we are “giving up” and realize that it is all a miniscule price to pay in order to be more closely united with the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit– and to live life to the full as a free citizen in the Kingdom of God.  This Lent, I pray for us all that in all we endeavor to undertake we would know the Lord’s joy, AND that we would see strongholds of hell, sin, and the flesh come crashing down in ruins.  May our chains of addiction fall from our wrists and ankles and may the iron bars of our captivity burst open leading us out onto the green spaces of the Kingdom.  So be it.





The Objective of Prayer

8 08 2010

“The idea of prayer is not in order to get answers from God; prayer is perfect and complete oneness with God. If we pray because we want answers, we will get huffed with God. The answers come every time, but not always in the way we expect, and our spiritual huff shows a refusal to identify with our Lord [Jesus] in prayer. We are not here to prove God answers prayer; we are here to be living monuments of God’s grace.”

— Oswald Chambers





Fasting: Exposing the Great Lie

29 03 2010

There’s still time!  If you have failed in your attempts at fasting during this Lent, or if you have not even attempted to fast, there’s still time.  We are now entering Holy Week.  The Easter Vigil approaches where we are invited to participate in the Fast of fasts in preparation for the Feast of feasts.  I pray that you, and I, will accept the invitation to fast during this Holy Week.  By doing so, we enter into the Victory of victories, achieved by the Second Adam.   It’s true!  Fasting is about victory, joy, strength, and life!

In support of this claim I offer the following quote from Alexander Schmemann (Great Lent, chapter 5, “Lent in Our Life”).  It is a long quote, but worth the effort!

Today people [Christian and non-Christian] fast for all kinds of reasons. . . .  It is important, therefore, to discern the uniquely Christian content of fasting.  It is first of all revealed to us in the interdependence between two events which we find in the Bible:  one at the beginning of the Old Testament and the other at the beginning of the New Testament.  The first event is the “breaking of the fast” by Adam in Paradise.  He ate of the forbidden fruit.  This is how man’s original sin is revealed to us.  Christ, the New Adam—and this is the second event—begins by fasting.  Adam was tempted and he succumbed to temptation.  The results of Adam’s failure are expulsion from Paradise and death.  The fruits of Christ’s victory are the destruction of death and our return to Paradise. . . .  [I]n this perspective fasting is revealed to us as something decisive and ultimate in its importance.  It is not a mere “obligation,” a custom; it is connected with the very mystery of life and death, of salvation and damnation.

…sin is not only the transgression of a rule leading to punishment; it is always a mutilation of life given to us by God.  It is for this reason that the story of the original sin is presented to us as an act of eating.  For food is means of life; it is that which keeps us alive.  But here lies the whole question: what does it mean to be alive and what does “life” mean?  For us today this term has a primarily biological meaning:  life is precisely that which entirely depends on food, and more generally, on the physical world.  But for the Holy Scripture and for Christian Tradition, this life “by bread alone” is identified with death because it is mortal life, because death is a principle always at work in it.  God, we are told, “created no death.”  He is the Giver of Life.  How then did life become mortal?  Why is death and death alone the only absolute condition of that which exists?  The Church answers:  because man rejected life as it was offered and given to him by God and preferred a life depending not on God alone, but on “bread alone.”  Not only did he disobey God for which he was punished; he changed the very relationship between himself and the world.  To be sure, the world was given to him by God as “food”—as means of life; yet life was meant to be communion with God; it had not only its end but its full content in Him.  “In Him was Life and the Life was the light of man.”  The world and food were thus created as means of communion with God, and only if accepted for God’s sake were to give life.  In itself food has no life and cannot give life.   Only God has Life and is Life.  In food itself God—and not calories—was the principle of life.  Thus to eat, to be alive, to know God and be in communion with Him were one and the same thing.  The unfathomable tragedy of Adam is that he ate for its own sake.  More than that, he ate “apart” from God in order to be independent of Him.  And if he did it, it is because he believed that food had life in itself and that he, by partaking of that food, could be like God, i.e., have life in himself.  To put it very simply:  he believed in food, whereas the only object of belief, of faith, of dependence is God and God alone.  World, food, became his gods, the sources and principles of his life.  He became their slave.  Adam—in Hebrew—means “man.”  It is my name, our common name.  Man is still Adam, still the slave of “food.”  He may claim that he believes in God, but God is not his life, his food, the all-embracing content of his existence.  He may claim that he receives his life from God but he doesn’t live in God and for God.  His science, his experience, his self-consciousness are all built on that same principle:  “by bread alone.”  We eat in order to be alive but we are not alive in God.  This is the sin of all sins.  This is the verdict of death pronounced on our life.

Christ is the New Adam.  He comes to repair the damage inflicted on life by Adam, to restore man to true life, and thus He also begins with fasting.  “When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He became hungry” (Matt. 4:2).  Hunger is that state in which we realize our dependence on something else—when we urgently and essentially need food—showing thus that we have no life in ourselves.  It is that limit beyond which I either die from starvation or, having satisfied by body, have again the impression of being alive.  It is, in other words, the time when we face the ultimate question:  on what does my life depend?  And since the question is not an academic one but is felt with my entire body, it is also the time of temptation.  Satan came to Adam in Paradise; he came to Christ is the desert.  He came to two hungry men and said:  eat, for your hunger is the proof that you depend entirely on food, that you life is in food.  And Adam believed and ate; but Christ rejected that temptation and said:  man shall not live by bread alone but by God.  He refused to accept that cosmic lie which Satan imposed on the world, making that lie a self-evident truth not even debated any more, the foundation of our entire world view, of science, medicine, and perhaps even religion.  By doing this, Christ restored that relationship between food, life, and God which Adam broke, and which we still break every day.

What then is fasting for us Christians?  It is our entrance and participation in that experience of Christ Himself by which He liberates us from the total dependence on food, matter, and the world.  By no means is our liberation a full one.  Living still in the fallen world, in the world of the Old Adam, being part of it, we still depend on food.  But just as our death—through which we still must pass—has become by virtue of Christ’s Death a passage into life, the food we eat and the life it sustains can be life in God and for God.  Part of our food has already become “food of immortality”—the Body and Blood of Christ Himself.  But even the daily bread we receive from God can be in this life and in this world that which strengthens us, our communion with God, rather than that which separates us from God.  Yet it is only fating that can perform that transformation, giving us the existential proof that our dependence on food and matter is not total, not absolute, that united to prayer, grace, and adoration, it can itself be spiritual.

Ary Scheffer's The Temptation of Christ

All this means that deeply understood, fasting is the only means by which man recovers his true spiritual nature.  It is not a theoretical but truly a practical challenge to the great Liar who managed to convince us that we depend on bread alone and built all human knowledge, science, and existence on that lie.  Fasting is the denunciation of that lie and also the proof that it is a lie.  It is highly significant that it was while fasting that Christ met Satan and that He said later that Satan cannot be overcome “but by fasting and prayer.”  Fasting is the real fight against the Devil because it is the challenge to that one all-embracing law which makes him the “Prince of this world.”  Yet if one is hungry and then discovers that he can truly be independent of that hunger, not be destroyed by it but just on the contrary, can transform it into a source of spiritual power and victory, then nothing remains of that great lie in which we have been living since Adam.