For all posts thus far in the Pilgrimage Tour series, click here.
Every time, I’ve ever fasted, it’s felt pretty useless. You’re apparently supposed to pray more or read your Bible when you usually eat, but all I end up doing is thinking about how hungry I am. So, I usually get frustrated at that and tell myself, “Just go ahead and eat while you pray and read your Bible.”
That’ll balance it out.
Alas, it was day two of the pilgrimage tour and the discipline for the day was fasting. The bag of Cheez-its I brought to snack on would just have to sit idly by in my pack all day. We weren’t going to eat until late that night, after an 11 hour journey from Kansas City to Colorado Springs. There, we would be welcomed with a beautiful feast, catered by Olive Garden and provided by the church we were crashing at that night.
And the Church said, “Amen.”
With a group of people this big, though, it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to do my normal cop-out fast break.
So, we headed off to Colorado, with all of our stomachs missing breakfast and already starting to feel the disciplinary aspect of abstaining from food intake.
On the way, our van listened to a video from Rend Collective Experiment, talking about their album called “Campfire”. One of the things that was said in the video struck me in a deep way:
Jesus wants to set the Church on fire, so the world can warm themselves around us, and find light and safety.
That line took me back to my youth group days, whenever we would go to youth camps and winter retreats. The most pervasive terminology that was used during and after the trips had to do with “fire”. People would say, “God wants to set you on fire! You’re gonna come back on fire for God! I’m just so on fire for him now!”
Now, what this usually meant was you were going to be more pious and holy, stop doing the bad things you were doing, and start doing the good stuff you were supposed to be doing. I remember people would always text their boyfriend or girlfriend and tell them that they were gonna stop making out when they got back—only to be back at it a week later, of course.
Then, I realized that I usually felt the same way about fasting. It’s about me, my own holiness, my faithfulness to God, and my ability to go through with this.
But, I remembered the verses that we read out of Isaiah 58 during that morning’s liturgy. It was basically about God chiding his people for thinking that fasting was about their own personal piety, while their brothers and sisters were oppressed, abused, hungry, and naked. Then, God says:
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
It made me reconsider what it meant to be on fire for God.
It isn’t that God doesn’t want to “set you on fire”, but why does he want to in the first place? So that I can be God’s warmth and safety to those around me.
God doesn’t want me to be on fire for my own sake, but for the sake of my neighbors. Just like God doesn’t want me to fast so I can prove something to him. He wants me to fast to form me into the type of person who displays righteousness and faithfulness towards others. It’s not about me; it’s about those around me.
The purpose for God setting us on fire is so that his Church can be a huge flame, around which the world which is dark and cold can feel the true and restorative light and warmth of God.
Both Deuteronomy and Hebrews tell us that our God is a consuming fire. He consumes us into the fire that is himself, stripping away all that is not like him, so that we can be the type of people who can truly radiate the warmth of his goodness and love.
That’s what it means to be the Church. That’s what it means to be the Kingdom.
When the Church at Pentecost received tongues of fire, they didn’t stay in the upper room. They didn’t stay isolated and to themselves. They didn’t boast of their own personal piety. They went into the streets, into the city, to testify of the God who had set them on fire. And as a result, thousands more people joined the fire that day.
So, that night, we got to Colorado after a long, long day of fasting. That lasagna from Olive Garden was the best that my taste buds had ever savored. As we feasted, I looked around and I saw the laughter, joy, and love that filled our conversations. I knew that this wasn’t just another youth camp or winter retreat type of experience.
God was going to set us on fire all right, but he was going to do so in order that he may create us into a campfire around which the world was invited to gather. And I’m hoping and trusting that he’s doing that with faithful people all around the globe.