Fast to Work or Fast from Work?
Fast to Work or Fast from Work?
“This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month (nearly October) on the tenth day of the month you shall humble yourselves [by fasting] and not do any work, whether the native-born or the stranger who lives temporarily among you; It is a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall humble yourselves; it is a permanent statute.” ~ Leviticus 16:29, 31 AMP
Something caught my attention this morning as I read from Leviticus 16. The Israelites were commanded to” humble” or in some versions “afflict” (Hebrew עָנָה (`anah)) themselves by fasting from work. This is surprising because one would never associate fasting with work. We always think about fasting as from food. But today, I learned about the need to fast from work too. This is especially intriguing at a time where our lives are dominated by work and by society’s perpetuated belief that our hands must not be idle or else our families and us will perish. Let’s look at it a bit deeper.
What is fasting? Desiring God defines it as such:
“Fasting is a temporary renunciation of something that is in itself good, like food, in order to intensify our expression of need for something greater; namely, God and his work in our lives.”
Three things to note here: one, it involves temporary renunciation or rejection of something; two, it involves something inherently good and three, it serves a purpose of helping us seek God and His work in our lives.
Work, just like food, is inherently good because God Himself works (see Genesis 2:1-2, Philippians 2:13). But why do we need to fast from work? Here are a few personal thoughts:
1. It helps us focus on God (Worship)
Fasting helps us to take our eyes off the good things God has blessed us with and focus on Him. It is essentially saying “God, this is important but You are more important”.
It is very easy to let our eyes slip from God and to focus on our work. After all, our work demands our undivided attention and for many of us, we cannot slip up because we need to bring the bread to the table. The Chinese has this saying “手停口停” or loosely translated to mean when your hands stop (working), your mouth stops (eating). It is also against this backdrop that we may sometimes end up worshipping work. We may start to see work, instead of God, as the one which provides for us. Someone once put things into perspective for me; we may end up practicing the sacrifice of our family, health, relationships etc, in this worship of work.
“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
~ Exodus 20:3, 5-6 (ESV)
I should know all the better because I had left my full-time job to start up my own social enterprise. The pressure is on me to “make it work” and bring food to the table. And in my worship of God, I have failed countless times by making God wait for me for quiet time while I settled work. On some occasions, I may have even skipped quiet time altogether because the demands of work kept me away.
So, making an intentional effort to fast from work may help us refocus on God, our Creator and Provider, and accord to Him the rightful worship only He deserves.
2. It stops us from feeling proud (Humility)
Verses 29 and 31 in Leviticus 16 spoke about afflicting and humbling ourselves. Indeed, it is an affliction of sorts because we all want to feel worthy and one way to get this “worthiness” is through our work. As such, fasting from work humbles us. To put things into perspective, we are already worthy and significant in God’s eyes.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” ~ Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV)
But on this side of eternity, we still seek to be worthy and significant. We may work hard to be successful; to gain praise, promotions, prizes, and possessions. And when we do so, we may start to feel that all these have been possible because of our own doing. Look at the warning given to the Israelites.
“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.” ~ Deuteronomy 8:11-19 (ESV)
And so, fasting from work keeps us from feeling proud by acknowledging that all we have is also possible because of our hard work AND because of God; whether it is the health He has given us to pursue the work, the open doors, the wisdom, the giftings etc.
3. It positions us to seek His guidance (Petition)
If we really believe that God has His plans for us, plans for our good and not our harm (Jeremiah 29:11), then we must believe we are in good hands.
People in the scriptures also fasted to inquire of God for battles (see Judges 20:26-28) and ministries (see Acts 14:23). In the same way, just as some fast from things that satisfy them e.g. food, coffee, drama etc to seek guidance from God, so can we can also fast from work (especially if it gives us satisfaction) to seek guidance from God for our lives.
4. It helps us rest (Rest)
Fasting from work helps us rest as well because God Himself rested (see Genesis 2:1-3) and commanded rest (Exodus 20:11) for us.
God Himself rested and He knows our bodies need rest. And so, God commanded the Sabbath so our bodies can recuperate. I think the matter here is not so much of it being a Sabbath Sunday or Saturday but a rhythm of 6 days work and 1-day rest. Fasting from work encourages this rest and having a fixed rest day would help us to rest not just physically but mentally as well, as we condition our minds to rest on that day and not think and do any work. It also provides a fixed day to work in family and relationship building activities.
So do you worship work rather than God? Do you need God’s guidance in your life? Does work make you proud? Does it wear you out? If your answer is yes to any of the question, it might be good to make an effort to fast from work and seek God.
For more devotionals on work, rest, burnout and sabbatical, please visit: https://emmaus.sg/public/category/fueling-good-individuals/