Christmas evening has arrived; the prime rib’s chillin in foil, the mixed nuts have made their last rounds, and only sprinkles are left on the cookie platter.
Holiday gluttony is coming to an end and I’m practically aching for some strenuous hikes and lots of lemon water to dredge out the culinary indulgences of the season. Plus I want to break in my new wool gloves.
My body is longing for what it knows is next: The Daniel Fast. Every January since high school, I’ve practiced the Daniel Fast in some very loose form or fashion (the loosest form were the years I just watched other people do it. HAHA). As of late though I’ve been pretty hard core, following the Biblical guidelines for the fast: drinking only water and eating only plants.
The Daniel Fast has been used in a bazillion commercial churchy ways, popping up in books and blogs and recipe cards and devotionals and … lots of people be making lots of money off of a couple of words: plants, and water. I mean literally, the verses we are talking about here are as follows: “let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.”
The Daniel Fast (I don’t even like calling it that, because it wasn’t really a diet or a fast or a plan at all) biblically, was just a natural byproduct of a circumstance. See the King of this other country had kidnapped Daniel and his fiery-furnace friends (same story/characters, btw) and was planning to raise them up in his ways. Teach them to be strong countrymen in a country that wasn’t their own. I bet the other boys were jealous. But Daniel was annoyed.
And I think, has that happened to me? No, no one kidnapped me. But a quick survey of the New Testament affirms that *this world* is not, can not be, my home. My home’s elsewhere. And I don’t want to get lulled into the rhythms and norms and standards of this world on accident. Yes I live here. Yes I look like I live here. And there are lots of frivolous things I can do that make me look American and don’t take away from my real identity in Christ.
But I want to make sure every thing I do is measured against the Country I am a true citizen of: The Kingdom of God! His ways and His Laws guide my direction, not this country’s norms. Sure we pretty much look like Americans. But there are some key elements that are different. One is that we love people unconditionally; two is that we sacrifice ourselves in order to love others. There are more. But those ones are big and Christmasy.
The king wanted Daniel to eat like he did — gluttonolly. (a new word I just made up). Rich foods, fine wines, expensive meals prepared by the best chefs around. And Daniel recognized that this wasn’t what God had planned for him — he wasn’t supposed to be “defiled” as the Bible says, by these foods — so he declined. He had been raised with a strict diet as per his religion — Judaism — and to keep his heart lined up with that culture, he resisted indulging in a new diet. Simple. Done. Button it up. Put a bow on it. When things/people/places/actions have the power to pull us away from God’s plans and purposes for our lives, we should say no to them.
I assume (having spent approximately 14 minutes of my life as a theology major, you should not take my theories as biblical facts. This is armchair Bible study here. Please read your own Bibles. A lot. Every day. And listen to your pastors) that defilement could’ve come from a couple of places:
Maybe these foods weren’t God-honoring in that they weren’t Kosher.
Maybe they were defiling because they were rooted in gluttony — delicious meats and fine wines prepped by palace chefs seems excessive.
Or MAYBE (drumroll) it was just that food is a major part of culture and Daniel was trying to avoid complete assimilation into a culture that would nudge him to forget God’s plans and purposes for his life.
So instead of amazing crazy delicacies, he opted for the side salad, no dressing. Every single day. Day in and day out, he ordered straight up plants. It reminded him “I don’t belong here. I’m not going to partake in this delicious yumminess because I have a greater calling.”
Daniel wasn’t starving himself to death. He was just saying “I will live in your world, but I’m not going to assimilate into your world; I will eat with you, but it’s going to be obvious that I’m not like you; I am separate from you.” He was in that world, but not of it. His country was elsewhere. He lived at the palace, wore palace clothes, did palace stuff, was in a program where he was climbing the palace ladder. But he didn’t belong there and didn’t allow himself to begin to look like he belonged there. Your basic Romans 12:2.
I like the Daniel Fast because it reminds me of my identity in Christ; that I’m a citizen of a place where there are different norms. It becomes really hard to function as an American when you can’t go out to eat without lots of finagling the menu, you can’t grab a snack from a vending machine, you can’t reach in the cupboard for a granola bar, you can’t whip up some Hamburger Helper at 530 when the kids are screaming after a long day. It’s a reminder that I’m not supposed to just be able to so easily go with the flow here.
I can’t just wander through my days mindlessly when I’m fasting. So too, I can’t just wander aimlessly through my day and through all cultural norms if I’m REALLY a true follower of Christ. There should be plenty of instances during the day where I choose to do something uncomfortable — where I choose to sacrifice myself for the sake of others or choose to deny myself some pleasurable thing because it would make me drift from God. (For me that’s wine, for one. For two, it’s fancy clothes. And nice cars and manicures. Those are just my personal hang ups because those things make me feel like I’m awesome). We should happen to look different than the world not because we have a list of rules to follow, but because our hearts start each decision with the question: Does this honor God? Does this line up with His plan for me life; the plan where I look like Jesus?
Daily, that looks like choosing to love someone or extend grace when the normal response would be to cast judgement. Maybe it’s choosing not to use a credit card to buy things I don’t need, or choosing not to buy that latte and instead using the money to help buy a mosquito net. Not that any of that is right or wrong, but that, we have choices and each choice isn’t already made for us in the way that sometimes this culture makes us feel. We get to put all of our options up for debate; we get to measure this whole thing against God’s Plan for our lives, and if we’re honest, I think often times we would find that there’s a LOT more room for sacrifice, for grace, for prayer.
When we choose the nourishing, life-giving guidelines (Logos/Words) of God as our roadmap instead of whatever the automatic choice is (even if it’s delicacies at a king’s table), there are beautiful, energizing benefits in that. After 10 days, Daniel looked amazing; after 21 days, he looked better than everyone else.