Starving for Sweden
For a 100% Italian, fasting is never easy. Perhaps that’s more of a human thing than an Italian thing, but surely being Italian makes it doubly difficult. The last time I fasted, I learned something about spiritual hunger that’s still feeding me (pun totally intended) a few months later.
In preparation for City Life’s trip to Gothenburg, Sweden, this summer, fasting became a priority for our missions team. We were encouraged to fast something—social media, TV, one meal, etc.—for three days each month from April through August. As someone who easily gets headaches and low blood sugar after not eating for a few hours, fasting actual food is not my preferred spiritual discipline. For the first few months of our preparation, I chose to fast dessert and TV, as I’ve done many times before. If you know me, you know that those are two of my life’s greatest pleasures, as boring as that may seem! Because it’s so easy for me to find earthly delight and desire in temporal things like dessert and TV, when I deny myself those things, my spiritual delight and desire for the Lord are renewed.
I’ve fasted food before, but it’s always been something that I decided to do for my own spiritual purposes, on my own time. At the beginning of August, our missions team leader encouraged us specifically to fast at least one actual meal each day during the week before our trip. In addition to Italians loving food, we can also be a bit stubborn . . . shocking, I know. I am the type of person who loves to follow rules and submit to leadership, but there was a lot of resistance in my heart against this fast because its terms were prescribed for me, and I didn’t like the terms! I didn’t have time to be home praying for an hour during each of those meal times instead of eating—I had to work a lot. I was frustrated because I didn’t want to miss the point of the fast by just starving myself (which is what happens when we don’t eat and we have a bad attitude about it instead of praying through it). Even though there was much resistance in my heart and a bit of an attitude, too, I knew it was important to submit to this leadership and trust that God would take care of me. Isn’t shifting to trust in God to take care of our needs instead of taking care of them for ourselves the point of fasting? It’s one of those things that I KNEW theologically, but it needed to take root in my heart.
As I went without those meals during the first few days of August, I felt my body crying out for food. It reminded me of something I heard a preacher say back in my youth group days: “When the body is starved, it cries out. When the spirit is starved, it goes quiet.” The thought of that principle was, and is, chilling to me. As this was brought to my remembrance during the fast, though, my first thought was full of attitude: “So then why am fasting if my spirit is supposed to cry out but my body is growling so loud I can’t even focus on what my spirit is saying??” Then I remembered that the people of Gothenburg, for whom I’d been praying for months, live in one of the most secular countries in the world. Unlike some of the people we have the privilege of reaching on missions trips to third-world countries, unchurched Swedish people tend to be completely unaware that their lives are missing something huge without Jesus. How can they notice this missing piece when all of their physical and emotional needs are being met? This is the reason I wanted to go on this particular missions trip in the first place, yet this truth hit me like it was the first time I’d realized it. I needed to pray for them to be spiritually hungry. They don’t have delight in God or desire for Him, because they have never even felt a need to depend on Him. My dependence was taken to a new level during this fast, and I believe I was given the opportunity to intercede for and empathize with the people we were going to be reaching, through experiencing my own physical dependence on God. I prayed that the same desperate hunger I was feeling in my body, would be felt in the spirits of the people of Gothenburg, and that they would experience that as soon as they had a taste of the Gospel.
On the trip, we invited people from all over the city of Gothenburg to a pop-up church—for an opportunity to hear some music, have free coffee and treats (which the Swedes LOVE and call “fika”), and hear an inspiring message from Pastor Jonatan, who is planting SOS Church, Gothenburg. Two of the people I personally invited came, along with many others. One of the people I invited was an older man who I’m pretty sure just agreed to come because I promised him “free fika!” and who would turn that down? But after Pastor Jonatan shared the Gospel and led a prayer moment for people who wanted to receive Jesus’ love and forgiveness, I saw my new friend raise his hand in response to this call for salvation. After that moment, he had a one-on-one prayer with Pastor Jonatan, and I saw a desperation growing in him as he closed his eyes and nodded along to the prayer so earnestly. I realized that my fast was absolutely worth it, and it seemed so trivial in light of these people who came from all over the city for free coffee and live music but left with something much more valuable. I pray that the love of God imprinted on their hearts will grow strong, that the seeds we planted will become like redwoods, and that they will feel a dependence on the presence of God for every moment of their lives.
Preparing for and going on the missions trip was a spiritually deepening and invigorating experience for me. I’m enjoying my vegan pasta and chocolate again in this season, but you better believe that when it’s time for me to fast again, I’ll be doing it with a happy heart.
Isaiah 58:6 – “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AJ is a worship leader, songwriter, and the Weekend Service Director for City Life. She also teaches at The University of the Arts and plays jazz piano. When she’s not doing one of those things, you can find her cuddling with her cats, playing The Sims, or eating vegan chocolate.