Crossway Books Interview with John Piper on A Hunger for God

1. What do you mean by calling Fasting a homesickness for God?

Matthew 9:15 "The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

For his return, they long for God.

2. You compared fasting with what happened to you when you got a letter from your fiancé. Can you explain that.

Sometimes fasting is owing to losing appetite because of something so good in its place or something so bad. Other times fasting actively resists the competing appetite to affirm and grow a better one.

3. You say that Matthew 9:14-17 is the most important word on fasting in the Bible. Why?

Matthew 9:14 Then the disciples of John *came to Him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?" 15 And Jesus said to them, "The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 "But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. 17 "Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out, and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved."

1. It is the closest statement that fasting is expected. V. 15: Then they will . . .
2. The apparent conflict between "they will fast" and the following "men don't put new wine in old wineskins." The fasting must be new fasting.
3. What's new is that the fasting is not for a hope that has not yet been tasted, but for a hope of consummation that has already been fulfilled in Jesus. We are hungry not because we have not tasted but because we have.
4. Therefore there is a distinctive Christian fasting.
5. It is always both contentment in the already and dissatisfaction in the not yet.

4. Are there any other crucial texts on fasting?

Matthew 6:16-18

Matthew 6:16 "And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 "But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face 18 so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Not if but when.

Acts 13:1 Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

Shows they fasted after the Bridegroom had left. And that it affected missions.

5. Why is it hypocrisy to want to be seen fasting? Isn't hypocrisy to hide what you are really doing and appear different on the outside?

Because the motive of true fasting is out of hunger for God not hunger for peoples praise. But wanting to be seen will give the impression that you are hungry for God when you are hungry for man's approval.

6. Does corporate fasting contradict the words of Jesus?

Acts 13:1-3 and 14:23 (appointing elders) show they did it.

The Matthew warning is: "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them." The problem is one of motive: are you publicly fasting to be seen.

Problem: Matt. 5:16. Want to be seen. Solution. Motive – to be seen for God's glory or for your glory.

7. Jesus seems to promise reward as an incentive to fast. "The Father will reward you" (Matthew 6:18). Is that a good motive?

It depends on how you conceive the reward. Jesus approves it. (Lewis quote on being far to easily pleased) The reward of marriage is not money, but joyful relationship.

The reward is God himself in deeper and more intimate communion. To want things instead of God makes a cuckold out of God – asking him to supply you with the means to be unfaithful to him (James 4:3-4)

8. What did you mean that God's greatest adversaries are his gifts?

Luke 14:18-20 The parable about the banquet: can't come because of land oxen and wife. We love things more than God.

Fasting helps keep that from happening.

9. You raise the question why God created bread and hunger and relate that to fasting. What's the reason and the connection?

He could have had beings that did not have hunger or food. I would say he created us to hunger for food so that when he spoke of being the bread of life we would have some idea of how good he is and how to relate to him.

Fasting helps cultivate that spiritual hunger by forcing the hunger issue on us and making us ask if we really do hunger for God.

10. Why do you call fasting the hungry handmaid of faith?

John 6:35. I am the bread of life, he who comes to me shall never hunger and he who believes in me shall never thirst.

That's what faith is: hungering for God. Fasting can express and help kindle that.

11. What does the handmaid of fasting say to faith?

She says that God is more to be desired than life.

Habakkuk 3:17-18

Though the fig tree should not blossom, And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail, And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold, And there be no cattle in the stalls, 18 Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

12. You compare the Satan's temptation of Jesus in the wilderness to turn stone to bread to the testing of Israel in the wilderness when God gave them manna. Can you explain that?

Deuteronomy 8:3 "God . . . fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.

Manna was a test to see if Israel would love God and his grace more than bread even miracle bread.

Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness to use his power to do what God did, make manna.

Jesus responded with this text. Man shall not live by bread alone . . . And he gave it the original meaning of the manna: Don't trust in bread, not even miracle bread, trust in God.

All Jesus-like fasting aims to cultivate hunger for God not even his miracles per se.

13. You speak of fasting for the King's coming. How do you mean for that to happen?

1. Out right fasts for the coming of Jesus.
2. More commonly we are to pray for the coming of the kingdom all the time. Matt. 6:9; Maranatha! And we are to evangelize to hasten the day of God (Matthew 24:14; 2 Peter 3:12). Fast to intensify prayer and evangelism.

14. You mentioned the Korean experience with fasting. What is remarkable about this?

1884 first Protestant church. One hundred years later 30,000 churches. That's 300 churches a year for 100 years.

15. You suggest that fasting can change the course of history. What do you have in mind?

Acts 13:1-3 Saul and Barnabas were led to missions through fasting. And we owe the NT and the western expansion of the church to this.

16. You say that Jonathan Edwards has a warning for some impressions about fasting in our day. What is the danger and the warning?

The danger is speaking with overmuch assurance about what only the sovereign God can perform, and giving the impression that personal impressions have authority to guide the church's behavior.

Also the misuse of scripture to buttress what one already holds from an impression.

JE: I would entreat the people of God to be very cautious how they give heed to such things. I have seen 'em fail in very many instances; and know by experience that impressions being made with great power, and upon the minds of true saints, yea, eminent saints; and presently after, yea, in the midst of, extraordinary exercises of grace and sweet communion with God, and attended with texts of scripture strongly impressed on the mind, are no sure signs of their being revelations from heaven: for I have known such impressions to fail, and prove vain by the event, in some instances attended with all these circumstances. (Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, Yale, p. 282.)

17. How do you test subjective impressions?

1. In Acts 13:1-3 five not one person were moved to believe that P and B should be sent. Apostolic authority binds us; other claims must be tested, and this is best done in a group of spiritually wise and mature people.
2. Normative pattern of guidance in the NT is Roman 12:1-2 and Col. 1:9
3. An impression would need to conform to the content, tenor, spirit and trajectory of the whole of the Bible.
4. The misuse of Scripture in defense or application of the impression will give sober Christians pause.
5. The larger track record of the person claiming the impression. How stable? What experience have they had before with such things? General doctrinal base of the person.

18. You said a surprising thing about 2 Chronicles 7:14 that seems out of step with the way it is commonly used by those praying and fasting for revival.

If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

No mention of fasting.

"My people" is Israel and "their land" is Israel. The switch to the church is legitimate in principle, but not "their land" as America. The church has no land. There is no promise here for a nation being spiritually healed if the church in that nation repents.

19. What is your own hope for fasting and revival?

I believe in the steady state ministry the Word in the of the church and in the world ratcheted up to the radical level of passion for God supremacy that should be normal.

Toward that great end I love the praying of God's people with as much passion as they are given to muster, and with fasting to express and intensify their hunger for God.

Revival is God's working radical Godwardness in lots of people at the same time. This comes by preaching as much as by prayer. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

We need reformation of preaching as much or more than gatherings for prayer.

20. What is different about the fasting of Isaiah 58? You give a whole chapter to it.

Isaiah 58:6-10

"Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free, And break every yoke? 7 "Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 "Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. 9 "Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 And if you give yourself to the hungry, And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness, And your gloom will become like midday.

The gist is: when you take food out of your own mouth, put it in someone else's.

Fasting is not for starving ourselves but for feeding others.

It is not meant to impress God, but to change us into radical people less in love with things and more free for love and risk as we rely on the promises of God.

21. You talked about abortion and fasting and mentioned a "Worldview war on abortion." What's that and what's the connection with fasting?

David Reardon's book Making Abortion Rare says the goal is not that Abortion be illegal but unthinkable.

Francis Schaeffer said 18 years ago, "There is a thinkable and an unthinkable in every era." And what makes the difference is the world view of the era: Is there a God who created and guides and or is material-energy the final reality. For the latter nothing is unthinkable.

The main battle is world view. The Supremacy of God in all things.

But the battle of Truth meets an intractable natural mind. There must be divine intervention not just strong arguments.

Schaeffer said, "We should be struggling and praying that this whole other total entity – the material-energy, chance worldview – can be rolled back with all its results across all of life." Christian Manifesto, Works, Crossway, p 459.

Yes, pray and think and write and act. And intensify it all with fasting for the triumph of the supremacy of God in the minds of men.

22. How did the story of Ezra's fast inspire your thinking on abortion and the world view battle?

Ezra called for a fast in Ezra 8:21-24 for the sake of the safety of his little ones and all the rest. That triggered the connection between fasting and abortion.

Then I notice that the great lessons of Ezra are all about the sovereignty of God over the minds of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes in turning their minds to support the cause of his people. And that connects with the great world view issues of our day. God reigns over the mind of our culture.

23. Why is fasting dangerous? Why begin with a warning about books on fasting?

1. 1 Tim. 4:1-3 beware of people who forbid foods created by God to be received with thanks – ingratitude. Failure to understand the doctrine of creation and the proper place of nature: Platonism. Physical-evil; spirit-good.
2. Colossians 2:20-21 Don't submit to human decrees like "Don't handle, taste touch." Pretense of godliness but lead to bondage to a deeper bondage to self.
Self-denial has as many dangers as self-indulgence. Pride in religious acts.
3. 1 Cor 8:8 "Food will not commend you to God. No better off if you eat or drink."
4. Luke 18:12-14 "Fast twice a week" "God be merciful to me a sinner." ONE was justified.

24. Why then risk it? Why fast?

1. 1 Cor. 6:12 "I will not be mastered by anything." Our master is our God.
2. Phil. 3:19 Their God is their belly. Appetite dictates with the voice of a God, not to be disobeyed.
3. Jude 4 Some turn the grace of God into licentiousness.
4. It is not just lists of sins that ruin us. "Other things" Jesus said choke the word (Mark 4:19) – fields, oxen, marriage keep us from the kingdom.

25. What do you mean by the phrase God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him? This shows up a lot in the book.

You show the sweetness and sufficiency of a fountain by drinking and being satisfied.

We must not do the great role reversal with God as if we serve and he needs the service: Acts 17:25 God is not served by human hands . . .

Philippians 1:20-21 Christ shall even now, as always, be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

When we experience death as gain Christ is magnified in my death. He is praised by being prized. Magnified to the degree that we are satisfied.

Psa 63:3 Steadfast love of the Lord is better than life . . . Psa 90:14 Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love that we may rejoice and be glad in thee.

26. So you trace everything back to what magnifies God most, is that the ultimate reason for fasting?

"Magnifies" in the sense of a telescope not a microscope, yes.

The aim of all Scripture is that God be shown and known and delighted in as infinitely, all satisfyingly glorious.

Jonathan Edwards has demonstrated so powerfully in his essay entitled Dissertation Concerning the End for which God Created the Word.

God elects his people before the foundation of the world for his glory (Ephesians 1:6).

He creates humankind for his glory (Isaiah 43:7).

He chooses Israel for his glory (Isaiah 49:3).

He delivers them from Egypt for his glory (Psalm 106:7-8).

He restores them after exile for his glory (Isaiah 48:9-11).

He sends his Son to confirm his trustworthiness and that the gentiles might glorify him for his mercy (Roman 15:8-9).

He puts his Son to death to display the glory of his vindicated righteousness (Romans 3:25-26).

He sends the Holy Spirit to glorify his Son (John 16:14).

He commands his people to do all things for his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

He will send his Son a second time to receive the glory due him (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

And in the end he will fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory (Habakkuk 2:14).

God's glory is a more ultimate goal than the love of God or the mercy of God.

Eph. 1:6,12,14. Here the love and grace and redemption of Christ all aims at the praise of God's glory.

Romans 15:9 "that the gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

Phil. 2:11 every knee bow that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the father

1 Cor 10:31. We are called to do all to the glory of God.

Yes. Fasting is important to the degree that it is part of that revelation of the glory of God.

27. How does fasting glorify God?

It might not. It might glorify man.

1 Peter 4:11, 1 Cor. 15:10

Fasting is An offering of emptiness to show where fullness can be found. It is a sacrifice of need and hunger.

It says, by its very nature,

"Father, I am empty, but you are full.
I am hungry, but you are the Bread of Heaven.
I am thirsty, but you are the Fountain of Life.
I am weak, but you are strong.
I am poor, but you are rich.
I am foolish, but you are wise.
I am broken, but you are whole.
I am dying, but your steadfast love is better than life (Psalm 63:3)."

So God's glory is highlighted by our need and desire and hunger. He is most glorified in us . . . And fasting sets us onto God for satisfaction and off of food.

28. Why would we ever eat then? How can we ever enjoy things if they are a constant temptation to idolatry?

He loves thee too little who loves anything together with thee which he loves not for thy sake.

29. So what's the reason God rewards fasting, or do you think he does?

Yes, He does as Matthew 6:18 says, "Your father who sees in secret will reward you."

Not because it earns them by showing the merit of the one who fasts. That would dishonor God by turning his free grace into a business transaction.

Romans 4:4, "To the one who works the reward is not reckoned according to grace, but according to debt."

Not because it adds to him. He creates it.

Heb. 13:21 He is still "working in us that which is pleasing in His sight"

Phil. 2:12-13 "It is God who is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

But because it expresses our thirst and hunger for God, which magnifies him.

"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. . . . Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live" (Isaiah 55:1-3).

"I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. . . . Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost" (Revelation 21:6; 22:17).

30. How do you keep fasting from becoming a pride thing?

1. Watch the goal – it should show emptiness and desperation to have God be all in all.
2. Watch the origin: we do all in the strength that God supplies.
3. Watch the method: don't do it to be seen by men.