Appetite | What’s the best way to ruin your appetite for Christmas dinner? Open your stocking and dive into all the candy canes and peanut butter cups and chocolate bars. Then, when it comes time for dinner, you’ll be too full for the roasted turkey and cornbread dressing and pecan pie. Yes, the more you want to enjoy Christmas dinner, the less you eat on Christmas morning. The same thing goes for feasting on the Lord and His promises. When we fill up on the junk food of this world , His banquet table loses appeal. In fasting , however, we can cultivate our hunger for God and intensify our longing for Him .
Protection | Before the second wave of exiles got on the road to Jerusalem , Ezra announced a fast: “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God” . Their purpose was “to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods” . Ezra wanted to magnify the Lord’s sovereignty – especially in the sight of the king: “For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, ‘The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him’” . And God responded in mercy: “So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty” .
Prayer | Lord, When the Israelites sought you through fasting and prayer, they expressed their humility and dependence on you. They were desperate for your protection on their 800-mile journey home to Jerusalem . We, too, have a long road-trip ahead of us on our journey home to you. And we admit that we cannot make it safely without you – for we know that we are not in charge of this world; you are. Thus, we rely on you, not ourselves. So please demonstrate your wisdom and power and authority in our lives for your own name’s sake. When we fast, even as our stomachs ache for food, intensify our hunger for you . Amen.
 The junk food of this world is its empty promises and entertainment. Instead of feasting on His truth and promises, we often stuff ourselves with “life’s worries, riches and pleasures” (Lk. 8:14 NIV1984) and “the desires for other things” (Mk. 4:19 ESV). And just as our stomachs are not tempted to get full on potted meat food product or blood sausage, we are also not tempted to fill up on the evil and wicked things of this world. Instead, we fill up on junk food – things that look and taste good but don’t ultimately satisfy. In Jesus’ parables, he gives very interesting examples – new land, new livestock and even a new spouse (see Lk. 14:12-24). Elsewhere, he cites, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (see Mk. 4:10-20 ESV). Thus, in fasting, we reorient our hunger for God, making fasting a lover’s quest, not a legalist’s victory (see Phil. 3:8-11).
 Fasting does not have to be denial from food. As Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Fasting if we conceive of it truly, must not … be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting.” (1959-1960). One thing to note, however: fasting is not dieting. To fast from sugar or chocolate for the purpose of cutting out calories is not fasting; to fast from sugar or chocolate because you love it and think that abstaining from these things would remind your to hunger for God is fasting.
 The Bible never promotes self-denial as an end in itself, e.g., “Then he [Jesus] said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Lk. 9:23 ESV, emphasis mine). Instead, the Lord wants us to enjoy the fullness of Christian liberty (e.g., 1 Tim. 4:1-3; Col. 2:20-21). Yet, the Bible talks about fasting – that is, exercising self-denial – as a means to increase our hunger for God.
 Ezra 1-6 (first wave; about 50,000 exiles returned home), Ezra 7-10 (second wave; about 8,000 exiles returned home)
 Ezra 8:21 ESV
 Ezra 8:22 ESV
 Ezra 8:23 ESV
 In Heart of Darkness, Conrad Joseph Conrad writes about how intense physical hunger can lead to desperate measures: “No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is; and as to superstition, beliefs, and what you may call principles, they are less than chaff in a breeze.” Likewise, we can intensity our measures to find and seek God when we fast and pray for His presence.