Posted by: Phoebe | August 6, 2009

Review of “A Hunger for God” by John Piper

a hunger for god 
The hand of God led me to A Hunger for God. I saw it in a secular, Indie bookstore in the town where I am staying this summer. It was one of the handful of books that were based on Biblical truth, mixed in with all kinds of books by Bishop Spong, Elaine Pagels, and others. Then I saw one of the pastors from my church, spending the evening on a date with his wife, and he told me that he had a stack of these books and would give me one! I read it, and have benefited from it, but wanted to write this review to help me continue to learn from it, as well as to encourage others to read it.
In my generation of evangelicals, as in every generation, there are certain buzzwords that denote the latest and best. These include “radical,” “extreme,” “passion,” and “authentic.” It is rare, however, for me to meet a book that truly challenges me to live out these words. A Hunger for God is that book. It is common to be reminded to avoid moral evils like sexual sin because they alienate us from God.  It is extreme to hear that I should love and long for Christ in such an authentic way that I radically combat anything good when it distracts me from God. What could be more radical than fasting, than subjecting myself to discomfort? Is there a real reason to do this, or is this just some medieval form of self-abasement?
John Piper passionately presents the Biblical and spiritual basis for fasting. He demonstrates why it is an invaluable tool to help our spirits seek God. He warns against the pitfalls of pride, and the unique attitude believers in Christ should have when fasting. He shows that fasting is not something to be practiced by extra-special-spiritual people, but by the people by God, ordinary Christians whom God calls saints because of Christ’s work of redemption and restoration.
Overview and excerpts from the Introduction and Chapter 1 of the book:
What is fasting?
“As an act of faith, Christian fasting is an expression of dissatisfied contentment in the ll-sufficiency of Christ. It is an expression of secure and happy longing for the all-satisfying fullness of Christ.
Christian fasting does not tremble in the hope of earning anything from Christ. It looks away from itself to the final payment of Calvary for every blessing it will ever receive.
Christian fasting is not self-wrought discipline that tries to deserve more from God. It is a hunger for God awakened by the taste of God freely given in the gospel.” (p. 44)
“Christian fasting is not only the spontaneous effect of a superior satisfaction in God; it is also a chosen weapon against every force in the world that would take that satisfaction away.” (p. 14)
What does fasting fight? 
“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife. (Luke 14:18-20) The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. The most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.” (p. 14)
“Anything can stand in the way of true discipleship–not just evil, and not just food, but anything.” (p. 16)
Why fast?
(With Abraham’s offering of Isaac as an example:) “God wills to know the actual, lived-out reality of our preference for him over all things. And he wills that we have the testimony of our own authenticity through acts of actual preference of God over his gifts…. we easily deceive ourselves that we love God unless our love is frequently put to the test, and we must show our preferences not merely with words, but with sacrifice… Many small acts of preferring fellowship with God above food can form a habit of communion and contentment that makes one ready for the ultimate sacrifice.. It forces us to ask repeatedly: do I really hunger for God? Do I miss him? Do I long for him? Or have I begun to be content with his gifts?” (p. 18-19)
God brings many forms of testing in life to teach us to desire him above his gifts. Yet I can prepare my heart for those tests and train my heart to desire God now through fasting.
“The fight of faith is a fight to feast on all that God is for us in Christ. What we hunger for most, we worship.” (p. 10)
The two attitudes we should have to food:
“Bread magnifies Christ in two ways: by being eaten with gratitude for his goodness, and by being forfeited out of hunger for God himself. When we eat, we taste the emblem of our heavenly food– the Bread of Life. And when we fast we say, “I love the Reality above the emblem.” (p. 21)
“[Fasting] is a way of saying, from time to time, that having more of the Giver surpasses having the gift…. Food is good. But God is better. Normally we meet God in his good gifts and turn every enjoyment into worship with thanksgiving, but from time to time we need to test ourselves to see if we have begun to love his gifts in place of God.” (p. 44-45)
What does fasting do in us?
“Fasting reveals what is really in us… it reveals the measure of food’s mastery over us– or television or computers or whatever we submit to again and again to conceal the weakness of our hunger for God…. It is a faithful enemy of fatal bondage to innocent things It is the physical exclamation point at the end of the sentence: “This much, O God, I long for you and for the manifestation of your glory in the world!” If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation for the glory of God it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table for the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I want you.” (p. 20, 22, 23)
What sets apart a Christian’s fast from fasting as a universal religious practice, fasting as a political weapon (like Ghandi), and fasting as a health regimen? 
This is not a matter of asceticism or religious ritual. The Christian receives “a strong warning against any simplistic view of fasting that thinks it will automatically do a person spiritual good. It is not that simple. “Severe treatment of the body” may only feed a person’s flesh with more self-reliance.” Believers know that “food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat” (1 Cor. 8:8) “Fasting is an internal, spiritual matter of finding more contentment in Christ than in food.” (p. 32-33)
By fasting, we do not try to earn anything from God or prove anything to God. Instead, the Christian rests secure in the closeness of God brought to us by Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Also, fasting is no longer an expression of mourning as it was in the Old Testament. Instead it is an expression of longing for Jesus’ return and for the full coming of his Kingdom:
 “There is an ache inside every Christian that Jesus is not here as fully and intimately and as powerfully and as gloriously as we want him to be. We hunger for so much more. That is why we fast. . . . We do not fast out of emptiness. Christ is already in us the hope of glory… The newness of our fasting is this: its intensity comes not because we have never tasted the wine of Christ’s presence, but because we have tasted it so wonderfully by his Spirit and cannot now be satisfied until the consummation of joy arrives. The new fasting, the Christian fasting, is a hunger for all the fullness of God.” (p. 38)
Overview of the rest of the book:
I could go on like this throughout the entire book, but instead will touch on the topics of the next chapters.
In chapter 2, Piper goes on to look closely at the life of Christ: When Jesus is going to encounter “the temptations of salvation to abandon the path of lowliness and suffering and obedience… of all the hundreds of things Jesus might have done to fight off this tremendous threat to salvation, he is led, in the Spirit, to fast.” (p. 55)
In Chapter 3 he goes on to examine the attitudes of our heart in fasting, warning us against pride fasting for other’s praise.
In Chapter 4 he teaches us to fast for the King’s coming, as a “heart hunger for the coming of Jesus.”
In Chapter 5 he examines fasting and the course of history, using the examples of Christian leaders in Biblical and church history through whom God brought revivals and launched missions.
Most convicting of all, in Chapter 6 Piper warns us against making fasting a substitute for Christlike living. He introduces us to a different fast, a “fast for the sake of the poor.” It is not even necessarily a fast from food. Instead it is “a lifestyle of serving the poor rather than consuming another commodity.” Do we hunger so much for God that we hunger to feed the hungry?
And finally, in Chapter 7, he points to the deep spiritual ill of abortion in our country. He points out that “the battle over abortion is a much deeper battle for the soul of the culture and its worldview.” A spiritual battle requires spiritual, not political, weapons, and this includes fasting. Fasting can intensify our passion and our prayers for a worldview breakthrough.
Piper closes the book by reminding us that God rewards fasting. Not as though we had earned anything from him or as though our fasting entitles us to anything, but because “God is committed to rewarding those acts of the human heart that signify human helplessness and hope in God.”

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