This morning’s reading was from Luke 2:36-38. A phrase that leapt from the text was a description of Anna’s service to God, “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”
Luke uses “latreuo,” a Greek word meaning to carry out religious services. The part that captured my imagination was the accompanying phrase, “fasting and praying.” I’m not sure whether Anna’s ministry was fasting and praying or if it was saturated with fasting and praying. But the point is clear, fasting and praying were crucial.
In Romans 12:1, Paul chooses a similar word, “latreia,” to describe our present service to God. Offering our bodies as a living sacrifice is the logical response of gratitude, loyalty and worship to everything Paul has discussed in Romans so far.
And I wonder, should our “latreia” be similar to Anna’s “latreuo?” Should our worship be first and foremost fasting and prayer? Earlier in Romans 8:22-27, Paul discusses our primary role as we live in the overlap of God’s present creation and the birthing of God’s renewed creation. It is prayer. It is groaning with inarticulate words that harmonize with the Spirit’s groaning for God’s new world.
In a world with so many overwhelming problems and filled with images and stories of injustice, pain and despair, prayer and fasting seem counter-intuitive, almost impotent. People are dying and we’re supposed to pray?
But perhaps that question exposes an incorrect perception of reality. If Jesus is truly King and Lord of creation, if he truly has been given all authority in heaven and earth, if he truly sits above every rule, authority, power, dominion and title that can ever be given, then wouldn’t prayer and fasting be the primary and powerful place of our service to God.
Yes, more is needed and God directs his people to step out and be the proper caretakers of his world. And yes, it will involve our whole lives. But that work cannot replace prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting are not the preliminaries before the “real work” begins. Prayer and fasting are the real work, for there we learn to embody and reflect God’s image into our world. Then our other care-taking activities can be fueled, focused, and filled with the necessary character and compassion to join with the Spirit’s project of renewal.
I believe Anna had it correct. Fasting and prayer are the real service, the proper service, the logical expression to the fact that through Jesus, God is faithful to his covenant with Israel and therefore, faithful through that covenant to the world. May we learn to join the world in its pain and join the Spirit in his longing to make all things new.