The twelve disciples just came back from an exhausting mission trip. Jesus had sent them out into the villages to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and call people to repentance. I presume this took several weeks in that they also spent time healing the sick and casting out demons. As each day ended, they would spend the night in someone’s home.
Now that they were all together again, Jesus called His tired and hungry disciples to come away from the crowd to get some much needed rest. But it was not to be…
And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. … Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. …. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”
– Mark 6:31-37 (ESV)
Tired and hungry as they were, the disciples still had work to do. When they asked where the food was to come from, Jesus told them to give away the only food they had: the supper they were looking forward to. It was only some loaves and a couple of fish – barely enough to satisfy the twelve. But they obeyed anyway, and Jesus did the miraculous.
When all was over, not only was the crowd full, they ended up with more than enough to satisfy their own hunger and continue their ministry. (They certainly weren’t going to eat twelve basket fulls of food themselves!)
The disciples had been on an involuntary fast of a sort. The work of the kingdom was so important there had been no time to eat. This fast continued longer than expected because the ministry continued longer than expected, but eventually their need was met. They had given themselves to the Lord first, and He had met their needs as they did so.
The early church knew the importance of giving to the Lord first. We read of the call of God on Paul and Barnabas to missionary service. This call came at a time when the church in Antioch was fasting voluntarily and serving the Lord.
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.”
– Acts 13:2 (ESV)
Too many times we see fasting as a way to get things we need from God. But as this example shows, sometimes fasting is not about our needs but about ministering to God: we’re waiting on Him, seeking His will. His priorities become our priorities, overshadowing what may be our personal needs. The Antioch believers were practicing what Jesus said in Luke 17:
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?”
– Luke 17:7-8 (ESV)
This mindset of putting the kingdom first must become ours. Jesus said we are to seek His kingdom, and not worry about what we’ll eat or what we’ll wear, for our needs would be met (Matthew 6:25-33). This doesn’t mean we are live a continual fast, and cease doing an honest day’s labor. It does mean our needs and wants are not to be the motivation for how we live our lives. We are not our own. The temporal things in life are to serve the eternal.