Monday, February 6, 2017

Fasting Without Praying is Just Starvation

When our church announced that we were to fast corporately at the beginning of the year, I was genuinely excited. There was a time in my life when my relationship with God superseded anything else. I felt so close and so intimate with Him, that my life seemed purposeful. I knew how to pray and what to say and I could see the effectiveness of my prayers. The fruits of my spiritual walk were evident in my life - I was not distracted by common things and  I did not assume or take on the values of the world; as a matter of fact they were so uncommon to me that conversations with those from other walks of life were eye-opening. But there was a joy to my life that punctuated everything. So when I thought of fasting, I hearkened back to this time and hoped that the act of fasting would slowly bring me back to this place.

The whole purpose of fasting is to bring us closer to God by denying ourselves. The stated goal of our fast was, "To hear Him regarding those things that we need direction on, individually and collectively, while drawing closer to Him; to arrest our appetite for worldly things and to experience Him in a deeper way."

I have a friend who is Muslim; Muslims observe Ramadan - a time of strict fasting from sun up to sunset. She asked me, "why don't we fast like Jesus did - 40 days and 40 nights, drinking only water?" Besides the fact that it's not medically recommended, I honestly don't know.

I do know that if Jesus (and a couple of others in the Bible) could do it, He could give us the strength to fast for 40 days like He did. I also can ascertain that if I were only drinking water, there would be no denying my total reliance on Jesus. Every day of that 40 day period would be an intense spiritual experience.

I approached the fast with expectation, hopeful for a spiritual re-awakening. Instead of drinking only water, we only ate fruit, vegetables, legumes and water for 21 days. (Daniel 10:1-21)

Fasting is a process where for the first few days you are out of sorts because of the physical changes but also getting comfortable in the middle because your body has adjusted. This is the temptation in fasting - thinking you've got the hang of it while not doing anything to enhance your spiritual walk. If you just change your diet while doing all the things you normally would, you are not fasting, you've made a lifestyle change. This fasting is rejected by God. (Isaiah 58:1-5)

During the fast, each time I thought I was hungry, instead of eating I prayed, I read my Bible, I meditated on a verse, or I was still in the presence of God. I limited the things I normally would do and reduced social engagements.

Initially, I spent a lot of time thinking about food simply because we did this together as a family and I was more concerned about everyone's belly but my own. Eventually, I was OK with eating the same thing most days with little variety, because the point was not about the food but about drawing closer to God.

I learned:

  • I have way too many distractions in my life - TV, computer, shopping for things I don't need. Besides buying groceries, I bought nothing else during the fast.(I ignored all of those end of year clearance deals!!!)
  • You never outgrow family devotions - this was a time of fellowship and sharing; a time of being open with each other; a time of reconnection. Because of the fast we looked forward to having this time daily and made every effort to do so even if we were apart.
  • Children are able to fast successfully also - I was inspired and encouraged by the Little One's attitude to fasting. Understanding the principle and goal of fasting she took it as seriously as we did. She took her lunch to school daily, followed the dietary guidelines, and shared with others what she was doing.
  • God's grace is sufficient - initially, I wondered if I could fast for 21 days. God imprinted on my heart that I was not alone, to take it one step at a time with me, to trust Him and He'll carry me through. When I got frustrated near the end, I remembered that God's grace was sufficient.
  • This was a time for change - during my prayer times, I was forced to repent for things that I should not have done, to seek forgiveness and receive it, and to know that I could be changed because of Him.
  • Praying was more deliberate, intentional and intense - with no distractions, it became easier to pray for others, to pray for our nation, our leaders, our church, my family, my marriage, my professional life - in essence, any and everything that was important to me.
  • I want more - I was having a conversation with someone during my fast and his words have resonated and stayed with me. He said the first time he fasted, he told no one. Fasting changed his life and after fasting, he said he never wanted to go back to who he was before he started fasting. This is my biggest lesson and my hardest struggle. 


My excitement has not diminished; after a mountaintop experience, there's always a letdown when you return to the valley. In all of this, I've learned that I can harness the power that is available to me and use it to live a purposeful, meaningful life. As John Piper says, "Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God."

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. James 4:8 [NLT]
If you've never fasted, I would encourage you to do so. It may be helpful initially to do so with your church just because of the accountability factor. When you fast, don't focus on your denial, instead focus on your deepening relationship with God during this time. What has been your experience with fasting?

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