Fasting But Not Furious

by in Features, Formation

Fasting Not FuriousThe topic of fasting has intrigued me over the years. I grew up in a church where fasting was practiced often and my dad fasted quite regularly. The idea of fasting is to deny oneself of an otherwise normal function (generally eating) for spiritual reasons. It was regularly practiced by Jews and Christians in bible times dating back to as early as Moses (check out Exodus 34:28). Even Jesus himself fasted. He fasted in the wilderness for forty days! He also taught about fasting saying, “When you fast….” (check out Matthew 6:16). It kind of makes it sound like he pretty much took it for granted that the listener would be fasting.

Our culture focuses more on over-indulgence than fasting. McDonald’s recorded $20.5 billion in revenue in 2005. The only time anyone seems to voluntarily deny themselves food in today’s society has more to do with physical appeal than God. The term “fasting” would probably be more familiar when referring to upcoming bloodwork or surgery. It is such a foreign idea. To deny your body what it craves is not easy. It’s a discipline to say the least. We are so used to giving our bodies whatever it wants. (I find it difficult to even pass a Tim Horton’s without going in….not to mention that I could turn the house upside down for a piece of chocolate sometimes). Why make yourself uncomfortable on purpose? It doesn’t make sense. But a lot of the way of Jesus does not make sense to our world. Jesus was very clear that he required his followers to “deny themselves” in order to follow him. Fasting is just but one way of doing this.

Fasting is a spiritual exercise that accompanies prayer. Here are some specific occasions in scripture where fasting seemed “the thing to do.”

1) Fasting is often a way to strengthen prayer when asking God for a particular thing (Ezra 8:21,23). Andrew Murray once put it, “Fasting helps to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, to sacrifice ourselves, to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”

2) Fasting is a sign of repentance and humility before God. God says to the people who have sinned against Him in Joel 2:12, “Even now….return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” The only command in the OT regarding fasting was actually on the Day of Atonement which was the day the Jews were to show sorrow as atonement for their sins.

3) Fasting is a way of seeking the Lord’s guidance. It enables us to concentrate solely on one thing, and to give ourselves to prayer.

4) It is a form of self-discipline. The apostle Paul had a lot to say about keeping our desires under check and training our bodies (1 Cor 9:24-27). Paul says that we ought not to be mastered by anything (1 Cor 6:12). Fasting helps to lessen the hold of material things upon us. A mature Christian life is about self-control and being led by what God wants instead of what we want.

Fasting comes with a few precautions. It is important to balance fasting with acts of service. God was very clear in Isaiah 58 that if fasting becomes a ritual without meaning or does not result in works of compassion in His name, than it is not acceptable to Him. Jesus also warned against fasting for the wrong reasons. Some in Jesus’ day made fasting about feeding their own spiritual pride than their humility. Very important too is to realize that our fasting does not earn God’s favour anymore than anything else earns God’s favour. God’s favour comes to us by the gift of grace through His Son, Jesus and not of anything that we have done or ever can do.

If you’re wondering about whether I’ve tried it, the answer is YES! Once. A few years ago, I was dealing with an excruciating loss in my life. The pain was so deep that I attempted to bury it and keep myself under control to function day by day. At the time, I was enrolled in a course studying Christian Spirituality which included practicing many different spiritual disciplines. When our instructor challenged us to fast for one day, I was curious because I had always wanted to try it. I chose the first day of retreat. Being surrounded by delicious and abundant food at the resort we were staying at might not have been the best idea, but I tried it anyway. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel as hungry as I had thought. However, what I did find was that my mind felt very clear and alert and I drifted in and out of prayer often over the day. What I did not expect is what happened later that evening. And as I look back now, I can only guess it was due to the fasting “experiment.” As I sat in a worship session that night and listened to the speaker talk about trusting God, all of that pain and anger that I had kept buried for so many months rose to the surface and exploded within me. Unable to contain it I had to leave in tears. As embarrassing as that was, I see it now as an important experience. I did business with God that evening, I hurled my hurt in his direction and he assured me he was strong enough to handle it. By letting it out, I was a step closer to letting it go and allowing God do His healing work by His love and grace. It forced me to deal with what I had been carrying around and what had the potential to become a barrier in my relationship with God. So my first time at fasting was an intense experience, but it was a beneficial one. If I were to ever feel called by God to fast and spend that time with Him, I would surely obey, knowing that at the end of the struggle, I would come out a stronger, and healthier child of His.

We often want the quick fixes, and the easiest ways. But the way of discipleship is the way of self-denial and of discipline. Our relationship with God takes work and time, just like any other relationship. And it is important to remember that fasting in and of itself is not the “main thing.” There’s nothing magical about fasting. The “main thing” is our relationship with God. It’s just one way of listening to God and telling Him that our priority at that moment is to be alone with him, sorting out whatever is necessary, and that we have cancelled the meal, party, concert, or whatever else we had planned to do in order to fulfill that priority.

1. Decide on what you want to fast from. It could be food or something else like Facebook, texting, tv, video games or shopping. Make it something that requires a bit of a sacrifice for you.

2. Set a time period to try it for. Start small. If it’s from food, be sure to clear it with your parents/parental figures first.

3. Get a gf or bf or bff to agree to do it with you. That way you’ll encourage each other to do it and it gives you someone to share/talk about your experience with afterwards.

4. Ponder some deeper things of life and faith. Remember to listen for God and talk with him.

5. Consider making a time of fasting part of your regular rhythm.

:: by Pamela Pinksen

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