When most people think of fasting, they associate it with a doctor's orders. You fast before they draw blood for certain kinds of lab work or before some tests. And it doesn't usually bring up positive emotions. Denying yourself never does.
Our oldest son just went in for some testing this week and he needed to be sleep deprived before it. The whole family stumbled through the following day, having all suffered to keep him company while he stayed awake. A good part of that day was spent grumbling and apologizing to each other. Nothing we'd be excited to repeat.
It's safe to say that fasting doesn't sound or feel fun, which is why it's slightly amazing to me that the 21 days we fast together in January has become one of my favorite times of the year.
Each of us chooses individually what we want to give up for 21 days. The filter we use to decide what we're fasting is by looking at the things in our life that tend to steal our attention and devotion from God or that feels like might have an addictive hold on us. Media, sugar, bad habits, etc.
It's not easy, and it shouldn't be. While fasting to draw closer to God is difficult, the rewards are worth it.
Let me point out a few:
1. Clarity in your spirit
We live in a loud, distraction-prone culture. Taking all of our focus and pointing it in one direction brings clarity about what God is wanting to do in our lives. I like to spend time journaling and letting the Spirit of God ask me hard questions during this season. Eliminating some of the things that usually steals my time gives me space to really think through the answers.
2. Your self-control grows stronger
I read a study at one point that linked a person's ability to exhibit self-control with the amount of success they experience in their life starting from when they were children. It seems obvious when you think about it. The better we get at saying no to things that are bad or even just okay, the more confident we become at saying yes to the things that really matter.
3. Faith is multiplied
If you feed a plant Miracle-Gro, it doesn't just grow a little, it grows a lot. All those nutrients going down into the roots produce something awesome.
Fasting is actually less about going without something as it is about feeding what's most important. When we do that, our spiritual life is like a plant being fed Miracle-Gro. We're more likely to hear God, pray bold prayers, and take courageous steps forward in the plans He has for our lives.
4. You become more self-aware
It's easy to fool ourselves into thinking we're somewhere we aren't. For instance, I tell myself I don't have a problem with complaining but as soon as I begin fasting, the truth becomes apparent. I think of it like heating up a liquid and all the impurities rising to the top.
Fasting removes the hiding places and forces us to confront the truth about what needs to change in our lives.
5. We value grace at a new level
Grace is God's power working in our lives to enable us to do what He's called us to do.
I never feel so weak as I do when I'm fasting. It makes me realize how much I need God and am incapable of doing this life without Him. While the experience is humbling and uncomfortable because of how vulnerable I feel, it also produces a dependency on God that I really need.
So that's just five of the reasons I've chosen to make fasting a practice. If you're new to fasting, here's a couple practicals for how to get started.
1. Choose something to fast that tends to distract you or has addictive power over you.
2. If you're fasting from food or certain kinds of food, make sure and consult a physician. The goal is to draw closer to God, not put yourself in the hospital.
3. Set a start time and end time for the fast. Don't get discouraged if you mess up, just pick yourself up and continue on. This isn't a legalistic thing, it's actually conditioning your heart to love God above everything else.
4. While fasting is private (not some to brag about) it's also helpful to have people supporting you. Let a few friends in on it who can encourage you when you're having a rough day.
5. Lean into what you're getting out of it. While it's easy to focus on what you're denying yourself, it's important to remember the growth taking place. I recommend keeping a journal or talking with a friend throughout the fast to record what God's bringing up through the process.
Lastly, here are a few verses on fasting to encourage you as you get started:
And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18
Once when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?”Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. Mark 2:18-20
And there by the Ahava Canal, I gave orders for all of us to fast and humble ourselves before our God. We prayed that he would give us a safe journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled. Ezra 8:21
On October 31 the people assembled again, and this time they fasted and dressed in burlap and sprinkled dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners as they confessed their own sins and the sins of their ancestors. They remained standing in place for three hours while the Book of the Law of the Lord their God was read aloud to them. Then for three more hours they confessed their sins and worshiped the Lord their God. Nehemiah 9:1-3
That is why the Lord says,
“Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. Joel 2:12-13
One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them. Acts 13:2