Fasting As a Spiritual Discipline

My journey into fasting began nine years ago with a simple prayer after a study of Nehemiah: “Lord break my heart for what breaks yours.”  What followed this simple, sincere prayer was a whirlwind of soul searching, seeking, and studying.  Not a Fan, Follow Me, Interrupted, Radical, and 7 are just a few of the books I devoured.  One book, 7, which was an invitation to practice 7 types of spiritual fasts forever changed my view on fasting, which forever changed my life.  

I had never been someone who fasted.  My church tradition didn’t practice Lent.  I grew up believing that fasting was an antiquated, unnecessary practice that had no relevance in my faith walk, so I never considered it.  When I joined a church that practiced the Lenten tradition, I half-heartedly gave up something that didn’t really matter and marked off the weeks until Easter.  This all changed the summer I studied Nehemiah, and God forever transformed my cultural Christianity into a passionate pursuit of Him.  When I dove into the idea of fasting, I discovered that scripture was rife with examples of fasting: both Old Testament and New.

When Esther was faced with the destruction of the Jewish people, she requested everyone who served her to enter into three days of prayer and fasting.  When Jesus began His ministry he spent 40 days praying and fasting.  He even tells the disciples that some demons can only be driven out through prayer and fasting. Even in our previous lesson in our study on Acts, we find Paul and Barnabas praying and fasting prior to appointing elders.  Clearly, fasting is an important spiritual discipline.  Yet, in our modern culture of instant gratification, the idea of going hungry for even a few hours is daunting.  I assure you nothing slows down time like a fast, yet I have grown to believe that fasting is a critical component of a healthy spiritual walk.  Before you throw your bagels at me, hear me out.  

Why is fasting important?  One reason I believe fasting is important is that it empties us of ourselves, literally, but also figuratively.  A.W. Tozer offers this very blunt assessment:  Among the plastic saints of our times, Christ has to do all the dying and all we want to hear is another sermon about His dying- no cross for us, no dethronement, no dying.  We remain king within our little kingdom….and wear our tinsel crown with all the pride of Caesar; but we doom ourselves to shadows and weakness and spiritual sterility.”  Let that soak in. Dietrich Bonhoeffer also offers: Jesus bids us come and die.  Jesus requires us to deny ourselves and take up the cross and follow Him.  Fasting allows us to deny ourselves for the sake of preparing ourselves spiritually for the task of discipleship.  

While the only thing required for salvation is faith, spiritual disciplines take us deeper into our walk.  Jesus died not only to save us but to enter into a relationship with us.  He bridged the gap for reconciliation not to produce a shallow faith that skirts the fires of hell but to pursue a deep, meaningful relationship that transforms our lives to their very core.  While spiritual disciplines may be daunting, daring, and even dangerous, the real thrill is diving deep into the unknown with Jesus and taking the ride of our lives.  

Fasting empties us of ourselves so that we may be filled with Him.  While most of us associate fasting with foregoing food, there are many forms of fasting.  While I regularly pray and refrain from food for hours to days, I have also participated in other forms of fasting, including only eating the same 7 foods for seven days.  I have worn the same 7 pieces of clothing for 14 days.  My family and I have fasted from all media for 7 days.  I’ll spare you the dramatic details, the whining and gnashing of teeth, and that was just my husband, but the media fast kept reminding me:  “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, perfect, and pleasing will.”  Romans 12:2 and “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.”  This fast reminded me to empty my mind and fill it with the things of God and served as a wonderful lesson for my children, as well. 

These are just a few examples of fasting in which my family and I have participated.  And each time I fast, I am reminded to turn from the culture, to tune out the world, and to tune in to Jesus.  Nothing does that for me like fasting.  Doing without, depending entirely on Him, emptying myself of me, and filling myself with Christ assure that He is the focus because the distractions dissipate.  Wearing the same seven items of clothing for fourteen days reminded me that I have enough, that vanity can prevent me from entering in to that sacred space with Him.  Eating the same seven foods for seven days reminded me of the abundance I am offered here.  It revealed to me that throughout the world there are those who have nothing or very little to eat.  It opens my eyes and heart to the needs of those around the world and invites me to pray and seek ways to serve the least of these worldwide.

Every time I enter into the sacred space of fasting, God reveals Himself to me in an intimate way that draws me closer.  I want less of the world and long for more of Him.  Yes, it may be antiquated; yes, it may be uncomfortable, but I invite you to try fasting because the delicious satisfaction of deeper intimacy with Jesus far outweighs the inconvenience that we may endure for a brief season.  Fasting enables us to feast on Him.  Come, taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man that trusts in Him.  

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