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Thoughts on Fasting

Is Fasting Fun?

Short answer is: No. Sorry guys. It’s not. Some may consider fasting the opposite of fun because it involves giving up stuff. Fasting is a spiritual discipline. DISCIPLINE. Yes, the end results are amazing, but it takes dedication, perseverance, and selflessness. Don’t give up yet; did you really think I’d say this is fun???

Is Fasting Easy?

Again, no. It’s not. In fact, getting it rolling can be painful. Fasting can start out as a brand new experience and seem exciting. But once that wears off, it is hard. God may reveal some unpleasant parts of your life you’d rather ignore. It is discipline. Athletes who want to succeed must discipline themselves; it eats into their time and is often painful, but they train all the harder. Things that are worthwhile are difficult, but very few people follow through.

Regardless, don’t let that scare you; keep reading and thinking about the value of fasting.

Do I have to fast my meals?

A food fast is only one kind of fast. Some people choose to fast all food and more for a period of time. This kind of fast was done throughout the Bible. The Israelites were commanded to fast in observance of certain religious things. Individuals like the prophet Ezra or Queen Esther called people to fast and pray in order to seek answers from the Lord and deliverance. The early church would come together to fast and pray, and out of one of these periods, Paul and Barnabus were called to be missionaries.

A complete food fast can be a very good thing. It creates a hunger – literally. We’re so used to eating 3 times a day + snacks. Any time we begin to get bored, we can simply reach for convenience food to quiet our stomach’s whale calls. But honestly, most Americans don’t know what it means to go hungry. Fasting will give you that insight. As you lose physical strength and desire physical nourishment, this reminds you to turn to God for spiritual strength and to desire spiritual nourishment. (A note on fasting: while a complete food fast can be very healthy, it can also have some very unhealthy side effects. Complete food fasts for days are not for everyone. It is recommended that you always consult your doctor before beginning a food fast. Discuss your health in regards to this kind of a fast and for how long you can fast.)

What other kinds of fasts are there?

Cravings:

Completely fasting food may not be for you (or it may not be something you need to do now). Some people find much value in fasting only certain foods. Coffee, chocolate, sugar, soda pop, desserts, and others are popular things to fast. Why? Because honestly, these things are not the healthiest for us. We can live – and often live healthier – without them.

Giving up your favorite food or drink will teach you just how much you crave it! This is not to say that your favorite food is unhealthy or terrible for you to enjoy ever. But giving up that item that is so sweet to the taste (literally) is a great physical reminder of discipline. God is honored when we intentionally lay aside something in our lives to seek Him out. I’ve had friends decide to give up pop and sugar before or during a retreat to purify their bodies and discipline their souls. I know it may sound crazy, but there are definite benefits.

Lifestyle:

Another kind of fast involves eating normally but changing the activities in your life. Take a moment to add up how you typically spend your 24 hours each day. During the summer, you have extra time to hang out with friends, shop, creep on people on social media, find snarky posts online, play video games, scout out the pool for a new boyfriend, or binge on Netflix. And these are fun. These activities are not inherently evil. Sometimes they’re good: you learn new skills, gain a new appreciation for another culture, make new friends, etc. And that’s great; I hope you’re spending your time well. But if you evaluate your life & discover you could be spending your time better, consider this type of fasting.

Media:

Some people fast media. Giving up Netflix, TV, movies, social media, etc. is a terrific way to learn spiritual discipline. Is there anything wrong with the things you see? There may not be. I encourage you to ask a different question: could I get closer to God if I gave this thing up? Sometimes it’s simply time. For example, I can spend hours on the Pinterest finding new recipes, witty quotes, instructions for how to make my life better, and even pretty designs featuring Bible verses. All of the hours spent are fun, but they’re not fulfilling.

I recently stopped to think about just how much time I waste by flopping on the couch of an evening and flipping through social media, including Pinterest, and watching TV. I made excuses: I’m tired, I don’t have energy to do anything else, I don’t get much down time, I want to support the boys in blue (KC Royals), etc. During a VIP meeting, we realized that we needed to fast and pray for God’s direction in each of our lives. And guess what: God will speak to you when you listen for Him! I have a feeling that He tries to speak to us more often than we listen, but we let other stuff clutter our lives and keep us from hearing what He is trying to say.

Will God give me what I want just because I’m fasting?

That would be nice, but that’s not the character of God. Our God doesn’t make deals: you do this for me, and I’ll do that for you. Our God makes covenants: binding, lifelong commitments that completely redo your whole life. (Read our blog post on covenants: https://wordpress.com/post/valueinpurityconferences.wordpress.com/113). And they start and reside in the heart. Fasting is about changing your heart attitude. So, when you fast, make sure that you do so in the right attitude. Read Isaiah 58 for a convicting passage on fasting that is acceptable to God. Here’s a snippet:

“For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

(Isaiah 58:2-5)

A food fast is a two-for-one: grow closer to God and lose weight, right?

Dangerous idea. Yes, you may lose some weight (and physical strength, let’s be honest) during a complete food fast. Giving up sugar may include the side effect of shedding a few pounds. Or even fasting your nightly dose of TV and couch potato-ing may result in looser pants. But be cautious where your focus is: that’s where your reward will be.

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,  so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).

And again: talk to your doctor before you fast food. You may lose weight quickly, but what has happened may be very unhealthy for your body. Feeling great about your body is a good thing, but obsessing over weight loss is a sneaky form of idolatry. For some people, the Deceiver has even twisted the spiritual discipline of fasting in such a way that it results in an eating disorder. There are no benefits to listening to Satan’s lies. Please be wise and healthy.

Should I tell people if I’m fasting?

I learned recently that in some religious circles, you can purchase a button to wear on your clothes to inform people to keep their tasty morsels at bay because you are fasting. That’s definitely one way. Some people will post a farewell address on social media to explain their absence to their followers.

Sometimes churches or small groups will decide to fast together. During that time, it can be meaningful to encourage each other in your personal fast because you are all going through the same thing.

Your family will likely notice: Mom may be worried why you aren’t eating dinner or fighting your brother over the last piece of chocolate cake. And when you’re fasting for Jesus, it’s best to give an honest answer when you turn down the movies with your friends.

So what about Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:16-18? Jesus said not to draw attention to what you are doing; whomever you are trying to get recognition from is where your reward lies. If you want your friends to notice and pat you on the back for taking your Christian walk to another level, then you’ve gotten your reward. But God isn’t so impressed.

Is it a requirement to fast?

Do you have to fast to get into heaven? Do you have to go to church to get into heaven? What about tithing, mission trips, working in the nursery, and memorizing Scripture? Your good deeds don’t get you into heaven. Only by faith in Jesus is there salvation: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). So why do these things? Because God is pleased when you do. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). If God calls you to a period of fasting, then you should fast. If God calls you to go to Africa, then you should go to Africa. If God calls you to help with VBS, then you should help with VBS. As Katrina says, “If God calls you to do it, hop to it.” All of these things can help us grow in our faith if done with the right heart attitude. Fasting is a life-giving discipline that draws us closer in relationship to Jesus.

-Sarah

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