As I write this article, I am on day 26 for a 40-day fast. I would like to say it has been easy, but it hasn’t. What started out as a simple 10-day fast with fellow church members has become a life-changing experience. While I might not enjoy every day I fast, I value the growth I am experiencing and I am amazed at the “uncluttering” that is happening in my life.
Fasting has been a part of my spiritual walk for many years. I have often taught about its importance and in recent years I have led my church in a designated corporate fast every January. My favorite explanation of fasting is that it is like turning on the high beams spiritually. As you drive your car through the darkness, your headlights provide light to the path directly in front of you. Most of the time, that light is sufficient. Sometimes however, you need greater visibility, a broader scope of the upcoming terrain, so you turn on your high beams. Now you can see a greater expanse of the road you are traveling. Hidden obstacles like deer on the side of the road become apparent. These obstacles were there all the time but couldn’t be seen until the high beams were turned on. The road is clearer and the destination has added dimension. The focus is removed from the immediate and illumination of the big picture occurs. This is what happens when you fast. You see the full, big picture of life as it looms before you.
Jentezen Franklin, in his New York Times best-selling book Fasting, presents some great insight into fasting, including essential components of a God-ordained fast. It is a great reference for the fasting Christian.
There are many different ways to fast. Fasting is not necessarily complete abstinence of food. Jesus’ 40-day fast in Matthew 4 was a complete fast, but Daniel’s fast in the Old Testament was a fast of “pleasant bread.” The most important thing about fasting is the sacrifice of something that is really important to you. My current fast eliminates all bread and desserts from my daily meals. You may think that’s not a big sacrifice but, believe me, we consume so much bread and desserts as a part of our Southern lifestyle. On a recent trip to the grocery store, I was surprised how much shelf space was occupied by items other than fresh fruit, vegetables and meat.
My biggest challenge came on day 11 of my fast when I was scheduled to teach on a cruise to the Western Caribbean. Dinner that evening was excruciating as the waiters offered homemade breads, rolls and delectable desserts in an “all you want” presentation. Fasting did not make sense to them as their goal was to pamper, indulge and please every whim of their cruising guests. I honestly wondered if I would make it through this five-day conference cruise without folding on my fasting commitment. There were a few panicky moments until I decided what I was going to do. Even fellow cruisers suggested I delay the fast until after the cruise. I knew what Jesus experienced when the devil appeared to him and said, “Turn these stones into bread.” I was definitely having a wilderness experience! Thankfully, I decided to keep my fasting commitment and I found much grace afterward to watch others enjoy and indulge in all the cruise delicacies! When you fast, it has to be a “no turning back” decision or you will stray from your commitment in the first 30 minutes.
When fasting, the Bible suggests in Isaiah 58 that you use your fast as an opportunity to serve others. It’s a time of humbling and a time for discipline of the flesh. Fasting is a time for prayer and practicing the presence of God. Fasting is an opportunity to stop the “merry-go-round of the world” and seek the eternal. Fasting should be a part of every Christian’s life because of its great power to transform, heal and reveal. Medical problems should be addressed by those fasting and consulting your doctor before a long fast would be a wise action. I challenge you to find the fast that’s right for you then enjoy the spiritual discipline all Biblical leaders have for centuries.