Number one. Fasting isn’t weird. Although for most of my life growing up, I thought it was… if I ever thought of it at all… which I didn’t very much. The mainline traditional church setting I grew up in chose to ignore the practice for the most part. I did a search to see how many references there are in scriptures to fasting. I found in the neighborhood of 34, give or take. That’s kind of a lot of scriptures to overlook.
I do seem to remember the season of Lent that came around each spring leading up to Easter. There was some talk from time to time about “giving something up for Lent”, but not so much talk about why or the benefits of giving stuff up. I don’t recall it ever being suggested that we should fast outside of the season of Lent. It was just never discussed at all. For the most part, I looked on people who fasted as weirdos or fanatics. I now know that I was so wrong. Fasting doesn’t make you a weirdo. I mean you might be a weirdo who fasts, but you aren’t a weirdo simply because you choose to do it.
Number two. Fasting isn’t for public display. I know lots of people who, when they fast, want everyone to know about it. Invite them to the office lunch party and see the deal they make about it in front of everyone. Hello, Mr. Super Spiritual dude. It becomes sort of a spiritual snobbery. Here’s the thing, most of the time when we seek the Lord in earnest, as we do during a fast, its kind of a private affair. Just between Him and us. Matthew, Chapter 6, actually tells us to enter into a time of fasting privately, for God, not for man. And besides, if you don’t handle it kind of on the down low, then you are unwittingly supporting “What fasting isn’t, Number One”.
“When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18
Number Three. Fasting isn’t a have to. It’s a get to. I had a friend ask me recently if my church makes me fast. Well, a church that makes you do anything isn’t a church. That’s a cult, and you should run away really quickly. You can trust me on that one. Been there, done that. No. While the Bible does say, “When you fast” and not, “If you fast”, that’s the cool thing about Jesus. He wants us to follow Him because we want to, not because we have to. Real love is choosing, and when we choose to fast we open ourselves up to experiencing God during prayer times like we do not at other times. I am thankful for a church that taught me the blessing of a period of prayer and fasting.
Number Four. Fasting isn’t for weight loss. Some people don’t even choose to fast from food. I have friends who decide to fast social media or secular music and television. Some decide to fast from sweets or caffeine. What I have found is that it’s best to fast from something that you feel its absence in your life. I mean, I could fast Brussels sprouts, but then I never eat them (yuck), so I wouldn’t really feel the impact of fasting those. When we choose to fast from food, a pleasant byproduct might be some weight loss, but, we all know, if we add those foods back in after the fast, that weight will tend to show back up.
Number Five. Fasting isn’t a time for wimpy prayers. The Bible tells us that we have not, because we ask not. When we enter into a time of sincere, earnest prayer and fasting, we need to bring our A game. Do we need to see real life change in someone we love? Do we need a door of opportunity to open? An illness healed? An obstacle moved? A plan for moving forward? Do we need the strength to take that next step in our relationship with Him? To trust Him for real? To finally give Him that thing we keep holding onto? To finally give up the struggle of doing things under our own might? This is a time to leave nothing on the table, unasked.
Sunday, I will join thousands of other believers in a twenty-one day period of prayer and fasting. I am so ready and so looking forward to it. It’s hard, for sure. Really hard. I’m not so much the type to deny myself much, but when I do, I make room for God to speak and move in my life unlike other times. My head clears, my heart listens, and God speaks more loudly and more clearly, or at least I am positioned to hear from Him better. It’s truly a great way to start a new year. I can’t think of a better way to show the Lord that my 2017 belongs to Him to do what He will in my life and in the lives of those who matter the most to me, than by a time of prayer and fasting.
“Yet even now,” the Lord says, “return to me with all your heart – with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Tear your hearts, not just your garments!” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and boundless in loyal love – often relenting from calamitous punishment. Who knows? Perhaps he will be compassionate and grant a reprieve, and leave blessing in his wake – a meal offering and a drink offering for you to offer to the Lord your God! Blow the trumpet in Zion. Announce a holy fast; proclaim a sacred assembly! Joel 2:12-15