Fasting has been called a ‘disciplined abstinence!’ The words ‘discipline’ and ‘abstinence’ don’t typically inspire most people! Freedom and indulgence seem to be words that better captivate our imagination; yet these former words are the precursor to a disappointing life. Saying “no” to ourselves is actually really good for us!
At the beginning of every year, we call our church-community to three days of prayer with fasting. Our congregation is healthy and human. The call to prayer with fasting is hard for most of us. As human beings, creatures of routine; we grow dependent on all sorts of things. For some it’s caffeine, for others it’s social media; and for me - it’s most things salty.
Yet, here we are again – the beginning of a new year! We’ve called our church-family to prayer with fasting again. We do this not because it’s a novel idea, but because Jesus taught us to do so. Actually, Jesus assumed we would do it. In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his disciples about prayer and fasting, and he said; “when you pray …” and “when you fast…” I’m not sure how the first disciples responded or what look came across their faces; there may have been a hint of embarrassment or pretention; but they probably were not living up to their own expectations regarding prayer and fasting. Most of us don’t!
There is phrase that I’ve memorized that helps me on my own spiritual pilgrimage and I hope it helps you across every area of your life, including this call to prayer with fasting – here it is: “Perfection is for the other-side, progress is for now!” None of us are going to get it right all the time. Hopefully we get it right more than we get it wrong, but thanks be to God that our right-standing with God is not based on how many times we get it right. Effort honours Jesus; but earning is not possible!
This is the truth – “Fasting does not impress God” – fasting is for us, not for him! It is the act of giving up something we love and value in order to pursue something of even greater importance. Below are a few thoughts to help you prepare for a fast … if you choose to give it a go:
Determine the purpose of the fast.Spiritual fasts are not about losing weight or as some kind of physical detox. We ask ourselves a series of questions - What are we fasting and praying about this week? Job prospects? A healthy marriage? Direction for the next season of life? To ask God to help you parent your family in a way that pleases him? Decide what you’re seeking God for, so that when you are tempted to be distracted, you can remind yourself that there is a purpose behind your fasting.
Decide on the duration of the fast. Decide ahead of time whether your fast will be one meal per day, or perhaps a full week of giving up something you enjoy, along with fasting meals. Breaking the fast is a great celebration! Set a finish line for yourself.
Define your fast. Fasting is not just about food, even though that is traditionally what we read about in the Bible. With the busyness of our lives, it is easy to become distracted from seeking after God. Consider giving up one of your favourite “distractions” this week. Some ideas could include NetFlix, iTunes/Spotify, recreational internet use, or novels. Not recommended to give up your daily Bible reading. J
Is there a particular food you just can’t live without? Try foregoing caffeine, candy, salty snacks, or fast food – whatever will have the greatest impact on your daily life and remind yourself to stay focussed on God!
Slowing down in order to fast is a great idea – it’s something that Jesus thinks is good for us! Why not try it – you may just end up developing a stronger appetite for God!
Written by: Dave Larmour