I thoroughly enjoy eating – almost anything! Cajun, Thai, Italian, chocolate, ice cream, salads and bread are a few of my favorites! The smell and taste of bread, fresh from the oven, makes me sigh just thinking about it. Growing up on the farm meant mealtime was always a bountiful celebration. ‘Canadian Living’ magazine cover-like meals were regular fare. When I moved and married, I brought along my appreciation for gourmet food.
As a result of my affection for food, giving it up for a period of time is rather significant! Fifteen years ago, when I first considered fasting, it seemed like a form of self-imposed torture. Over a decade and a half, I have learned that, through denying myself the physical pleasures which I delight in most, I am able to gain more insight spiritually. With day to day life focused on satisfying my body’s needs, fasting has been a powerful way to bring the spiritual dimension of my being into balance with the physical.
Fasting is defined as “abstaining from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance or in preparation for medical tests or surgery.”[i] Fasting can be merely a “religious observance”, but it can also go far beyond that. Fasting is a time to set aside the demands of our physical selves in order to give priority to the spiritual.
My first attempts at fasting involved giving up food for a period of time whenever our church would host three days of fasting and prayer. I’d skip a meal out of guilt prior to attending one of the prayer times and eventually worked up to ‘fasting’ for a full day. However, while abstaining from food I would continue to drink diet sodas and chew sugar-free gum, after all, I would justify, they are virtually calorie free. During these early attempts at fasting I was completely missing the point. My time of fasting was still centered around finding ways to satisfy my physical desires.
Its all About Him
Soon thereafter, whether I was ‘fasting’ or not all I heard were the words ‘Diet Coke’ when I would try to pray. “Diet Coke?” I would argue with God, “What are you talking about?” The answer came slowly over a period of months. 2 Peter 2:19b says “- for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.”[ii] God showed me that he wanted to be my only Master. He didn’t want to share my times of fasting with another ‘god’. I was shocked when I discovered that the Hebrew word Baal literally means “Owner”, “Master” or “Husband”.[iii] Spiritually, the diet drinks that ‘mastered’ me were equivalent to the despicable god Baal. In obedience, I began to drink only water during the times I fasted.
Now, I’ve already confessed how much I love to eat, but I have something else to admit. Another favorite pastime happens to be exercise. I guess it’s a blessing that I enjoy expending my calories just as much as I enjoy consuming them. However, even exercise turned into a problem as I continued to work out during a period of fasting. It was another Baal. God brought to my attention Isaiah 58:13-14,
‘If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s day honorable and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’ The mouth of the Lord has spoken.[iv]
‘Doing as I pleased’, meant working out, exalting the physical over the spiritual, just in a different way. God clearly showed me that he didn’t want me doing as I pleased (exercising or downing diet drinks) on the days I set aside to honor him. Now, abstinence from exercise accompanies the times that I seek God through fasting.
The pivotal question is, “Do I love God enough to give up my physical passions in order to be more intimate with Him? The importance of this question is illustrated in an Adidas advertisement that states, “What we love defines us.” My love for God needs to eclipse my cravings for physical pleasure, if I want my life to be shaped by Him.
You will Find your Joy in the Lord.
Fasting one in seven days has become my way of observing a Sabbath, despite the 24/7 busy schedule of being a mother of young children. Now, as I begin a period of fasting I pray and ask God that he would make it my ‘dancing day’ — a day where I delight in his presence and spend time being refreshed in my spirit. As I have continued to be obedient to God in fasting, I have found that when I fast I do experience clarity in hearing God’s voice and the spiritual renewal that accompanies these times is amazing. Simply out, saturating yourself in God’s presence can be likened to going to the spa for your soul..
Stormie Omartian is a well respected author who has written many outstanding books on prayer. She often talks of the freedom she gained spiritually through praying and fasting. In her book, The Power of Praying Together, she quotes Pastor Jack Hayford as he explains why fasting carries such strong spiritual significance.
“What happens when a person lets his or her body boss him around, (whether it is sensually, sexually or in any other dimension) is that he begins to be ruled by something other than the power by which he was created to be ruled, and that’s the power of God.” He goes on to say, “Fasting is a way of saying, ‘I am a spirit being before I am a physical being. I’m physical, so I need to eat, but I’m spiritual too, so I’ll sometimes assert the supremacy of my spiritual allegiance beyond and before my allegiance to my body and it’s cry.’ Fasting is an instrument that cripples the power of spiritual and evil forces in the realm of the darkness so they cannot sustain their grip on human life, minds and circumstances.”[v]
Are you hungry for God? Do you thirst for his Spirit? Do you have areas of your life where you can’t seem to obtain the spiritual breakthrough you are looking for? Does your soul need a ‘spa day’? Fasting can take your walk with God to a new depth. According to Dr. Bill Bright several significant purposes fasting include:
- 1. Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.
- 2. Fasting and prayer can restore the loss of ‘first love’ for your Lord and result in a more intimate relationship with Christ.
- 3. Fasting can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience.
- 4. Fasting can result in a dynamic personal revival in your own life and make you a channel of revival to others.
- 5. Fasting is a biblical way to truly humble yourself in the sight of God (Psalm 35:13, Ezra 8:21).
- 6. The Holy Spirit will quicken the Word of God in your heart and his truth will become more meaningful to you![vi]
Jesus, himself, fasted, in preparation for his ministry (Luke 4:1-2). His teaching on fasting found in Matthew 6:16-18, supports the fact that fasting is to be about God, not man. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth they have received their reward I full. But when you fast put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father who is unseen…”[vii]
In summary, if you want fasting to go beyond mere self-centred misery and you desire to experience the immense spiritual benefits of this discipline, you need to remember that fasting is a physical expression of your inward desire to seek God. Prior to beginning your fast remind yourself that the reason you are setting your physical needs aside is to focus on God, not yourself. Fasting can be a valuable part of your walk with God, but don’t assume it will be easy. Whenever you intentionally spend time pursuing purposeful prayer and spiritual growth you can expect Satan’s opposition.
As you begin, seek God’s strength and direction – he may call you to fast from something entirely different from that which he calls the next person to fast from. For one it may be computer and Internet use or television viewing. Another may be called to fast from speaking negative words. Start small and build on the successes that you have. Seek out other resources and respected Christian friends who can encourage you on your own journey. Most importantly, approach God with a quiet heart so you can be responsive to Him as he directs your life and shapes you into his image.
Note: This article did not cover fasting from a medical or health perspective. Obtain clearance from your family physician before fasting. It is not recommended that pregnant or nursing mothers abstain from food and or beverages.
[i] Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, edited by Katherine Barber, Don Mill, Ontario, 2004. p.539[ii] Taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society. Used by Permission. [iii] From The Nelson Study Bible, copyright 1997 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission.[iv] Taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society. Used by Permission.[v] The Power of Praying Together, by Stormie Omartian with Jack Hayford, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 2003. p.65[vi] www.billbright.com/howtofast/why.html[vii] Taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society. Used by Permission.
Laurel lives in Sherwood Park, Alberta, with Jody, her husband of 20 years, and their two boys Dery (12) and Keaton (10). She has a degree in Physical Education obtained at Trinity Western University. God has been gracious to allow her to use her love for physical activity to minister to those in her community. Another writing project that she is currently involved in is called the Kids’ Character Series. It is designed to provide practical help and hands-on tools for parents of young children who want to raise their children to love, follow and act like Jesus.