Thoughts compiled by Cynthia Gill MA, LMFT.
It's the best kept secret of the American church. Perhaps the church world-wide, but I think it's less well known in the west. After all, we are affluent, and we can't help that. But I'd like to extol the benefits of fasting in this blog. I don't want to say too much about my own experience with fasting, because Jesus said we're not supposed to brag about it (Matt. 6:16-18). But I've had "extensive experience" (is that boasting?) with it in the 45 years I've walked with Christ. Allow me to tell you what fasting does for a person. Fasting humbles the soul. (Ps. 35:13) There's no doubt about it! Whether it's calming fights with your spouse, or just enabling you to stay out of strife in general, I can't tell you how many times I've been spared the hardship that comes from verbal altercations. After all, James 4: 1-6 points out that our fights come from our pride. I attribute our happy marriage in part to the fasting that has helped me keep my mouth shut often!
1) We are rich. But we're to be poor in spirit. (Matt. 5:3). We have no concept of the poverty that much of the rest of the world has to live with. But, we can identify with them and with Christ's sacrifice, if we fast from food for a time.
2) It makes us grateful! Anyone can see that abstaining from something will bring thankfulness when we have it again. I've found this to be true with food, rather than living nearly full most of the time. I really enjoy food more!
3) It allows us to hear from God more clearly. Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matt 4:4) One thing that got me fasting from the beginning was a teaching that I heard on just this topic. When we are satiated, say at Christmas, it is hard to hear the Lord clearly. We become kind of dull of hearing, and God's word seems distant. When we fast, however, we can perceive His word to us clearly and immediately. "Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help and He will say: 'Here am I."' (Is. 58:9)
4) It brings us out of our self-centeredness. All humans are self-focused, some due to their upbringing are more so than others. But all are! When we practice fasting, not like the Pharisees who did their fasting to be noticed by people, (Matt. 6:16-18) but really humbling ourselves, we get set free from that self-focus. This goes with my first point about avoiding fights, but it also can bring us creative ideas about things to do for others too.
5) People fast for health reasons. It brings the appetite under control, and there are a host of other secular reasons to fast. How about us, can we not benefit spiritually and physically? Now I used to think that fasting had to be 40 days to count, or at least a week. But, one day a week can do wonders for you. After all, the Bible says to rest 1 in 7 days, (Ex. 20:8), so why not rest your digestive system as well? I'm convinced that many health ailments that afflict Americans could be brought under control of we would fast.
Isaiah 58:6-12 is a beautiful passage that is filled with promises about people who fast God's way. Some of them are losing the chains of injustice, opportunities to share with the poor and lost, healing, answered prayer, absence of confusion, touching your family, and guidance from God. We'll be like a "well-watered garden," we won't burn out, we'll flourish, and be called "Repairer of the Broken-Down Walls." I don't know about you, but I want and need those things! Doubtless there's more embedded in that passage, I am just giving you a tiny taste.
But watch out! The enemy is very sly. You will (I repeat you will) fall into the pharisaical attitude of self-righteousness. Again, and again. "If I give my body to be burned but have not love... " (I Cor.13: 3) So we repent over and over, and recognize that we are fallen, broken people who need a savior.
Some people say "Well, what about fasting from TV, or video games, or desserts, or some such thing?" All I can say about these things is great, go ahead and abstain from them. But don't think that that will have the same effect as abstaining from food. There's something about denying yourself this very basic need that speaks to our flesh in an irrefutable way.
"Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the body and the body is for food, but God will destroy them both." (I Cor. 6:12,13)
Telling your body that it is not in control is a heady experience. We understand that the flesh wars against the spirit (Romans 6 & 7). The one you feed the most will win! Starve the flesh by fasting and praying, seeking God for a time. But again, beware! Col.2:16-23 warns us that there is not spiritual value in fasting for its own sake.
Some practical points:
* Store up some verses to be ready when you feel hungry, or get discouraged. Such as "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." (Matt. 5:6); "I humbled my soul with fasting." (Ps. 35:13); "This kind only goes out through prayer and fasting." (Mk. 9:29, Matt, 17:21) Repeat them to yourself throughout the day. This will make your fast more meaningful and combat the "crabbies" that you might otherwise find creep up on you.
* Don't expect to lose weight if you fast; when you are done fasting, you will eat more. But it can help you maintain your present weight, not gain.
* Eat a light supper the day you fast, if you are just fasting for a day. No meat, (or chocolate I say, usually I obey this guideline!), just to get something in your stomach before you go to sleep.
* You'll find that you forget things when you fast. But God is faithful, and usually it is just little things that cause us minor inconvenience.
* You can still exercise. Only in 21st century America do we believe that we might die if we have to go a few hours without food! I've fasted 3 days and run 2 ½ miles effortlessly. Repeat this to yourself "I WILL NOT DIE!" Sometimes you can even exercise more easily without the burden of having to digest all that food; yes, you actually have MORE energy!
* You might get headaches and/or slight nausea. I usually tough it out, and they go away. Or take a little pain killer. If you are on a medication that needs to be taken with food, then for gosh sakes, eat something. Recently I've taken to drinking one caffeinated drink, so I don't get a headache when I fast.
* There are still benefits when you fail. Even a little fast if you are seeking the Lord, can help. Don't beat yourself up when you fail! (Notice I said when, not if)
* If you struggle with anorexia or bulimia, DON'T fast! Get help for these things first.
Jesus assumed that all his followers would fast, he said "WHEN you fast... " (Matt 6:16-18), and it is practiced throughout Acts. Throughout church history, many saints and people fasted. In modern times people such as Jim Elliot and Bill Bright fasted regularly. It truly makes a difference in one's personal walk with God.
In fact, I am of the opinion that if everyone who loved God fasted regularly, it would wake up the lukewarm Western church. What a powerful thing it is!
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