Recently I had a conversation with someone at church that went like this…
Friend: Dude, what’s up? You’re not eating?
Friend: Are you fasting?
Friend: Didn’t you fast this time last year… and the year before that?
Me: Um, actually… yeah. I did.
Friend: Dude! That’s awesome!
Me: No, not really. It actually kind of sucks. I freakin’ hate fasting.
Friend: Then why do you do it?
Me: Because I need it.
I’ve struggled with posting this blog for sometime now, because I don’t ever want to be guilty of being the guy that Jesus spoke of:
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
I don’t want to fast in order to be recognized by people, because then according to Jesus, my fast becomes ineffective. When you fast so that others will notice you, the reward that you receive IS the recognition of others. That’s a pretty crappy reward. When I fast, I fast to move mountains, draw near to God, and see the sun stand still.
That being said, I’m posting this now because I’ve encountered more questions and queries regarding fasting than I ever have before. So let me answer some of the most common questions.
What Is Fasting?
Biblically speaking, fasting is the act of going without something (usually food) in order to focus on prayer and fellowship with God. It’s really that simple.
What Do You Do When You Fast?
Well, it’s really quite simple. You go without food (usually). I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how instead of eating you pray. When you skip meals, you simply use that time to pray. Well, that’s not completely inaccurate, but it certainly feels more wooden than what we see in Scripture. Personally, when I fast I still sit down at the table with my family for meals. Meal times are family time for us and I don’t want to skip those. Obviously, I don’t eat, but I do enjoy the time together with my family. And I don’t really pray during the meal either. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do that. It’s probably a great thing to do. It’s just not what I do, and certainly not what you HAVE to do. I do, however, find myself praying A LOT more when I’m fasting. Why? Not because I feel like that’s what I’m supposed to do, but it happens naturally, because I find myself being more aware of my need for Jesus. When you are not taking in any kind of nutrition, you need Jesus on a whole different level then you ever have before. If you fast long enough, you will find yourself desperate for a touch from God just to keep you going (which brings me to my next point).
What’s The Point of Fasting?
One of my favorite “Jimmyisms” (coined phrases from our pastor, Jimmy Carroll) is “Desperation breeds dependency.” That is actually what fasting is all about. The more desperate I am for God, the more dependent on him I become. The more dependent on him that I am, the closer I draw to him. And closeness with God breeds all kinds of awesome rewards: I hear him speak more clearly, he tends to use me more mightily, and I find my prayers are more readily answered (because I sense his heart more clearly and pray accordingly). But it’s about so much more than the rewards. The truth is that I need Jesus. I need him every second of every day. But because I have a good life, often times I am not acutely aware of my need for him. I don’t need him more when I’m fasting, but I become much more aware of my need for him. As a Christian, have you ever noticed that it was in your most desperate times that you found yourself the closest to God? It’s because you were do dependent on him. I believe the reason that the faith of our brothers and sisters in third world and closed countries is often so much stronger than ours is because they are so acutely aware of their need for God on a daily basis. Desperation breeds dependency. Fasting is a way of fostering a sense of desperation for God. Often when I am doing an extended fast I find myself praying something like this: “Father, if you don’t sustain me, I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this day. I’m tired. I’m hungry. And I don’t feel like I can go on.”
Desperation breeds dependency.
I have a firm belief: the better your life is, the more imperative it is for you to fast. Honestly, I have a great life. I have suffered very few trials and troubles. My life is good. Deuteronomy 7:11 warns us to “beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God.” The better your life is, the more imperative it is for you to fast.
Who Should Fast?
Well… YOU should. No seriously. I’m talking to you. You should fast. You NEED to fast. It’s interesting that in the verse from Matthew above that Jesus started with “WHEN you fast” not “IF you fast.” Jesus started with the assumption that if you are his disciple then you are going to fast. We just don’t hear much about it in Western Christianity because it isn’t convenient for us. We don’t like fasting so we don’t teach on it. If you have dietary concerns then fast from something else that you find yourself dependent on… like coffee, or facebook, or text messaging, or TV, or any and all technology (uh oh, I might be stepping on some toes now). Keep in mind when I say “dietary concerns,” I’m talking serious concerns not “I get hunger pangs when I don’t eat.” So, who should fast? You should.
How Long Should I fast?
Assuming that we’re still talking about food, you should take it slow if you’ve never fasted before. This week, fast from one meal (if you don’t normally eat breakfast that doesn’t count, fast from a REAL meal that you normally eat). Then maybe next month fast from one meal everyday for a week. Then sometime later try fasting for an entire day. Then sometime later try fasting one day out of every week for a month. My dad used to fast every Saturday out of every single week in preparation for Sunday. Or maybe it’s time for you to try an extended fast. You can try fasting for three days, and then later a week or longer. I think it’s less about how or how long you do it, and more about actually doing what Jesus assumed you would be doing.