Every January, my church does a congregation-wide week of fasting. It looks different for everyone. Some do a complete fast from food for three days, while some omit a meal every day for the week. Others cut out sugar or sodas, or any food they feel an addiction to. And then there are those who don’t do a food fast, but rather abstain from Social Media, television or other non-edible distractions.
The church provides a prayer guide for the week, which includes specific prayers for our local community, the global community, church leadership, and, of course, our own growth with God.
My first experience with fasting was last year. I chose a version of the Daniel Fast and consumed between 700 and 800 calories a day for a week. I convinced myself I was doing this with the appropriate motivation. Prayers were prayed, scriptures were read, the talk was talked, and it even looked like the walk was walked.
When we do a spiritual fast, we are supposed to turn our focus to God every time our stomach growls or we yearn for dessert or our fingers itch to check Facebook. But as I practiced my first-ever fast, I found myself thinking more about what my low calorie count was doing for my weight every time there was a rumble in my midsection.
By the end of the week, I felt no closer to God than I had when I started. Imagine my utter disappointment when my weight hadn’t even budged.
This January was different because I changed the way I approached fasting. With the right mindset, I was able to put my energy and my focus into earnestly seeking God. My guided prayers were from the heart, not just words on a page recited. Worship was profound, supplications were honest, thanksgiving was sincere.
I’m not going to lie and say it was easy. It wasn’t. In fact, it was much more difficult the second time around. It felt more sacrificial. The first time when I would suffer, I immediately distracted myself with something else – work, a game, social media – and contemplated how my noble abnegation would show results on the scale.
The second time, however, I began my day thinking about who God is. Who He really is. It’s
difficult impossible for our feeble human minds to grasp the magnificence of God. But when you begin to consider the vastness and beauty of his entire creation – galaxies, stars, mountains, oceans, creatures – everything he spoke into being – it’s breathtaking. And when you recognize that this same God loves us humans with all of our evil flaws even more than anything else he’s created, it’s downright overwhelming.
This set me up well for the rest of my day. From there, my process looked like this:
I “took every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Instead of letting the inappropriate thoughts that popped up get a toehold, I quickly shifted my thinking to the sacrifice Jesus made for me, making my hunger unimportant. That perspective tends to humble a person real quick.
Humble Confession of Sin
Once we humble ourselves, it’s a little easier to see where pride has dug in its heels. From that place of humility, I was able to see my sin a little more clearly. There’s a difference between asking God to forgive some abstract sin you can’t put a name to and confessing a sin that is glaring. There is also a feeling of lightness and joy that comes from that repentance.
There’s a difference between asking God to forgive some abstract sin you can’t put a name to and confessing a sin that is glaring.
That joy lends itself to complete gratefulness. For me, it highlighted just how much I have. I was going without food deliberately, not because I didn’t have any. And I belong to Jesus. That alone is worthy of all the thanks I have to give.
A Heart for Others
Praising God for who He is, humbly confessing and repenting, and deep gratitude has a way of softening our hearts. My family often teases me about my lack of mercy. It’s usually pretty low on those spiritual inventory tests. Not only that, but I may or may not have told one or both of my children to, “squirt some tears, punk”, at one time or another.
But when my heart is softened, my compassion for others can feel rather piercing. Praying for others with that kind of burden for people is an earnest prayer. (James 5:17-18)
For me, thinking appropriately was the key to a successful fast. I had to wrangle my attention back to why I was denying myself and, from there, turn that focus to God. Once my deliberations were set on God, the natural progression of my prayers took over. And while this “blueprint” worked well for my fasting, I find it helpful every day.
I suppose that’s just one more benefit of thinking fast.