Devotional: Teach Me How To Fast

I am the last person to tell you how to fast appropriately. In fact I once told a friend, saved as ever, that I hate fasting! Here’s what I hate about fasting: I don’t want to do what the spirit wants to do. I don’t want to quiet my flesh. I don’t want to be told, “Don’t watch,” “Don’t touch” and least of all, “Don’t taste.” 

But I am learning more and more that this is the way to true life. “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:11-12 NIV).”

The “I don’ts” and “I hates” totally litter my pre-fast and beginning-fast mental vernacular. “Good God, can I just skip having a second serving of dinner? Will that count as fasting?” “Understanding Father, you know work was so busy today - I didn’t have the chance to eat lunch. Surely, that counts as fasting!” “Kind Father that glazed donut showed up out of nowhere. And it was free. Surely you wouldn’t have me to squander such a blessing. Surely not.”

My flesh has mastered anti-fasting temper tantrums. And maybe we’re alike. Yes, certainly, the spirit is willing but the body is a three-year old!  

Each period of fasting feels like I am starting anew. As if the benefits from the last fast are totally obsolete in the face of that three-year old wanting never again to be told, “Don’t!” Here’s how I convince the three-year old in me to lay aside the Cheetos, plantain chips and apple juice to take up the richest of fare:  I often return to Jentezen Franklin’s extensive work and/or listen to Tony Evans’ series on fasting (available on YouTube).  They are stirring and lead me on to greater understanding of the purpose and nature of fasting.  Watching the late Myles Munroe encourage his congregation during a season of fasting also heightened the bar of what fasting is and could be. All of these men confirm this simple yet confounding thought – fasting is truly for our good. That toddler has little to defend against such a truth. 

I also encourage fasting within the context of community and sharing our experiences within that community.  In this way we learn to fast communally which was often the context of Biblical fasting. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, I recommend praying and asking God daily for the wisdom to fast in a manner that pleases him (Isaiah 58) and for the strength to continue. Through fasting we allow our lives to sing, “Let they goodness, like a fetter, bind our wandering hearts to thee.”[1] 

When I choose to fast, I do so expecting God to sustain me. This discovery may be the greatest blessing I have gleaned through fasting. And he is faithful. When we feed our spiritual hunger for more of God, he goes to work to satisfy our deeper longings for comfort, control, love, acceptance and peace. No Cheetos have such power. (Please remind me of this tomorrow.)

With that toddler in time-out here’s why I have learned to love fasting: it shows me how crave-driven and therefore dependent on God I need to be; it reveals God’s power to literally give my heart new desires; it reminds me of my Esau-likeness and my willingness to trade so much for so little (Hebrews 12:16); and it sensitizes me to the suffering of others and provokes me to respond. 

I pray that we would not make fasting an idol but increasingly love the God who gives the power and will to fast; and that whenever we fast we would do so in a manner that is an act of faith undertaken with eyes wide open to the move of God on our hearts.  May God satisfy us deeply, eternally today and each new day.  In Jesus’ name. Amen

_____________________________________

[1] Lyric: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Amelia E. Thompson loves to see God create possibility out of what appears to be impossible. She became a Christian during her sophomore year in college. She and friends developed We Write Life into a platform for building community around issues of justice, reconciliation and forgiveness. Thanks to God’s guidance and kindness, she completed studies at Vassar College and St. John’s University and is completing a certificate in Youth and Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.