Magazine’s typically write about the results of the latest celebrity detox fast. A spiritual fast has deeper results than just clearing out physical poison from our bodies. But, to be honest; fasting and prayer isn’t popular in a culture where the least twinge in our stomach has us reaching for a snack! This unpopularity, however, can be a result of unfamiliarity.
What is fasting and prayer?
Fasting is a spiritual discipline. To fast is to go without food for a set period of time for religious reasons. The purpose is not to lose weight, nor to make a “sacrifice.” The purpose is to do something under your direct control that will, in turn, enable you to experience the loving inflow of God’s life and power into your soul. It’s a way of gently setting your body before God so that inner transformation might take place—by God’s Spirit, not by your own striving and straining.
A centuries-long practice among Christians is to set aside one or two days of the week to fast. This normally means skipping breakfast and lunch, then eating your regular evening meal. Certainly, other ways of fasting and prayer are also possible, as you feel led by the Lord. Even skipping just one meal a week to fast “unto the Lord” will have noticeable results.
What can you expect from the practice of fasting and prayer?
In spite of the discomfort of going without food, your attention will be automatically drawn to Jesus during your fast. You may be surprised at the sense of interaction you experience with God in your daily routine. Tasks you do automatically, almost without thinking, now become occasions of real concentration. At times, those moments may even feel like worship as your awareness of the presence of Jesus is heightened.
However, don’t be misled – fasting and prayer will be uncomfortable. It’s not fun to feel hungry, but it won’t be as bad as you may think. It does become easier with practice. If you ever take an extended fast, you’ll find that the first three days are the hardest. After that you won’t feel nearly as hungry. God gives you a sustaining strength to withstand the hunger. As you’re fasting, you’ll be better able to understand the truth of Jesus’ words, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
What results come from fasting and prayer?
Like physical exercise, the benefits come afterward. There will be a feeling of satisfaction at having done something worthwhile. Dramatic answers to prayer may occur. You’ll find that you have more faith and a feeling of being dedicated to the service of the Lord. You’ll also gain compassion for those in the world who regularly go hungry. There will be a desire to continue your practice of fasting and prayer, even looking forward to the next time, because you enjoyed the interaction with God.
But the most important change that occurs from fasting is the dissolving of selfish ambition. You won’t feel as strong a need to be in control. Fasting allows you to become “Strong and sweet when you don’t get your way,” according to Dallas Willard, author of The Spirit of Disciplines.
Having the freedom to remain peaceful and content when you don’t get your way is one of the greatest liberties you gain in Christ. Through regular fasting, you’ll begin to better understand God’s sufficiency for every occasion. Resting in God, more than anything else, frees your soul to love. Without your being aware of it, you’ll begin to take on the motivations of Jesus. You won’t have to inwardly strain, or outwardly pretend to reflect His character. A deep, inward change will occur. You become a blessing to be around—to yourself as well as others—and people will see that you’re indeed a different sort of person.
Fasting and prayer breaks addictions and brings upon love.
Addictions arise from a need for comfort. Torn and damaged souls seek comfort. Alcohol, drugs, food, sex, caffeine, cigarettes and shopping are common ways people in our culture comfort themselves. These things work, but only up to a point. Then they destroy. Fasting and prayer can help establish freedom from addictions because it produces a powerful means of setting aside the seeming unconquerable force of the habit. The Holy Spirit will train your entire being through fasting to say “no” to self, and “yes” to God. Then you’ll be enabled to find your comfort in God.
Trusting Jesus Christ by becoming His disciple is the way into real life. To trust Jesus means to begin to learn from Him how to live life in the kingdom of God. Then you’ll discover that the first effect of seeking Him and His kingdom is receiving love. Turn your face to God’s face to constantly be receiving divine love. Much of Jesus’ instruction to His disciples in the Sermon of the Mount (Matthew 5-7) has to do with letting go of hurtful things, such as anger, contempt, lust, trying to impress others. Receiving love from God enables you to let go of such things.
- When you become confident that this universe really is a universe of love (because God is love), and you know that God is in covenant with you because He made a pact through His son Jesus, then you’ll be able to let go of trying to force others into your will.
- When you become confident that there’s an unseen hand guiding the details of your daily life (encouraging you, protecting you, covering for you and providing for you), then you’ll be able to let go of having to have your way (anxiously striving to appear impressive to others).
- When you become confident that God is leading you into paths of righteousness and restoring your soul so that your life may become a destiny of fruitfulness, then you will be able to let go of haste.
The result of this divine comfort for your soul is serenity. You really can let go and let God be in control.
So where should you start with fasting and prayer?
Pray first. Ask God how you might proceed. If you’re just starting, pick a day that you’re going to be busy, so you won’t constantly be thinking about food. If you’re a coffee lover, you‘ll probably want to still drink coffee—or wean yourself off the caffeine first. Then go without breakfast and lunch but do plan to eat supper. Drink fluids throughout the day.
If you have a family member or a friend who also wants to strengthen their relationship with Christ, ask them to join you during your first attempt at a fast. Then talk with them about what you learned or felt. Also, consider journaling about your experience. Have your Bible, Journal or Devotional handy during mealtime. Don’t be upset if you fail. It’s okay if you skip breakfast but aren’t able to last until lunch the first time. God will be happy that you tried. Spend some time with Him asking for His strength during your next attempt at a fast.