Fasting: never been my favorite spiritual discipline. Simply put – fasting is refraining from eating food for a spiritual purpose: it’s not a physical diet (down with diet culture!). It’s something we are given the privilege of doing as a follower of Jesus in order to grow in intimacy with our Father and to see spiritual breakthrough. As someone who’s trying to not just read the Bible, but actually DO its words, I have to admit that Jesus assumed fasting would be a part of the DO-ing of our faith. For Jesus it was a “duh, of course” you will. In Matthew 6, Jesus laid out three practices that he assumed were occurring in the life of every one of his followers: He said “When you give..When you pray…When you fast.” WHEN you fast.
Truth is, I knew I didn’t practice these words with any kind of diligence and deep commitment. So when my mentor texted me on New Year’s Eve with an invitation to join into her annual New Year’s fast, I immediately felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit to say yes. I sat there with champagne in one hand and a cookie in the other and agreed to start the next day with them. I thought I was going to hate it. Three weeks is a long time. But instead I began 2021 feeling very close to Jesus.
Also – I still don’t like to fast.
I did a variety of types: some days were only liquids. There were a handful of categories I gave up for the entire period (breads, sweets, alcohol – all for spiritual, symbolic purposes that mean something between me & God). Other days I’d fast certain meals to focus on certain prayers. I read a great book on fasting during these weeks to stay encouraged (find the Amazon link on my book reco page!) and we had a group text to share prayers and pick each other up on bad days. Each of us had chosen certain themes or focus areas for our entire 3 weeks of prayer. We often prayed for each other’s issues. (Bonus; fasting as a group builds deeper relationships).
I finished feeling sure that God would release blessing of all kinds into my life:
Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
Fasting is seeking the Lord over top the other things we crave for ourselves. It goes on the pile of evidence-that-God-really-does-come-first-in-your-life. Instead of starting the year praying only for what I wanted to happen in 2021 (which certainly isn’t bad!), I started the year actually seeking God first. It felt good. But here’s the thing I have to report back 6 months later;
I’m still waiting.
Almost none of the tangible things I prayed for has come to pass. Is 6 months a long time? Not with eternity in view, but there are days it feels long to me.
Fasting is not a way to manipulate God to give you what you want, but it does come with a promise of reward.
But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
There’s a tension here, and there’s no way to resolve it. Jesus calls us to fast in obedience and then also says we will be rewarded. Fasting in scripture is CLEARLY part of significant breakthrough and direction. We can absolutely enter a fast with an expectant heart, but we cannot dictate the conditions, the timing, the manner or the methods of God’s breakthrough and blessing. We fast in trust. And then we wait. Even as I sit here not yet seeing the things I have asked of God…
I will obey.
I will believe there are and will continue to be all kinds of spiritual realities impacted by this fast in my life.
I will remind myself that faith always includes the tension of things I don’t yet see.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
I’ve put off writing this because – truth be told – I wanted to report back with an update that I’d seen all the things I have asked for! Truth is, I’ve seen some movements here and there in a few directions but no major breakthroughs. Truth is, some days I cry because things don’t seem to be going where I thought God was leading. Truth is, I have days I doubt the fast mattered. But I keep going back to something the book I was reading reminded me of:
God highly prizes – and never, ever forgets- true faithfulness.
Months – even years- after a fast, God will see me down on my knees in front of my pantry saying to Him “I want you more than I want food. As hungry as I am, I am hungrier for your hand on my life and your mercy, guidance and love. I want YOU more than any of this.” His memory doesn’t fade, and his concept of time is not like mine. God never forgets.
Fasting is definitely one of the things I’d put in the column of “easier read than done,” but I believe it is worth it. Our Lord is true to his Word. So while today I haven’t seen breakthrough, the reality is that I just haven’t seen it YET.