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Prayer and Fasting

This is a longer story. I hope you'll stick with me to the end. Skip over what you need to, but please get to the end somehow. I like a good backstory, so I'm including it here.

When I was in my mid-20's, living in Nashville, I was introduced to some people who made fasting a regular part of their spiritual disciplines. I got some books on fasting and learned a lot about the science of abstaining from food for a time. I learned that, for a short time, fasting can be very beneficial to your health. Your body sends its energy to repair problems when it isn't being used to digest food. Not only is it good for your physical health, but it's good for your mental health.

What science can't tell you is that when you empty yourself, you're better able to be filled with the character and nature of Christ. You're better able to hear the voice of God. If you want power to perform miracles through the Holy Spirit, there are times when prayer and fasting are required. Prayer and fasting go together. Simply abstaining from food is a diet. During a fast, you are to intentionally fill yourself up with Christ, taking extra time to study Scripture, pray, and reflect. You are to abide with Christ, so that may mean sitting in silence with Him, not speaking at all.

I began to fast one day a week. It took me a while to figure out the best way to do it and build up my strength gradually (first, just breakfast; the next week, breakfast and lunch; etc.). I found that prayer - specifically, asking God for strength to fast and focusing on Him all day - was the best strategy of all of the "practical" tips. After I made it one whole day, it was a little easier the next week. I fasted one day a week for years, and when I look back on that time, I realize they were good years of spiritual growth.

Unfortunately, I'd picked up the notion that because of my discipline, God was supposed to answer my prayers in my way and my time. Instead, I suffered a terrible disappointment. A leader I followed turned out to be morally bankrupt, and that failure rocked my entire community. I was on the inside of this group and my social life was nearly 100% built around it. I'd believed the direction of my future hinged upon it. When it became apparent that my expectations were not going to be met, it knocked me seriously off balance.

I stopped fasting because I didn't see the point any longer. I'd done everything I knew to do, bringing my best self to the forefront, and it had been a lot of hard work. Instead of being rewarded, I felt ashamed and very, very stupid. In my disappointment and pain, I turned ever so slightly from the One who loved me most. That turning hurt me more.

It took a lot to climb out of that hole and get my feet back under me. God didn't leave me, though. He waited out my immaturity. He waited while I piled one hurt on top of another. He was right there, hand outstretched, when I finally submitted my pride and grasped it. He then taught me to trust in Him alone. He taught me that no person or institution would ever reflect Him perfectly, so I had to keep my eyes fixed on Him. That was a hard lesson, and if you know me in real life, you know the struggles I've had with Christian leaders whose lifestyle doesn't reflect the character of Christ.

Eventually, I returned to the discipline of fasting. The second time around, I understood that my sacrifice wasn't transactional. God wasn't waiting to reward me until I became disciplined enough. The benefit of fasting was getting to know His heart more, not getting something for myself. Learning to know His heart was the reward, and it was great.

I wanted to know His heart more. My life wasn't going as I'd hoped, so I needed direction. Was I praying for the wrong things? Should I take another path? I was willing to go anywhere and do anything, if He'd just guide me. I committed to fasting for 40 days during Lent, and I had several months to prepare. I set up a series of fasts, kind of like training for a marathon. (If you're wondering, I did drop weight quickly. It wasn't my goal, but I had some wiggle room, so it didn't hurt me. I was under the care of several medical providers at the time.)

I expected to feel the power of God shooting through my veins like lighting during the 40-day fast. It didn't. I just felt regular. I had 40 days of trudging along because I'd committed to it, determined to know the joy of breaking my fast on Easter Sunday. I'd already learned that if I felt tingly or not, there was no doubt God was with me. Easter Sunday was joyful. My friend, Penny, made a feast to celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Seriously, a feast. I still remember what I ate and my shock at what an amazing cook she was.

Later, I realized the power of that fast. It did exactly what I wanted it to do. Peace settled over me. I knew everything would be okay. I didn't know exactly when, but I knew it had to be soon. God would be faithful to give me this one great desire. So when I got laid off from my job at the church, the job I thought would lead to the desires of my heart coming to pass, I was at peace. A little freaked out, yes, but I trusted God must have some other plan for me. When the man who would become my husband started talking to me a few months later, it felt like everything was exactly as it should be. I had the courage to leave Nashville and the friendships I'd established there and become a farmer's wife. Of all things. A farmer's wife! God has a great sense of humor.

During the next ten years or so, I didn't fast. In fact, there were a few years when I rarely even opened my Bible. I loved the Lord and served Him, but I was very busy with pregnancies, raising babies, and eventually getting our youngest through a health crisis. Becoming a special needs mom forced me to learn an entirely new paradigm, causing a monumental shift in the way I thought about life and God and, well, everything. The way I made it through those years had much to do with what I'd learned from fasting. I'd made it through all that voluntary fasting without giving up or even cheating. When the time came that I had no choice but to be strong, I already knew who I was. I stood my ground.

When everything was shaking and shattered and I felt surrounded by shards of glass that cut at every turn, I kept my feet under me because they were planted on THE ROCK.

When it was time to heal from all the cuts and bleeding, I knew my Healer. When the rest of my family revealed that they'd been cut too and were desperately hurting, it felt like I stood alone on the top of a mountain. The wind whipped around me so hard I could easily be blown off the cliff, but I planted a flag emblazoned with the name of Jesus and held on for dear life. He held me steady.

I am a woman covered with scars you can't see, the mother of a child covered with scars you can see, and the wife of a man who fought harder than any man I know to save his family. We survived because we knew who we were in Christ. We didn't give up on our children or our marriage because something had been built years before that carried us through. We look at the uncertain future, more aware than most of the pain it may hold, but unafraid because we know who holds the future.

That is the power of fasting. That is the power of completely emptying yourself of yourself so you might be filled with the Spirit of God that lights you up from the inside and fills your bones with steel. That is why, today, on the other side of that trial and in a time of peace, I make a regular practice of fasting. I'm no longer pregnant, sick, nursing, or sleep-deprived, and - praise the Lord! our children are all alive and healthy! So, I discipline my body and bring it under submission so I can be ready for whatever comes next.

Faith rises up inside us when we fast and pray. We begin to BELIEVE God to be who He says He is. We begin to understand who we are in Christ - joint heirs, able to do the same things as Jesus did when He walked the earth (and more). The power to work miracles comes when we leave unbelief behind because it was always there. We just have to believe.

I've written some practical tips that I'd like to share today. This part is the point of the post, but if you've read the backstory, you'll understand how I have the authority to write about fasting. Fasting is powerful, and as Christians, we should all be doing it.

***Fasting without humble prayer, asking God for strength and endurance, is impossible. You may have the will-power to not eat for a time, but there's no Spirit-power in your discipline. If you want to know the Lord and learn to enter the secret place of the Most High, fasting must be led by prayer. You empty yourself of food and FILL yourself with Him through prayer, Scripture, and abiding with Christ.***

For some of you, abstaining completely from food isn't possible or advisable. I've prayerfully written out the following ideas to consider instead:

  • Eat three complete meals a day, with no restrictions, and abstain from snacking. This practice is excellent for someone struggling with disordered eating and body shame. It allows for necessary discipline, offering your body to the Lord, and can be quite challenging. Although it seems the opposite of a fast, it's the heart of discipline that makes it effective. I've done this during a different season of life and God used it to heal me.

  • Eat a simple meal (like a plain baked potato) at set intervals throughout the day. This practice is helpful for someone who needs to keep their strength up because of a physically demanding job, a health condition, or the need to take medications with food. Determine the times to eat and what you'll eat ahead of time.

  • Abstain from certain types of food. A Daniel fast, for example, is to abstain from everything except vegetables and water, avoiding rich foods and drinks. (See Daniel 1:3-15.)

  • Abstain from solid food, allowing for broths and juices. This practice is suggested for longer fasts, providing basic nutrients while maintaining discipline. Care should be taken not to replace all the calories from food with liquid calories. Set a general parameter, like 500 calories a day and what that looks like, so you don't have to think about it constantly. Avoid artificial sweeteners and gum because they tend to upset the digestive system on an empty stomach.

  • Abstain from all media – social, television, videos, radio, and print news. This practice is for those who feel distracted and convicted to get their focus fully on the Lord. All that stuff can really clog up your mind, making it challenging to hear from the Lord.

  • Abstain from using your voice at all – speaking, singing, and any other vocalizing. This practice would likely need to be explained to those around you and is challenging if you struggle to listen. Incorporate with a media fast to hear God’s voice instead of your own. Even silence your inner voice to make space for God to speak.

  • Abstain from anything you struggle to moderate – a certain type of food or drink (like alcohol), a habit that often leads to sin (like shopping online), a luxury (like eating in restaurants or using air conditioning), or even a type of thought (like fantasizing about being excessively wealthy). This type of fast would typically last for three weeks to three months, depending on the depth of the struggle, so new habits can be formed.

Life can be so hard, and there are times when there's no breaks between the storms. There are times when it feels like you're buried 20 feet under the surface and no one sees you or can hear your scream. When those storms come, if your feet have been planted on the Rock of Christ Jesus, you will not be moved. Fasting is one of the best ways I've found to super-glue my feet to that Rock. Then, I can say, "Go ahead and crash over me, I know I'm secure."

If you're pregnant, nursing, raising a baby, ill, sleep-deprived, or in any other way in a weakened state, now is not the time to fast. Do not fast on vacations, holidays, or during other celebrations. If you struggle with disordered eating, do not abstain from food, but choose another method as listed above.

You can find plenty of information from other sources on the logistics of fasting well. Check them out. here is one I find very helpful - Fasting Guidelines and Information.

Prepare yourself ahead of time. Pray first and ask God to guide you. He will show you the way.

In closing, if you haven't done so already, please sign up for my email list. It's the only way to get my messages these days, unless you go directly to my website. If this message has helped you, feel free to forward it to others who'll appreciate it or share it on your social media page. If you'd like to read more about how God miraculously brought us through those difficult days with our youngest son, you can pick up my book in paperback, e-book, or audiobook here.

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