Friday, February 24, 2012

For What Would A Christian Fast?

I’ve been fasting this week. It’s not because God likes it when I fast, it’s because I do. Yeah, you read that right. For me, fasting is choosing a weakness through which I will know and savor God more. It’s all about satisfaction—mine.

In this case, I’m fasting from food, but in the past I’ve fasted from television, music (rather than listen to the stereo in my car on morning drives to work, I preferred thinking and listening for Him in quiet), news media, alcohol (I like an ale or a glass of wine now and then), and more. And not because any of it’s evil(!) or to be avoided.

It’s amazing how much I get used to turning to the things of this world for satisfaction, rather than to God, who actually satisfies me most and best. Like many, I suppose, seeking God or reading the Bible or praying can become all about obedience and willpower (“I’ve got to do it!”), especially when I’m getting more satisfaction and better pleasure elsewhere. Does that make sense? My deepest wants and desires and satisfaction have been denied because I’ve come to accept the comparatively shallow favor of the stuff of this world. In effect, I’ve been taken hostage to lesser joy and fulfillment. It’s torture.

Given enough time, I can begin to believe it’s actually normal and that I shouldn’t raise my expectations for much better. . .and shallowness becomes my new normal, perhaps assisted by sarcasm and humor, a fleshly attempt to cover over the pain. And then my thoughts go something like this: “I really should read the Bible.” “I really ought to pray more.” Or, “I’m really weak on the spiritual disciplines of study and meditation. I’ve got to be more committed.” That’s a good one.

I start to approach God and the things He likes as important things to do, rather than ways to know Him and like Him. And what about letting Him show me why He likes me? Reading the Bible and praying becomes a duration of time when I get my study and devotional timecard punched. Thunk-thunk! Going to church becomes all about following through on commitment. Giving money is about the pledge I made. Yuck. Round about then a college basketball game is much more exciting, or a bowl of ice cream, a shopping spree, a good movie, or a new electronic gadget. What delight, right?

Read the Bible? I’ll do that later or on Sunday. Yeah, that’ll be good then.

God no longer brings about the wedding of desire and satisfaction—fulfillment—because it has been lightly joined together elsewhere. What does God get? Commitment and Study and Pledges of Obedience—and frustration. A lot of frustration. He’s not as useful anymore.

But because He has crucified me to this world and this world to me (we’re incompatible; Gal. 6:14).), I can tolerate this painful hostage situation for only so long. A break out is drawing near.

That’s where a fast comes in. Through it I am needling myself—my true self—and saying, “Alert! Wake up and be satisfied! I can no longer stand surface satisfaction when I’ve been made for far deeper.” To be sure, I still have strong longings for satisfaction—in fact they get stronger—but the Spirit brings out desires now natural for me. I actually want God. I truly want Father. And any way to get Him and to know Him is where I start going. I begin talking to Him more (it might be sloppy or ugly or beggar-ish), even as I read my Bible. I start wanting to take a walk just so I can get out and look around and express my thoughts and questions to Him. I wake up in the morning and I think, “God, I want to be satisfied by you.” That’s a pretty welcome thought compared to what can otherwise go on in my noggin.

To be clear, no one has to fast to earn anything from God. Not since the New Covenant. Fasting is a way of enjoying what you already have. Any kind of fasting is toward satisfaction. It’s a way of acknowledging, “Jesus, you have given me absolutely everything already for entirely nothing. Hooray! I’m full already. So I want to hunger as a way of finding fullness. I’m going to refrain from light satisfaction in the hope you’ll bring out deep longings and equally deep satisfaction.”

This morning I made breakfast for my family: French toast, strawberries, bananas and real maple syrup. And I didn’t eat any of it. My youngest daughter is staying home today because she’s sick, and she just asked me to make her a piece of toast, with lots of cream cheese and lots of boysenberry jam on top. Lots.

And I’m loving it. The Holy Spirit—my friend and fascination and satisfaction—is carrying me along. The hunger I feel for a nibble is less powerful than the satisfaction I’m getting from Him.

And that’s what a fast is for.

(Some have asked for my thoughts on fasting. This is not an invective on Catholicism and the season of Lent; it’s a description of what I sometimes do in order to enjoy what God has given me.)


  1. Susan Block Tarnowski3:53 PM

    It is interesting you should mention fasting. I fasted yesterday. I do this every once in awhile when I feel God has placed it on my heart. And even then I have to ask myself, "Am I doing this for the right reasons?" I remind myself this is not a time just to present to Him my laundry list of things that are troubling ME, but to make sure I am listening, reading, and remembering others that need prayer. My prompting this time was because my son is at camp this weekend...he did not want to go...I need to trust that God knows what He's doing, and He is in absolute control. Fasting is a learning experience, and each time is different.

  2. Sandra Pun Patton3:53 PM

    it's a way that the Spirit man tells the body,hey! I am the man! I rule- you don't!

  3. Sand Highlyfavored Crosby3:54 PM

    Sand Highlyfavored Crosby I met a guy who was fasting big time last month, he is going better for it too, but he said to me God has to do it. He said God has to take your appetite away. Anyhow, this same guy was telling me how he was angry with God, and I mean he was really angry, but I never judged him, I told him how God loves him even more. he used to be satan worshiper many years ago, and he has had a complete change of heart, so I am not complaing about him fasting. especially when he was not boasting about how he did it. :)

  4. Valery Zeliak3:54 PM

    I’m fasting continuously from television, world music, news media, alcohol and others worlds things for the same purpose - to know more deeper and enjoy the Lord. But I didn't fast from food never, I don't know why... All these things are at the hands of God!

  5. Lorraine Whosoever3:55 PM

    those are some good reasons!

  6. Thanks very much for your comments, everyone. That you've already figured out a Christian doesn't need to fast to earn anything from God is pretty terrific. But as a way of putting one's body into submission (1 Cor 9:26-27) in order to more fully enjoy God, that makes fasting useful.

  7. Pat Hux3:56 PM

    It works like that for you, and for many, so I've heard anyhow.

    For me, He is with me and I don't fast at all from anything. Unless it's for a medical test. To me, being hungry is a distraction and not conducive to anything good or anything spiritual. Especially since in Him I am spiritual. And I sit down and feast with Him continually.

    And I used to try fasting. Never dug it. So I stopped. But God bless all who can do it!

  8. Anika Leib3:58 PM

    Your post is interesting and I have fasted many times for many reasons. The first time I fasted I was living inNY and had come back from Israel with dyssentry and so went on this guided fast with a naturopath. It was a life saver. I never had sooooooooo much energy because the result was I had more energy and zest than ever. That was a 21 day juice fast and i have done a few of those.

    And I always find them beneficial to subdue the flesh, maybe a strange thing to say, but with prayer added in I find like many ascetics from history they found it to be a method that in denial of the flesh one could focus more on the Spirit. Obviously this could be challenged.
    Having said that, a few years ago i was in distress and was about to do a fast because I had a really difficult situation with my ex and i thought fasting would be the answer.

    In prayer, God told me not to fast, but to feast. He brought to my attention the feast of Esther.I thought God was mad, but i listened. So that night, (I was on a DTS with YWAM) I invited everyone to my home for a party....well camembert cheese and nibblies is a party when you are on missions training. Anyway, I got my answer. Breakthru.
    I am without a doubt an advocate of fasting for health reasons,but now when I am tempted to fast for spiritual breakthru, I do ask God...whatd'ya reckon Lord.
    What do you want me to do?

    My opinion of fasting is that it is always beneficial, it helps rid the body of toxins and has positive results, but if we are looking for spiritual answers, It may not always be what God is wanting to show us...

    When i was shown i needed to celebrate by feasting, I believe the Lord was showing me I needed to trust by celebrating the answer He already had for me. Not easy. But Daddy being who He is, wanted me to cast my cares and worries on Him in celebration of the unseen.

    so that be me thoughts....

  9. Mark Beverly3:58 PM

    When I am weak, then I am strong.

  10. Marie Louise Cassidy3:59 PM

    I think this is a great article especially to explain people that might still be under the law on this... and Ralph mentioned other things he has fasted, tv etc. for his own pleasure, but I'm sure God enjoys it even more than instead of watching as the stomach turns on tv I decide to hang out with Him.

    Now in my personal experience , I would realize I hadn't eaten anything and didn't have any desire to do so, also a sense in my spirit: Lord! Are you doing this? I was teaching English to young adults. I had them for a month and then they would move on, three days before the last day I had this happen, like a veil removed and the spiritual become so real to me... I was afraid to talk about Jesus (never had happened before) because it was an American based academy, they had warned us, and it was weird, in Peru nobody ever tells you that. And it was a miracle job.

    Anyway to make the long story short, the last day they only come to get their grades and leave, but they didn't leave, they started asking me questions and I ended up praying with all of them. The fear was gone, I believe because of the awareness I had. They invited me to a retaurant they had reserved and kept asking me questions, some even went to church next Sunday... I don't know what you think but it happened ... so from that day on, I'd do that every last day of class (no fast) with all my groups and never had a problem :)))

  11. What a great experience and story, Marie. Thank you for sharing it here, and for your early comments too. It's really all about knowing and trusting God--and that's the best thing--and what comes from that is to Gods glory.

  12. Carol Grace Robinson4:00 PM

    Ralph, I think people reach out in whatever ways help them to acknowledge what we have already in Him. He speaks to me, I hear His voice, but I have to acknowledge there is a certain satisfaction that comes from denying myself a certain pleasure whether it's food or whatever..lessening the voice of the flesh that attemtps to scream at me some days, helps me to better discern His voice, and you're right, it's for us. He doesn't need our denial of self, but I think sometimes we might.

  13. Anonymous10:21 AM

    Isaiah 58 speaks of the fast He chooses and is acceptable. Read it from a new covenant perspective (for example, Sabbath I take to mean my resting in Him). Every time I read it I see more in that scripture, so not saying I understand it completely yet, but it is a good reference when I try to understand what fasting is for. -- Cindy

  14. Anonymous5:01 PM

    Hey Ralph... good stuff as usual. Any practical suggestions for coming off a three day fast? John P. Cwynar

    1. Hi, John. Great question.
      If the fast is related to what I’ve written about, in that you want to know Jesus and the leading of the Spirit better as a result, then take it slowly. Beware of surrendering to what used to be common, but which kept you distracted from what you found through a fast. From what did you get satisfaction before the fast, but which now seems, for lack of a better term, unclean? Lesser satisfactions are often thieves of deeper satisfaction.