When I was a newer Christian I occasionally asked people to fast with me. After awhile I stopped asking others because the responses became typical. “No…not right now…I can’t because…I’ll pray along with you though….”
The early church fasted a lot yet we almost never do. When we do fast we tend to do it, as I affectionately call it, Catholic style. Think Lent. We pick something pretty mundane that we won’t terribly miss or an item we have been meaning to wean ourselves from anyways. I’m not slamming Catholics, just saying that is how our family and all the others I knew did it.
I should be clear here, I don’t fast a lot either, certainly not every week as was the habit of earlier Christians. I don’t like going without anymore than the next person. I do fast, but probably not as much as I should so I’m not holding myself out as the example to follow. Despite that, I have picked up a tidbit or two and that is what I’ll share here.
First, the idea that fasting ‘gets our mind off of ourselves and onto God’ isn’t true. Every time I have fasted I think MORE about myself. Kind of hard not to. I’m hungry. When I’m sad, hurting or struggling I become consumed with myself and so it is with fasting. Just because fasting is self-inflicted doesn’t change that tendency.
Fasting makes us very conscious of ourselves and because we are doing it for God, that much more conscious of Him. Becoming hyper conscious of ourselves is actually a good thing, not bad. We start to see things about ourselves that were flying under the radar in life as usual mode. Then, because we are more cognizant of God at the time, we understand better how to realign ourselves. That’s a good thing.
Second, fasting is not the missing spiritual bullet that instantly yields a holy, spirit filled life, but it does have an often overlooked, hidden benefit that moves us towards that end.
Luke 9:23 reads: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Normal interpretation is that we choose God’s will over our own each day. The first time I fasted I expected great things. I expected to see a burning bush somewhere along the way. I didn’t. However I did learn that I could deny myself what I really wanted and I learned how I needed to handle myself to do it. That is a huge understanding and imperative to master. Fasting forces us to ‘beat our bodies and make it our slave’ (1 Cor 9:27) It trains us HOW to deny ourselves. Along with unearthing some hidden self it teaches us how to carry out Luke 9:23, which is the heart of any walk with Christ.
I believe now that what many of my good friends were unwittingly saying to me was “I can’t deny myself” or “I don’t want to” and I totally get that struggle. Forcing ourselves to fast however helps us learn how to do exactly that. That is why it is such a tragedy when Christians cop-out of fasting. They miss out on a discipline that could teach them how to do what they have to do in so many other areas… deny themselves what they want.