I am not a victim.
There are plenty of things in this world I can control. Whether I want to admit it or not, I can make all kinds of things happen that will improve my life. I can will myself to exercise, diet, save money, do Bible study … heck, I can even make myself cook every day if I want it badly enough (clearly, I don’t).
There are things I can will into existence and there are things I can’t. There are character flaws, sinful inclinations, health issues and broken relationships I cannot control no matter how hard I try. In fact, sometimes trying seems to make it worse.
Followers of Jesus discovered this principle in a marketplace one day when they were asked to heal a woman’s child. They tried all the techniques shown them by Jesus himself. They put their faith on the line and called on God to act. Nothing happened. Try as they might, they got only frustration. Then Jesus showed up and with a gesture, accomplished the healing. Later in a private conversation, they asked him why they couldn’t make this thing happen. Jesus explained, “Some things only come out by prayer and fasting.”
But they had prayed. Clearly, calling on God to heal someone is prayer, right? What did fasting add that prayer didn’t?
Fasting is the deep water of the spiritual life. There is a mystery to it that defies definition. There is a discipline to it, also. Nothing will cut through our impure motives and unhealthy agendas quicker than this spiritual discipline.
What makes fasting so effective?
Bill Bright, the man who founded Campus Crusade for Christ, says fasting is “a biblical way to truly humble yourself in the sight of God (Psalm 35:13; Ezra 8:21).” King David said, “I humble myself through fasting.” Not a prophet or king, Nehemiah was an average guy who loved the Lord and loved his people. When he heard that the wall of Jerusalem had been destroyed, he was crushed. He sat down and wept and for days he mourned, fasted, and prayed to God. He repented on behalf of a nation. It was a wake-up call for him. His people had allowed their inheritance to slip through their fingers.
In that season of fasting and prayer, Nehemiah gained a vision for rebuilding the walls. And that vision rode in on the wind of humility.
Fasting humbles us. It is an act of obedience. It is proof that discipline matters to God.
Bright says fasting “enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.” And as we begin to cut through the agendas and see truth more clearly and as we honestly begin to repent of unconfessed sin, we experience more blessings from God.
Fasting will transform your prayer life. But let me state the obvious: fasting is tough.
No healthy person likes missing a meal (in fact, if you’re someone who misses a lot of meals due to unhealthy body image issues, you probably shouldn’t fast). Combine that with the fact that fasting will put you in touch with your truest motives and it is no wonder we avoid it so religiously (pun intended).
The fact is, nine out of ten of my motives stink and painful as it can be, fasting and prayer together help me face up to that fact in a way that opens me to a higher knowing. When my motives are more pure, my worship of God is more real and my prayers are more effective. No wonder the enemy of our souls would rather we find a reason not to fast!
As a corporate discipline, fasting can have a mighty effect on a community. Some years ago, our church entered into 21 days of fasting to prepare for the purchase of our building. I am convinced that our spiritual preparation paved the way for the success of that campaign. Since then, we’ve made a habit of an annual season of corporate fasting and 2017 will be no different. Beginning January 2nd, our congregation will be invited to cry out for the heart of God through 21 days of prayer and fasting. We will form prayers around the priorities of God’s vision for our next season, God’s heart for those in the margins and God’s call to deeper spiritual formation.
I’m sharing this now because some of you will want to join us. Whether you’re part of Mosaic or not, you may sense God’s call to begin the new year more spiritually prepared. Whether it is 21 days, three days, 24 hours or just one meal, I’d like to ask you to try fasting as a spiritual discipline in January. Skip eating and use that time in conversation with God, asking him to prepare your heart to hear his voice. Spiritual fathers through the ages assure us that God honors that kind of sacrifice. They call it a means of grace — a way of connecting more intimately with God.
Through fasting and prayer, the Holy Spirit can transform our lives. Use this time to renew your personal commitment to Christ. Share your prayer needs with others at Mosaic so we can bear one another’s burdens. Post your progress, not to brag but to encourage one another toward more intimacy with God. Pray for your family, your church, its leaders, the pastor, our community, neighbors, friends.
Pray to become a difference-maker.
If you sense God’s call to an extended fast (more than three days), please be sure to let your pastor and doctor know and ask for more information on how to conduct such a fast safely.* If you have any physical condition that would make fasting from food unhealthy for you, there are other options. Choose something from your daily routine – a specific food, television, social media, sweets, caffeine – something that really matters.
When a person sets aside something important to concentrate on the work of praying, they are demonstrating that they mean business, that they are seeking God with all their heart. And God himself said, “When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you” (Jeremiah 29:13, 14).
* For more on fasting, look up Jentsen Franklin’s books on the subject. Bill Bright has also written on this. Here’s a good article to get you started: http://goodnewsmag.org/2012/01/the-spiritual-discipline-of-fasting/