Our church is presenting several fasting “challenges” over the next few weeks. The very first fasting challenge is a 24-hour fast starting this Friday, Feb. 24. For the 24 hour fast, we are being encouraged to abstain from sugar, alcohol, juice, & soft drinks. As I write this, I find myself curious to know how the readers are feeling about the idea of fasting. I am assuming that for some this is something that is a regular part of their spiritual life. But I am betting that for many, fasting is not a typical part of their spiritual practices. For others, this may be the first time they have ever considered a spiritual fast.
The very first time that I was encouraged to fast was right after college. I was working for a large Christian non-profit, and we would have corporate days of fasting. Employees all across the globe were encouraged to fast and pray. I’ll be honest, I didn’t get it. My job was demanding and kept me on the go constantly. The idea of fasting, while being so busy with work, never made sense. I only viewed it as abstaining from sustenance. While the rest of my co-workers seemed to hold out till we broke our fast together I was secretly eating snacks and sometimes even completely forgot that we were fasting!
Fast forward several more years and I was a part of a mom’s ministry at my church. Again, I was encouraged to fast with a collective group. But this time, it was different. The difference was my heart posture. You see, over the years, I had fallen more in love with Jesus. I understood that the idea of abstaining was to draw me closer to him. Even though I had failed at my previous attempts, I jumped all in. This was a complete fast – only water for 24 hours. In the beginning, I was anxious that my life stage would not allow me to partake. My husband was on his second full week of traveling for his job. I had two toddlers at home that were demanding. I was constantly tired. How could I go without food and COFFEE and still function?! I remember having a headache and feeling sluggish the first half of the day. A few times, I had sat down to pray during a time when I normally would have had a snack or drink and was immediately interrupted by demanding children. By noon, I was feeling defeated and no closer to God. And then… I began to change my prayer. My children were at an age where the interruption was going to be constant, so I needed to expect less structured time with God. This was not going to look like me skipping lunch and spending that entire time reading my bible.
So, I just began to pray to God in every moment where the desire to eat or drink arose. These prayers were short for most of that afternoon. They were prayers like “Lord, I’m hungry, please help me to focus on you. Help me, Lord.” By that evening, I had entered a new rhythm and was beginning to pray things like “Lord, you are good. Thank you for food, my family, and my home. Lord, please provide wisdom for my situation.” The next morning, I woke up and it was time to stop the fast. I was hungry but not for food. I was hungry for God. The desire for food had slipped away and I was hungry for his presence. I ended up fasting for another 24 hours and to this day it was one of the most beautiful days I have spent with God. As the desires of the world faded away, He became clearer. I felt super-naturally attuned to the Holy Spirit living in me. My prayers switched to prayers of repentance and confession and calls for revival and salvation for those around me.
I share this story because I hope it’s relatable and encouraging. Over these next several weeks, there may be times where it’s a struggle to fast. You may have to modify the challenge to fit your specific needs or dietary requirements. But as you fast remember, your why. You are fasting in the hopes to draw closer to a living God. To give your soul space to be attuned to the Holy Spirit. Fight the urge to see this as a physical challenge but cry out to God in the moments where you desire sugar. Ask him to be present in those moments. Ask him for self-control. Ask him to replace your fleshy thoughts with his thoughts and his Word. And be expectant for God to move. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5, ESV).
Written by Jessica Delp