During my junior year of college, I had to read A Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster in one of my classes. In the book, he outlined 12 spiritual disciplines people practiced all throughout the Bible. Not only did we have to read the book, we had to practice each of the 12 as we read and then for our term paper, we had to write about our experience. The first two, “Prayer,” and “Meditation” were easy. These were disciplines I grew up understanding from a young age. As believers, we all know that prayer and finding quiet moments where we can meditate on Scripture and who God is without distraction are essential to our faith.
Then I got to the third discipline; “Fasting,” and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Even though I had grown up in the church, I had never heard of a reason why (in my simple understanding) I should starve myself. The concept was so foreign to me and so counter-cultural I thought, “I know I am supposed to do this for my term paper but what if I just skip this one? I’ll move on to the next chapter; ‘Study.’” Academics seemed more appealing than giving up food for a period of time.
Yet, as I kept reading, I felt something compelling about what Foster wrote. I realized fasting wasn’t starving myself, it was a spiritual practice done by so many followers of Jesus throughout history when they wanted to draw closer to God. I had never fasted before, but I knew I wanted more of God—I wanted to be like these kingdom building followers of Jesus from history—so I cleared my weekend schedule and set up a tent in the middle of the woods with just a bottle of grape juice. For 36 hours I meditated on the Bible and asked God to make me more like His Son and the people I had read about. And, I did it all without food!
I can honestly say that up to that point in my life it was the closest that I had ever felt to God, and I was hungry for more. As time went on and I got married, went to seminary, and got a full-time job, I would often find myself thinking back to that tent in the woods. If there was something big that I needed God to do in my life I would take a day to fast and pray. If there was something that I wanted God to do in my ministry I would skip a meal and seek God, and every time, I saw God show up in ways that I didn’t think possible. Because I was fasting, God moved in different and abnormal ways because I was hungry for Him and seeking His face. In fact, Foster says in his book, “Throughout Scripture fasting refers to abstaining from food for spiritual purposes.” God meets us in a special way when we fast.
“God meets us in a special way when we fast.”
In Daniel 10, Daniel had a vision that was incredibly troubling to him. To find answers, he went to God in prayer and fasting. Daniel 10:2 says:
“When this vision came to me, I, Daniel, had been in mourning for three whole weeks. All that time I had eaten no rich food. No meat or wine crossed my lips, and I used no fragrant lotions until those three weeks had passed.”
Daniel abstained from his normal foods so he could seek God and God showed up! In fact, in Daniel 10:12 God responded to Daniel, and look what He said:
“Then he said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer.”
God showed up for Daniel because he had fasted and prayed. That’s what I wanted in my life and so fasting became part of my regular spiritual rhythm.
Then, in 2013 Brentwood Church introduced a corporate fast. I was so excited for the rest of my church to experience what I had experienced since I was a junior in college. However, my excitement quickly turned to competition and a sense of “I’m better than you because I have more experience at this,” or “I can go longer without food than you can.” As my competitive spirit grew, I lost sight of why I was fasting. I started focusing on the “rules” of fasting—and how I could keep them better than everyone else—not seeking God and asking for more of Him. In hindsight, I should have known this would have happened, because Foster warned me this all those years ago when I read A Celebration of Discipline.
“Whenever there is a form devoid of spiritual power, law will take over because law always carries with it a sense of manipulative power.”
Law manipulated my thoughts and reasons for fasting and God wasn’t showing up the way that I wanted Him to. I had to step back and recalibrate, bring myself back to that tent in the woods where I was desperately seeking God. I had to remember what I really wanted from fasting: more of God.
This year, people have asked me what type of fast I’m doing, and my response is not to share, because I don’t want to make this fast about the law and about competition. At the beginning of 2019, I want to seek God and go through the fast as He leads me, more concerned about seeking Him than following the rules. So, I want to leave you with two encouragements:
- Participate in the fast. Whether this is your very first time fast, or your hundredth, everyone can participate in the fast. All of us can abstain from some form of food, whether it’s from cutting out sugar, joining the Daniel Fast, skipping a meal, or in other ways. No matter how you participate, join our church in hungering for more of God and seeking Him in prayer.
- Seek God. If you find yourself participating in the fast to follow the rules, be a better Christian, beat your friends and neighbors—or if you find yourself tired and angry because you aren’t eating—pause, and ask God to recalibrate your heart and attitude to hunger for more of Him.