I feel kind of lame when I say this, but I do not enjoy the spiritual discipline of fasting, because it usually just leaves me feeling annoyed and inconvenienced. Even so, I’m finally coming to a place where I appreciate it a lot more than I used to.
There are some folks who completely eliminate food from their diets for several days at a time when they fast; and let me assure you, I am not one of those folks. For legitimate, medical reasons, I’m not even allowed to do that (thank God). So instead, when I fast, I only allow myself to eat certain foods for a period of time; or perhaps I’ll cut out all the sugar and dairy from my diet.
I know, I know – for those folks who go whole hog with fasting, eliminating a few foods is no big deal; but nonetheless, I’ve found that God works through my little offering in a couple of significant ways.
First, God uses fasting to help me see what He’s doing. In 2003, when my seven-month-old nephew Canaan was dying of a rare illness, the doctors offered us no hope. He had been rushed to the hospital on Tuesday, and by Saturday night, the doctors solemnly told my brother and sister-in-law that they were “going to have to make some tough decisions on Monday.” We all knew it was a death sentence and that it would take a miracle to turn things around; so I decided to fast and pray until Monday morning.
The reason I fasted was because I believed God wanted to heal Canaan, but I needed to stop being distracted by the doctors’ grim faces, the prognosis, the ten machines hooked up to his body, and the two respirators down his throat. I needed to use my eyes of faith to see what God was doing and be less dependent on my physical eyes, which told me that nothing could save Canaan. So I stepped away from eating for a couple of days and focused on God’s power to heal Canaan supernaturally.
On Monday morning, before the doctor could give my brother and sister-in-law a recommendation to remove life support, Canaan’s exhausted little organs miraculously started reviving, and Canaan began his long road to recovery. I don’t mean to say that my fasting and praying alone saved Canaan – in fact, hundreds of people were praying for him that weekend – but I do believe it was a vital part of the chorus of faith that moved God’s heart.
Second, God uses fasting to reveal my heart. When it comes to food, folks in the Western world feel a strong sense of entitlement to eat what we want, when we want it, how we want it. When we sin, we feel a similar sense of entitlement to commit the sin we want, so we can get what we want, regardless of how it will affect others – kind of like Adam and Even did when they ate the forbidden fruit in the garden.
Fasting from foods we “deserve” opens the door for God to show us ways we may feel entitled to sin. For example, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that during a recent fast, I began to see how I felt entitled to be bossy and demanding with my wife and kids. As I continued to deprive myself of the foods I thought I needed, I realized that I had to use that same kind of self-denial when I was frustrated with my family and wanted to raise my voice.
There are all kinds of ways you can get weird about fasting – like using it for weight loss, trying to make God like you, or trying to impress the other Pharisees around you (Matthew 6:16-18). But if you will embrace it as an opportunity to engage with God spiritually, you may be surprised to discover how it increases your appetite for His will.
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34:8).