“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting but only to your father, who is unseen; and your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
The Bible assumes that fasting – abstaining from food, in this context – is one of the normal practices of Christian life. The language is “WHEN” you fast, not “IF” you fast. Jesus and his disciples fasted regularly.
My journey with fasting started a few years ago when I heard a friend speak about her own 40 day fast; no food at all, just non-alcoholic drinks. I was challenged by her words so I tried it for myself, fasting for two days each week of Lent.
Since then I have been fasting almost every year for Lent and beyond. Here are three things I’ve learnt through the process:
Fasting shows us how quickly we rely on things, rather than God. Every time I thought about food (which happened a lot!) I was reminded why I was fasting, so I started to pray.
In the Bible, fasting and praying appear side by side; it is vital to humble yourself before God and ask for His help in the process. This act of praying became a daily reminder that in my life, I am not in control. God is. Day to day, I rely on so many things that are not God; yet fasting is a way to focus on our need of God in all things.
“Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”
As my hunger reminded me to pray more throughout the day, I became more aware of God’s presence. I believe God works and is constantly active, through us and through others.
Being aware of God’s presence opened my eyes to how He works. As a result, I was so much more aware of answers to prayers I had prayed – both little prayers such as keeping rain away (despite forecasts predicting heavy downpours) – to more significant prayers for breakthrough in my brother’s depression.
Fasting opens up space for God to take us into a deeper relationship with him. Andrew Murray, the South African pastor, said:
“Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”
The week before Easter, my husband and I went on holiday so I decided not to fast during that time. Yet, on the evening before Good Friday, before we were scheduled to drive home, I felt the Spirit whispering and inviting me to fast the next day.
I decided to accept he invitation but didn’t really expect much to happen – except being moody and hungry. However, God hijacked the car journey by speaking very clearly; a precious moment of intimacy where He was telling me what he thought about me; something I might have missed if I’d been distracted by eating snacks in our car. The following night I also had a significant dream, and received a strong sense that God was announcing that he would open my eyes to more of His reality.
God doesn’t impose on us – He often waits for our invitation and our decision to make more space for His presence, which requires a daily decision to surrender everything to Him.
For me, this looks like continuing to make fasting a normal practice in my daily life. It’s not easy, but God keeps surprising me by taking my invitation and small efforts – that’s all he needs – and responding with intimacy and new revelation.