Daily Devotional

Lessons from Fasting

Recently I completed my first 40-day fast.  I never thought I would attempt something like that, but I believe the Lord invited me to a different kind of feasting that I couldn’t resist.  It reminded me of what Jesus said to the disciples: “I have food to eat that you do not know about… My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:32, 34).

There were some significant things going on in my life that felt out of my control.  They were too big and too intimidating to handle on my own.  So I wrote in my journal: “I am fasting as a sign of my utter dependence upon God to be the leader he wants me to be… and to seek his wisdom, guidance & strength. I also need God to break the power of overeating in my life.”  Have you ever been in that place where you need God to show up and show off a little to remind you that your circumstances are nothing compared to him?  That’s where I was at.

About 10 years ago I met an interesting man who attempted to fast for 40 days, and he almost died.  His organs started shutting down and he ended up in the hospital.  I never forgot what he said to me: “If you ever try to fast for 40 days, make sure you drink some broth.”  I took his advice to heart and decided to fast from everything except liquids: water, juice, broth, and protein drinks.  

The first few days were challenging.  I couldn’t believe how many food-related events were scheduled on my calendar—my niece’s high school graduation, my wife’s birthday, a road trip, dinner with friends.  What was I supposed to do, cancel everything that involved food and stop living?  Hide inside from every tempting sight and smell?  That didn’t seem right.  Fasting is about overcoming temptation, not pretending it doesn’t exist.  It’s about finding contentment in our circumstances, not hiding from the world.

If I had to summarize my 40-day experience in one word, it would be increase.  God increased my life in so many extraordinary ways.  Let me share a few of them with you.

  1. Increased Freedom.  As strange as it may sound, this fast was liberating.  It freed me from my normal, everyday cares and concerns about food.  I never had to wonder about my next meal… or wrestle with the responsibility of cooking.  The importance of food faded away.  The idol was dethroned.

  2. Increased Self-Control.  One of the most surprising lessons I learned during this fast is that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  I expected to walk around hungry all day, but I didn’t.  That’s because God carried me.  He literally enabled me to succeed, and demonstrated once again that his grace is sufficient.  

  3. Increased Clarity.  Although I didn’t fast in order to lose weight, there were a number of physical benefits that greatly improved my life.  I dropped 30 pounds, my heartburn went away, my brain fog disappeared, I felt healthier, had more energy, and could think more clearly.  Not to sugar-coat it, there were times when I felt exhausted and had to take naps, and I had moments of dizziness where I staggered around like a drunken sailor.  I probably should have consulted a physician.  But overall I felt much better mentally and physically.

  4. Increased Closeness.  When people fast, everyone’s experience is different.  But one common benefit is drawing closer to the Lord.  During my fast there was a sweet, strong, palpable sense of God’s presence that was spiritual food for my soul.  “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8).  In my opinion, that’s the primary purpose of fasting.  It’s not about starving ourselves.  It’s about feasting on God’s presence and finding our joy, satisfaction and contentment in him.  When earthly things like food become less important, heavenly things become clearer.

  5. Increased Prayer.  Last but not least, during my time of fasting God answered my prayers in surprisingly clear and powerful ways.  My mom received a heart valve transplant from one of the top surgeons in the country, God spared me from making a foolish decision that would have been devastating financially, and he brought me through a major situation that was too difficult to handle on my own.

If you’re like me, you probably don’t see yourself as the type of person who would fast for 40 days.  But whether it’s for 4 hours or 40 days, I would encourage every Christian to fast.  For starters, Jesus modeled it (Matthew 4:1–11), he expected us to do it (Matthew 6:16–18), and there are just too many beautiful blessings we will miss out on if we neglect this spiritual discipline.

Fasting from food can be dangerous for people with medical conditions like diabetes.  But everyone can fast from something—coffee, sugar, caffeine, television, social media.  How about you pray about it, and ask God if there is anything he would like you to fast from?

When the Lord leads you to fast, write down your thoughts as you go, along with any lessons he teaches you, so you don’t forget.  And make sure to record your praise reports and God-sightings.  Give him glory for all the sweet and special things he does for you!  Grab a hold of the mighty promises of Scripture and memorize key verses that will uplift you, energize you, and guide you through the day.  Remember, fasting is about feasting on the Bread of Life.  So prepare your heart for a wonderful journey and get started—sooner rather than later.
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