The Joy of Saying No
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” ~ Matthew 4:1-3
Just yesterday my sister posted my new favorite video of my nearly 7 year old niece. The video features one of her original songs which I have entitled “Gonna Eat Pizza Anyway.” Much to her dismay, she takes after her mom because she is very lactose intolerant and LOVES cheese. Thus, the inspiration for her new hit single:
Putting cheese on my pizza
Even though I’m lactose intolerant
So I can’t eat pizza but I’m going to anyway!
Apparently her mom’s attempt at persuading her to have some cheese-less pizza for lunch wasn’t going well. Honestly, I can’t blame the girl. After all, I love cheese as well. And let’s be real for a moment and just acknowledge that cheese-less pizza is just a fancy way of saying breadsticks.
We all have things in our lives which would do us well to be rid of, at least for a season. Maybe it isn’t cheese, or any food for that matter, but it could be social media. Or binge watching TV shows. Or spending too much time at the office instead of with your family. Everyone has some habit which isn’t healthy for them, especially when it comes to their spiritual health.
Facing those unhealthy habits is where the spiritual discipline of fasting comes into play. The season of Lent, with its focus on the 40 days in the desert where Jesus fasted, makes it a natural time to for many Christians to consider engaging in a fast of some sort so that they would grow deeper in their relationship with God. One of my favorite analogies I found in researching this topic stated that “Fasting in the kale of spiritual disciplines. We know it’s good for us, but we don’t seek it out on the menu.”
So what is spiritual fasting all about? First and foremost it is about mindset and motivation. Spiritual fasting is NOT about jumpstarting a diet nor it is a form of self-punishment. In spiritual fasting, God is calling us to something very different. He is calling us to give up something so that we might be better able to focus on Him and deepen our relationship with Him. Spiritual fasting is essentially saying, “God, I need YOU more than.......”
A spiritual fast is most often for a time and for a purpose. Jesus fasted for 40 days as a way to be prepared for Satan’s temptations just before he began his public ministry. And while Jesus time in the desert is the primary example of fasting given during this season of Lent, it is important to note that fasting is mentioned over 60 times throughout Scripture. Purposes for fasting include the repentance of sin, seeking God’s wisdom and direction, as an expression of grief or mourning, and in times of intense intercessory prayer. It is also worth noting that fasting is hard. It is something which a lot of us are uncomfortable doing because we live in a culture which tells us we should be uncomfortable when we are without something we want.
OK, let’s get down the nitty gritty. How, exactly, do you fast correctly? I’ll answer that question with another question: What is the Holy Spirit asking you to fast from? The truth is that you can fast from anything and everything but unless the Holy Spirit is part of your fasting, you’ll likely just find yourself crabby and denied some pleasure in life. So the first step is to pause for a moment and seek guidance from the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t have to be something big and complicated but it should be something meaningful. The one thing I can promise you it WON’T be is something which endangers your health and well-being. Fasting doesn’t include medications for your physical or mental health. It doesn’t include letting yourself become dangerously dehydrated or malnourished.
The next step is to realize there is a wide-range of ways to fast. Just in talking about fasting from something food related you could:
- Fast from an “extra” food such as desserts or soda.
- Fast from a particular meal such as lunch.
- Fast all day for one day a week.
- Fast from one meal, one day a week.
- Fast from one meal every day of the week.
- Fast from certain categories of food such as meat, dairy, or gluten…for any of the timelines mentioned above.
Additionally, fasting isn’t limited to food. Food is a popular one because it is easy to measure success. Additionally, we tend to eat meals around the same time each day so it is easy to plan to take that time to spend with God instead of eating. However, anything which has the potential to distract us from listening to the voice of God is a candidate for fasting. One year, for example, I fasted from late night television. At 10pm, my TV was shut off for the night. If I wasn’t ready to go to sleep, I spent time reading my Bible, journaling, or otherwise spending time with God. I know many people who fast from Facebook or other social media during Lent and instead spend that time dedicated to prayer. A key point to remember here is to KEEP IT SIMPLE. You are more likely to stick to your fast if you keep it simple.
Finally, perhaps the quirky fun fact I enjoy the most about a Lenten fast is that technically, Sunday’s are a day off. Perhaps you have done the math and realized that there are more than 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. That’s because Sunday’s don’t count. We have the culmination of 2000 years of Catholic tradition to thank for this quirky little detail. Sundays, because we always remember and celebrate what Christ has done for us in gathering to worship, are always feast days. We have feast days in all parts of our lives. We eat the cake at the birthday party. We buy the new outfit or electronic gadget when we reach our work goal. We take the vacation days and do something fun as a break from our daily routine. Similarly, during Lent, Sunday’s are a day we can take a break and really celebrate our relationship with God.
- Take a few minutes and check out the video below which talks more about fasting.
- Spend some time considering if God is calling you to participate in a Lenten fast this year. It’s never too late to start.
- Dive deeper into studying other times fasting is mentioned in Scripture. Check out this blog by clicking HERE for a good place to start!