A note from a reluctant faster

For years I said that I couldn’t fast for health reasons; but I couldn’t shake the conviction that came from knowing that Jesus spoke about it in terms of ‘when you fast’, not ‘if you fast’. I knew that to walk in obedience would mean I’d have to get on that train.

So in 2013, I started with baby steps. That first time I fasted only social media and some foods. Then the next time I fasted I moved up to liquids only from 6a.m. – 6p.m. and no meat for the duration of the fast. In 2018 I did the Daniel fast for the first time.

I’ve seen the great benefits of fasting and praying. Big moments in my life, and even turning points, came after times of prayer and fasting. Jesus Himself said there are some demons that don’t leave except through prayer and fasting. I know it works.

You’d be surprised at how the body adapts; I know I was. It appears to be happy for whatever break we give it: whether from meat, bread, rice, potatoes, sugar, dairy, eggs. The dangerous playground is actually the mind and all the senses. Being Belizean, we still have our big meal of the day at lunchtime, so on the days I’m fasting, every morning between eleven and eleven thirty I imagine I can smell rice and beans and stewed chicken cooking on someone’s stove somewhere; yet my stomach gladly accepts the serving of whatever I feed it, even if it’s only beans. That’s the physical side.

Now the emotional side: on some days during a fast you will wake up feeling victorious, on other days you will have to fight a sense of futility about why you are doing this anyway. Some days you can sense walls coming down, on others all you will want to do is sleep and let it all happen without you. But at all times, it is helpful to be aware that this is not for nothing, and that just because you can’t see what effects your fasting and praying have in the spiritual and physical, doesn’t mean that grand things aren’t in fact taking place. 

The self-deprivation might make it feel like the duration of your fast is stretching out unbearably. Being forced to not have something is one thing, but choosing to not have it is quite another. It is an invaluable lesson, and I can only imagine how much fruit it must bear if learned during a person’s teenage years.

This kind of fasting is not about losing weight, cleansing the body, or being healthy; it is about choosing to join our Father in what He wants to do in and around our lives. It’s saying that we care enough about that to go without for a season. It’s joining the battle against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places, (Eph 6:11-13) by proactively choosing what to eat, drink, partake of, and enjoy. It’s being deliberate about saying, “I can wait to have ‘that’ until after the time of fasting is over”.

A great benefit of fasting and prayer is the spiritual clarity that you get during that time that makes it worth it. During times of prayer and fasting you will get words from God that will carry you through seasons. This year I got a word that I didn’t understand. I puzzled over it for a few weeks and then 2020 began to unravel. It was then I understood it. That word will be with me for the rest of my life; but I tell you, I needed it in 2020.

For a successful fast, prayerfully make a list beforehand of the foods and drinks you will allow yourself, and at what times of the day you can have them, what you will abstain from, and what it is that you are praying for. Will social media be a part of the fast? The most important thing isn’t that our fast is extreme, but that it shouldn’t be easy to do, and that we stick to it.

I wish I had learned this when I was a teenager, and that it had become a habitual part of my life long ago. Fasting and praying is a valuable spiritual discipline that I ignored, not because it wasn’t taught, but because I believed I just couldn’t do it. To be honest though, I also thought I didn’t need it. I was wrong.

Another good thing about prayer and fasting is that you can do it anytime. Queen Esther in the Old Testament provided an example that we can still live by today. Faced with a life and death situation for her people and herself, Esther gave a directive for them to fast and pray. The events that unfolded afterwards were a success for them, and millions of lives were saved as a result.

However, praying and fasting isn’t only for the Old Testament. Jesus told His disciples that there are some things that won’t happen except as a result of this spiritual discipline. (Matthew 17:21 NKJV).

Finally, Jesus did provide a caveat for when you fast: “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face.” (Matthew 6:17-18 NLT). It is to be a private matter.

I still don’t enjoy fasting, (I guess that is partly the point), but from the experiences I’ve had with it, I know that the Christian life is enhanced by it – so I’ll keep doing it, and invite you to try it for yourself.

© Debbie Mendoza December 2020. Revised September 2021.

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