Last month, churches across the United States in a 10-day fast for spiritual renewal. The Christian Union generated this initiative to encourage believers across the country to seek the Lord and place the church in a position to experience the Lord’s power in ministering to a culture that is in desperate need of God’s truth and grace.
While the Christian Union emphasized a focus on refraining from eating food, many pastors broadened the fasting concept to include any activity that might interfere with a focus on the Lord. I very much appreciate this concept, and as I’ve considered how the Lord would call me to participate, it has occurred to me that many of my indulgent non-edible habits that would be good candidates for fasting are in fact not good for me. Ever.
There are good reasons to fast from food. Our Lord did so before He started His public ministry. It is a good way to be reminded that we do not live on bread alone but by the power, Spirit, and Word of God. It is also a way to “reset” our priorities and affections to reflect our faith. And fasting from food encourages us to confront any ways that we express our sin nature by abusing food. But God made us to need food and He created food to sustain us. We cannot refrain from food indefinitely. Food is a good blessing from our heavenly Father.
God gives us other blessings, non-food blessings, that we also distort and pervert to please our sin nature. Whenever we use some thing or some activity to feel good about ourselves apart from God, whenever we depend on this thing or activity to earn or prove our value, that thing or activity becomes an idol. It separates us from God and limits what He can do in us and through us. A fast that encompasses such things and activities is appropriate. Some of these things and activities are like food: they are necessary and good. For example, we need to shop in order to acquire what we need. But shopping can also be perverted: we can develop a habit of shopping that is more about feeling good than it is about satisfying genuine needs. Exercising can fall into this category, as can ministry that becomes more and more about us and less and less about our Lord. The possibilities are, tragically, limitless. Other things and activities—also limitless—are in a different category: neither necessary nor good. Gambling and gossiping leap to mind as good examples.
A call to prayer and fasting is a powerful invitation to come before the Lord to be known and sanctified, to become equipped and empowered to serve the Lord and advance His kingdom’s purposes. We can join King David and come before the Lord, to ask Him to search us and know us, and to reveal our lifestyle patterns that reflect our sin nature rather than our faith relationship with Him. Prayer is a crucial component: our hearts are deceitful, and we are not capable of identifying our “pet” sins. But as our sin is revealed, we must confess and repent. Fasting from ingrained sin patterns may be a good start toward spiritual growth and maturity. Some of our favorite sin patterns may in fact be food-centered, but others may involve behaviors other than eating. A fast from those things and activities that the Lord reveals as problematic is an excellent Biblical prescription for spiritual renewal.
In a typical fast, we eliminate meals or all food for a short period of time. But we appropriately return to eating when the fast ends. However, as prayer and fasting reveal unnecessary things and activities that pull us away from the Lord, we have an opportunity to extend the benefits of a fast, to pursue an extended—indefinite—fast from those activities in order to put aside every encumbrance to a life of faith. We would do well to consider carefully what a time of prayer and fasting reveals to us. It may be that when our time of prayer and fasting has been concluded, extending a fast from idols and sinful habits will enable us to experience a richer relationship with the Lord and exercise a more powerful witness in the world.