There was a time in my life when a friend of mine jokingly told me “you should do a fast from fasting.” He meant well. I was in a season where I had several times of fasting right after another. What’s worse is I tend to be a perfectionist, “rule follower” type personality. So, although I may resist a fast at first, when I get into I get REALLY into it. Something about me loves the challenge of restrictions. Yeah, it’s weird.
But after some time away from the discipline, I have once again jumped in during our church-wide Daniel fast for the next couple weeks. Once again I’m struck by the way that “following the rules” isn’t really the hardest part (and isn’t even the point). The difficult part is really the internal wrestling that I go through, not so much making the choices to eat differently. I’m surprised (although I shouldn’t be) at how much of a whiner and complainer my flesh really is. “Gimme, gimme, gimme” is all I seem to hear.
Fasting is a very valuable spiritual discipline. It is a mechanism by which we let go of some distractions in order to reach out for more of Jesus. It can reveal just how entrenched we are in our habits and comforts, relying on them instead of relying on God to sustain us. The slide into idolatry is a slow creep, and it’s helpful every now and then to push the “reset” button and declare once again with the Apostle Paul, “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12).
Because it wars against our tendencies to be idol-worshipers, fasting is really an act of worship. Fasting helps us to broaden our perspective of what worship really is (not just singing, not just something we do when we go to church). In worship we honor God for who he is and what he has done, and we say a deeper “yes” to Him in our lives. By saying “no” to things that distract us, we make room for his voice to speak louder to our hearts. We clear the way for the searching light of the Holy Spirit to shine on our hearts and show us where Jesus isn’t before all things, and make the adjustments so that he is first. As a friend of mine says, “worship is really about the first-ness of God.” He’s right.
Fasting is a lot like going to the dentist. For many of us, the very idea is appalling. We resist it because we think we don’t need it. But, like so many other things in life, we can’t experience the benefit of the discipline just by thinking our way through it (“Hey, I’m doing pretty good therefore I don’t need to fast”). We have to walk through the self-imposed trial in order to see our true need for Christ.
I’d encourage you to take a step and set aside some time to fast. It doesn’t have to be anything radical. A fast from anything you rely on, no matter how small, will help you see yourself and God more clearly, and God will be faithful to guide you deeper into relationship with him.