What is the point of fasting?
So often I want breakthrough and change just like that. I want to pray and see change right now. I want God to provide the money I need for the end of the month right now.
Here is the thing: we have a gracious God and so often He does answer our prayers quickly. Sometimes He answers us before we have even properly prayed about it - we may just have had a thought cross our mind and He has already dispatched the answer. But other times change and breakthrough do not come so quickly. Often there is a period of discomfort that comes first. Sometimes that discomfort is necessary in order for a miracle to take place or for us to have the character to sustain the miracle.
I found it really hard to get my head around fasting food as a young adult. I fasted regularly, but it took me a while to really understand why. To start off with I felt led to believe that it was in order to get God to do something. There was this feeling (based on a literal interpretation of Jesus telling the disciples they couldn't get out a demon because they hadn't fasted) that said: ‘if you want something you don’t have, you have to try harder. Fasting is a great way to try harder - that will show God you are serious and then He will answer your prayer.’ As I learned more about grace, that didn’t seem to be the right spirit for fasting - we aren't trying to manipulate God into doing something for us - that is a form of witchcraft, so then I wondered why we did it at all. What was the point? Why would you want to feel weak and hungry and irritable? That is no fun for anyone.
When Mark and I first came to Peru for a 7 month visit, back before we had kids and lived here, we used to fast one day a week. It was hard and we would get hungry quickly. I volunteered in a preschool some mornings and it was a long walk down the hill to get back. On fasting days I would feel really weak and faint. I kept trying to work out why we were fasting and after a couple of weeks I felt the Holy Spirit call 2 Corinthians 12:9 to mind: "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
I realized that feeling weak was actually part of the point of fasting! Weakness created a need for help and that meant I would call on God. When I felt faint or irritable I would call on God and find that His grace and power enabled me to continue. I would experience His supernatural grace and power! I’m not saying I didn’t feel hungry or irritable anymore, but rather that I found I was looking to God more - the fasting became a signpost, a reminder to keep looking to Him and calling on Him and to be dependent on Him. It created space in my life for Him.
Fasting food and any other intentional acts of self-denial are meant to create a place of discomfort. It is not meant to be easy because if it was easy, we would not need any help. The point is to do something that we can’t do on our own. That creates a need and a space for God to come in and fill. It makes room for God’s power.
So many of us want miracles and to see miracles, but we fail to realize that in order for a miracle to take place there has to be a lack of something. You get miraculous provision when you are in financial need. You get miraculous healing when you are sick. People who are well don’t need a healing miracle. People who are financially secure don't need miraculous provision.
So as I embrace fasting this month in different ways I am realizing how much I tend to treat God as my servant rather than my Master. How much I dictate what goes on in my life rather than God. How much I have my preferences for things and feel a right to do things as I choose.
But I am also experiencing the intimacy of surrender. Of recognizing my weaknesses and which habits and mindsets and preferences in my life control me. I am seeing the uncomfortable beauty of allowing God to speak into those situations and to shake them up and help me be more intentional and purposeful in the ways I live my life.
True change and breakthrough are uncomfortable. Even the Son of Man couldn’t come back to life again without going to the cross and grave. Jesus deliberately surrendered to 40-days of wilderness and fasting as the Spirit drove him into the desert, and as a result Jesus came out in the power of the Holy Spirit. I am believing that as I embrace fasting this month, God too will empower me to lead a life more surrendered to Him and more intentionally focused on Him.
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