Fast: Day 40!

Day 40 has ended, and I just broke my fast with what I’m certain was the best piece of watermelon God ever created.  Now begins the process of slowly introducing foods back into my body.  The temptation is to feast, but I have to give my body a chance to get its digestive processes restarted gradually.

I don’t know where to begin to summarize the spiritual significance of these past 40 days.  The best analogy I can come up with is that many, many things went from black & white to color.  There’s a vibrancy to my understanding of who I am in relation to God that’s hard to put into words.  But here are some words — I just doubt they will mean nearly as much to you as they do to me right now…

I’m sure I’ll be talking for years about lessons I’ve learned from self-denial; from extreme weakness;  and from spending time just being attentive to God’s presence and noticing His involvement in my life.

But if I’m going to pull out one theme that continued to grow and become more and more meaningful through every experience and every other lesson, it would be this:  Christ’s supremacy and all-sufficiency.

Nothing else in life carries any meaningful significance compared to the hope, joy, and peace that is ours because of our reconciliation with God that was accomplished through Christ’s sinless life and death on the cross.  The significance of this is not just for eternal salvation, but for living out our daily lives now.  Understanding the truth and implications of that sacrifice brings meaning to my life.  My burdens are lifted and I am set free because nothing depends on me — Christ is sufficient in everything.   That makes scriptures like these (and hundreds more) carry new meaning:

  • “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mat 11:28-30)
  • So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  (2Cor 4:16-18)
  • For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18)
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13)

That all of the brokenness and sins and failures of my life are swept away by the love of an Almighty God is overwhelming.  As I come to grips with that truth, how could I (or anyone!) help but commit myself to a life that pleases Him?

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Fast: Day 26

I realized on Friday that I was mentally geared toward breaking the water fast and starting on juices on the 21st day.  I’m not sure why, probably because somewhere I had read that the body starts consuming healthy tissues somewhere between 21 and 40 days.  I guess I was anticipating being at the short end of that spectrum.  I also had blood tests scheduled for that day and fully expected my electrolytes would be low enough to trigger some concern.

But come Friday, my stomach was quite satisfied — no sense of hunger pangs or other physical symptoms that would suggest a change of diet was in order.  The lab results came in early Saturday morning (thanks to online access to test results!) and the electrolytes were still right on the edges of normal ranges.  I admit I was a little disappointed, since I was looking forward to a change of routine.  But I resisted the temptation to say that 21 days was good enough and reaffirmed my original commitment to stay on water until I had physical reasons to switch.

Sunday morning, as Day 23 entered its final hours (my days start about 1PM), my stomach started to feel uncomfortable, similar to the discomforts that are typical on about the second day of a fast.  I waited to see if this was a passing state or if it was going to keep growing.  I prayed that God would once again confirm whether this was the time to break the water fast.

The physical symptoms continued to grow, so about 3PM I decided it was time for juices.  I felt at peace spiritually with that decision.  So for several days I’ve been juicing fruits and vegetables, alternating between about four ounces of fruit juices and four ounces of vegetable juices every few hours.

Four ounces is about all my stomach would take at first before feeling full, especially as I’ve tried to keep my water consumption up. Now I’m up to where I can take 8-12 ounces at a time, although I still need to spread that out over 30-60 minutes.

My energy level started rising within a few hours.  While it’s still low, it’s significantly improved over what it was on water.

The weakness experienced during the water fast taught me a lot about the incredible value of self-denial, quietness, solitude, and a slower pace of life. We miss so much when running at breakneck speed — and we have no idea what we’re missing!  More of that to come, I’m sure, in future posts.  But for now the challenge is to hold on to these values as my life becomes more active again.  I appreciate that my energy won’t be back to full strength for a while, since this period is providing sort of a “half-way house” for me to practice incorporating these values into my normal life.

Fast: Day 17

This weekend my energy level hit a low that was below what I was expecting.  Walking from my car into the house was a strenuous task that would force me to take a brief rest.  I found myself wondering if this level of energy was a physical indicator that it was time to switch from water only to a juice fast.  Would my energy just keep getting lower and lower until I couldn’t even get out of bed?  Is that what God wants me to experience?

I wrestled with that decision Saturday night and Sunday morning, trying to sort out whether this was wisdom saying it’s time to switch or a temptation luring me to give up early on what I believe God has called me to do.  After all, one of my desires for this fast is to sharpen my ability to discern between my own ideas and God’s leading.

Sunday morning, although my physical state had not improved, I suddenly sensed an overwhelming peace about deciding that it wasn’t time to start taking juices yet.  Apart from God’s Spirit, there is no rational explanation for why I started feeling this way.

As I was praying Saturday night and asking God to help me see anything that was getting in the way of my communication with Him, I was aware of a conversation I needed to have with someone that I really didn’t want to have.  But being committed to my frequent statement that there is nothing more important to me than my relationship with God, I decided to have that conversation on Sunday.  I believe there is a tie between that decision to be obedient (which I did follow through on) and God giving me a peace about the decision before me.

Sunday evening and Monday my energy returned to the higher levels I had grown accustomed to earlier in the fast.  Had I given in, I believe I would have missed the blessing of seeing God honor my obedience to do what pleases Him.

May we all learn to live in communion with God in a way that allows us to recognize His voice and experience His peace.

Fast: Day 11

This week has gone pretty much as expected physically.  I’m feeling a little weaker than normal, but stronger than I did at the beginning.  I walked two miles with a friend this morning, but that was about my limit.

Light-headedness has been the biggest challenge, especially in the mornings.  But that has translated into a slower pace of doing things that provides one of the benefits of a fast:  an opportunity to contemplate life a little more thoroughly.

I felt some lower back discomfort for a couple of days, which I recognized as an early indication of dehydration.  So I increased my water intake (currently about 90 oz./day) and that went away.  I had blood tests done on Friday, and so far my electrolyte levels are still within normal range, but I know they will be falling.  Too much water eliminates much needed electrolytes, too little results in dehydration.

Spiritually, I’m feeling incredibly blessed.  I wonder if I am actually being exceptionally blessed right now, or if I’m just much more aware of the blessings that I would normally just overlook.  I suspect a little of both.

I’m often asked what I’m seeking to achieve through this fast.  Although the timing was triggered by being out of work, it is not about asking God to bring me a job or meet any other specific physical needs.  I don’t believe I need to fast to get God to provide for my family’s needs.  Here are my primary goals for this fast:

  • To humble myself before God and tangibly demonstrate to Him (and myself) via this act of worship that nothing is more important to me than Him – not my appetites, not my physical comfort, not my energetic activities, not my coffee, or my typical October motorcycle trips.  It’s easy to state such things, but physically demonstrating our values reinforces the commitment behind our words.
  • To learn to recognize the prompting of the Holy Spirit more clearly.  Clearing away as much of the clutter of this world as possible to be able to hear the gentle whispers of God.
  • To ask God to use this fast to prepare and equip me to do the things that Isaiah 58 proclaims to be the results God wants to see from a fast:

Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh? “

– Isaiah 58:6-7, The New King James Version

If that’s what it takes to please God, that’s what I want from this fast.  It’s ultimately not about what I want, but what God wants.

Fast: Day 5

A number of people have asked, so I guess I’ll provide periodic progress reports on my fast.

I started my fast on Friday afternoon since I find starting and ending a fast in the evenings works well for me.  So as of this afternoon, I’m now into Day 5.

Physically, Day 2 and into Day 3 were the most uncomfortable days as my body adjusted off its normal dietary expectations.  I continue to be low on energy and have to be careful about standing up too quickly or I get light-headed.  I learned that the hard way by standing up too quickly and falling yesterday morning.  The corner of a bookshelf tried to help me stay off the ground, but all it did was put a gash in my head.  We debated on going for a stitch or two, but the bleeding eventually stopped so we didn’t.

In the mornings I tend to be particularly low on energy.  I had a 7:30 meeting yesterday morning and decided I felt strong enough to drive the car but thought the motorcycle might be pushing it.  I went into work on the bike later in the day and that felt fine.  For those who don’t know, I’ve resigned from my job of 20 years, so last Friday was my last full day of work.  However, I agreed to work some short days this week to wrap up some things.

I spend most of my days reading, resting, praying, resting, writing, resting, drinking water, and resting.  I do throw in the occasional physical activity, but it doesn’t take much to drain my energy.  Like today I put air in the car tires, then came in for a brief rest.

Fasting helps me contemplate and re-calibrate my life around being instead of always doing.  Our Western culture teaches us to find value in what we accomplish rather than who we are.  The irony is that our most meaningful achievements are rooted in who we are, so if we don’t pay attention to building that our accomplishments tend to be shallow.

Tomorrow may be a challenging day.  I’m going into work from 8:30 until at least  2:00, then plan to come home for a nap before a meeting from 6-9pm.  I’m not sure how well my energy will carry me through that schedule. (I’m taking the car, not the motorcycle tomorrow!)

The Lost Art of Fasting

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is strongly taught in the Bible.  So why is it a relatively uncommon practice in Christianity today?  Moses, Elijah, and Jesus all fasted for forty days.  David, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, John’s disciples, Anna the prophetess, Paul, and Barnabas and many others fasted.  Some fasts were apparently supernaturally supported (such as Moses’ two forty day fasts without food or water), others were more natural (such as David’s fast “until evening” at the death of Saul and Jonathan).  Some only involved sustaining from certain foods (such as Daniel’s three weeks without “tasty food”, meat, or wine).  Fasting can take different forms and can be done for different reasons.

Of course, like any good thing, fasting has sometimes been abused.  In some periods of Christian history it was part of an extremist asceticism.  Jesus warned (Matthew 6) against fasting like the hypocrites who do it for show.  But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Our Western culture with its rules-based mentality and self-indulgent morality is way too quick to take Jesus’ warning against that behavior and make it into a rule that says we should never talk about our fasting.  Reading it as a gag rule instead of the warning it was intended to be creates a leadership gap where we lack examples of respected leaders who practice this discipline.  So let’s guard against our prideful motivations but not neglect our responsibility to lead by example.  I’ve appreciated the example of Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), for his years of leadership in this discipline.

One of the most intriguing biblical examples of fasting is in 1 Kings 21.  King Ahab, spurred on by his wife Jezebel, is declared to be the most evil of all the kings of Israel.  And yet this most evil of men humbled himself before God with fasting (1 Kings 21:29) and God responded by delaying the judgment He had declared on Ahab’s house.  If God responds this way to evil men who humble themselves, imagine how He will respond to the humility of those who love Him!

At issue is the state of our heart.  Our actions both flow out of our heart and influence our heart.  So when we fast as an act of worship, we reinforce the heart condition and the actions that declare that nothing — even our self-indulgent appetites — are more important to us than God.

Fasting, in various forms, has been an important part of my spiritual life for years.  For over a decade, I’ve wanted to do a forty-day fast, and at last I find myself with the opportunity to do so.

Not everyone is medically fit or spiritually called to a lengthy fast.  But whether skipping a meal, staying away from a favorite food for a while, or some other form, I encourage you to prayerfully consider developing the spiritual discipline of fasting as worship.

To learn more about fasting wisely and safely, check out http://www.cru.org/training-and-growth/devotional-life/personal-guide-to-fasting/index.htm or Arthur Wallis’ book, God’s Chosen Fast.