Fasting. What comes to mind when you hear the word? Some think of the rigorous fasting some of our Muslim friends undergo for Ramadan. Some think of men in the Bible who went 40 days with no food or drink as they dedicated themselves to prayer. Still others may be reminded of times they attempted to fast – with varying levels of success.
The term is on the lips of many at Focus as some are fasting this month. So what is fasting? And why do we do it?
I’ll start with what fasting is not. Fasting is not a requirement, or an obligation. Those participating in Focus’ fast are doing so completely voluntarily, and it does not make them any more holy or good than those who don’t participate.
Fasting does not in any way earn our salvation and forgiveness, and it’s not a way to manipulate God into answering our prayers.
Fasting is also not about dieting and weight loss. Some do experience weight loss. With the kind of fast some of us at Focus are participating in, many people say they feel better after cutting out processed foods and preservatives. But that’s simply a by-product, not the goal.
So what is fasting about? Fasting is a spiritual discipline. It’s a way to tangibly illustrate your commitment to Christ by giving up one of the humanity’s favorite items – food! But it’s not just about what we give up. Every time we find ourselves craving a chocolate bar or some lamb pelmeni, we are reminded that we are abstaining. We are reminded to turn our minds from our vices and desires to God. And we realize that our desire for God – who created all that ever was – should be so much greater than our desire for earthly pleasures.
So what are the “rules” of fasting? Since this fast is completely voluntary, that’s up to you! Many of us at Focus are participating in a 21-day “Daniel fast.” The basis for a Daniel fast comes from Daniel 10 in the Bible. Daniel was an advisor to the king, and had access to all the decadent foods the king could eat. After a startling vision, however, he went into mourning and dedicated himself to prayer. He still ate, but verse 3 says, “I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips.”
During a Daniel fast, fasters eat fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and natural seasonings and spices. They avoid, however, all meat and animal products (like dairy and eggs), sweeteners, bread with yeast, refined and processed foods, fats and beverages except for 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice. Instead of the man-made foods of convenience many of us have become accustomed to, the diet is restricted to plants and seasonings as God made them.
For some, no meat or caffeine seems like a major sacrifice. Some won’t need to make many changes at all. Some may be looking to give up even more, and go for a more strict fast. Some fast by giving up all food and drinks from sundown to sunup. That task isn’t quite as difficult in January as it is in August!
The length of a fast can also vary. Many of us at Focus have followed the Daniel fast all day, every day for 21 days. Others chose to participate for one week. Or to participate during the week but not on weekends. Or some have fasted a particular meal, but maintained their usual diet the rest of the day.
Our most recent corporate fast comes to an end this Sunday, but it’s never too late to join! You are also welcome to fast on your own any time of the year.
Regardless of how you have participated over the past few weeks, God can use this time of focused prayer to strengthen and unite our church!
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:12-13