Fasting is challenging, for sure, but often people misunderstand what is hard about fasting. Hunger pangs are definitely unpleasant, but they’re not the most uncomfortable thing about fasting.
Weakness, the inconvenience to daily life and mood swings are some of the harder things about it. Our bodies crave food when we start a fast, so the hunger pangs are loud and often. If you’re fasting a day a week, that’s a reality that’s always with you. Hunger pangs go away after 2-4 days when your body kicks into its natural preservation mode.
It’s interesting, then, that your body is designed and more than capable of handling little or no calories for extended periods. There are physical methods our bodies employ to deal with it. I won’t go into the science of it now, but I’ve always been fascinated by the fact God made us this way. So it’s not the physical ramifications that fasting is intended for, but the psychological consequences. Our bodies were made to deal with fasting; our minds weren’t.
Fasting puts us into very close contact with feelings, emotions and realities that we rarely consider otherwise. The physical changes produce unpleasant mood swings because we’re dramatically altering our body chemistry. If you’ve ever attempted a few fasts, you know what I’m talking about. You become very aware of what James meant when he said, “who can tame the tongue?” (James 3:8)
Little things bother you and you have less ability to cope with them. In some ways you feel like a 4 year-old who can’t control his or her emotions. That feeling of vulnerability and lack of control is normally enough to keep me away. I like to feel in control and fasting takes that away, and that gets me to thinking about who’s really in control.
While I fast, especially for short periods, I hate the seemingly out of control emotions and irritations I feel. It makes me contemplate the reality that I probably don’t have great control over those things any other time either, but I’ve leaned to hide it and convince myself that I really am in control.
I’m not talking about self-control here. We’re all called to be mild-tempered and self-controlled in our actions (1 Peter 5:8). I’m talking about that temptation that’s common to man where we try to control ourselves for the sake of “earning it” before God.
Trying to earn God’s favor through self-righteous behavior isn’t something that goes away when we accept Jesus. Our enemy knows just how devastating it is to our souls and he attacks us mercilessly with the notion that we should be living better and doing better if we want God to love us.
There’s no lie so destructive to our soul because it’s so subtle. It’s hard to even recognize that it’s there, but it lies in wait for us and persecuted our soul as we struggle to live in a way we feel is pleasing to God. Fasting brings us face to face with that lie.
Getting In Touch
There’s nothing we can do to earn God’s love, favor or salvation. When I fast, I see clearly that all my attempts to be better for God fall flat. I realize that I’ve never been in control of my salvation, sanctification or anything else. God’s mercy over me is all-consuming and it is overwhelming.
Perhaps you encounter these realities apart from fasting, but I’ve not experienced anything in life that tenderizes my heart so fully and quickly as fasting. As I attempt to fast more regularly, would you consider doing the same? I promise you’ll be blessed by your heightened awareness of your need for God.
Disclaimer: There are certain medical conditions for which you shouldn’t fast. Whereas I encourage all believers who can to fast, make sure that your body can actually handle it. For most people, you already know which conditions this applies to. If not, consult with your doctor before attempting any length fast.