Over the years I’ve encountered a surprising amount of resistance to the idea of fasting, but not for reasons I would have expected. I try to always gently encourage the idea of fasting. People quickly view you as legalistic if you come across as insisting on fasting as a lifestyle and I want people to know the joy of growing closer to God through this discipline without any hindrances. What surprises me, though, is what people want to consider fasting.
I’ve received lots of pushback and I’ve even been shouted at, by a physician of all people, over the definition of fasting. It’s shocking to me because fasting is a clearly defined discipline that hasn’t changed in thousands of years.
Here’s what I’m talking about: giving up Facebook or watching less television is not fasting. That sounds simple enough, but many many people take serious issue with that. It may not sound all that important to you, but it is very important. For sure, choosing to give up Facebook or television or any other perfectly valid thing is something good to do. Those things really matter to God, but they’re not fasting.
Why aren’t they fasting? Because they aren’t a physical activity. They don’t cause your body to cry out for the very thing it actually needs to survive. I assume we’ve all been asked to fast by our physicians for surgery or blood tests. We’re generally asked to eat nothing after midnight before the day of our procedure. What do you think your doctor would say if you responded, “Sure Doc, I’ll fast. I won’t look at Facebook or watch TV from midnight until my surgery tomorrow.”
It may sound like I’m trying to be cranky and split hairs over things that are good, but the distinction is important because of the underlying motives behind the objections. I’ve seen people get very angry at the suggestion that giving up Facebook, TV or any other good thing isn’t fasting because it takes away easy options for them. Truly fasting, the giving up of food and/or water, is very, very difficult.
Failure is Inevitable
Fasting is so hard, that most people experience lots of failure with it. Nobody likes to feel like a failure, so we alter reality to make ourselves feel good. That’s a dangerous road to head down when it comes to fasting, because we can convince ourselves that we’ve been successful at something that God wants us to never be “successful” at.
Fasting, for all intents and purposes, is supposed to make us feel like a failure. Fasting makes us weak, the very thing our bodies and human psyche war against. It goes against everything in our nature to be weak, but it’s exactly what Jesus asks of us in the sermon on the mount.
If we make fasting into anything we want so that we can redefine it for the purpose of succeeding at it, we have stripped it of any meaning and power it was intended to have. Again, giving up Facebook or TV or anything else that is a valid use of our time and energy is a good thing when we do it with purpose, but it’s not fasting.
Why would God want to make fasting so difficult, then? Why wouldn’t giving up the internet or our favorite program be good enough for fasting? Because fasting is an act of desperation. We fast because we’re so desperate for God’s voice and touch that we’re willing to give up the very thing He created us to need to sustain this life. We’re acknowledging our belonging to something more than this temporal place and yearning for more of what’s eternal.
We have to resist the desire and ability to be successful at fasting. Fasting is all about making our bodies voluntarily weak so that we can come into alignment with the truth; that we are pitifully small, weak creatures in an infinite universe whose only meaning and value come from a Creator where our real strength lies.
Be Good At Fasting
Do you want to be “good” at fasting? Embrace weakness. Embrace failure. Embrace the painful struggle of your human nature that wars against the knowledge of God and overcome it by allowing yourself to be made small. Afflict your soul that you may receive a greater prize.
If all this sounds too hard or like too much to ask, then I encourage you not to fast. Convincing yourself that fasting is something other than truly fasting, I believe, is far more dangerous than not fasting at all. Are you desperate enough for God to give up food? Then do it. Does that sound too radical or like too much trouble? Then don’t. It’s that easy. Fasting must come from a heart position desperate to bring us closer to God.
When we give up valid things to focus more on God, He sees that and honors it. And even when we fast and fail, God enjoys that. He is delighted over us when we try to fast for a day and give up at brunch. He sees our hearts and He rewards well. He answers. He cares about the small things.
So just because fasting is hard, it doesn’t mean that God intends for you to have a long list of extended fasts to claim as a notch on your belt. If all you ever did for the rest of your life was try to fast a day at a time only to break them early every single time, you have a God who sees your desperation and understands your weak flesh. It would have mattered.
So, I encourage you not to make less of fasting than it is. Don’t redefine it to make yourself more successful at it. Embrace it’s true definition and it’s incredibly difficult challenge and allow yourself to be a failure.
I assure you that “success” at fasting is not something most people experience the more they do it. In fact, most people who fast on a regular basis go through periods where it’s easier and harder. That’s natural. I have made fasting a regular part of my life for many years now and I have failed and failed and failed at it. I have broken my fasts early more times than I can count, but I know for certain that God has seen every movement of my heart and that it matters to Him.
What’s your struggle? Have you tried to redefine fasting to make it easier on yourself? Sound off in the comments and let us know.
Next time I’ll be sharing some interesting information I’ve learned along the way about what happens to your body when you fast.