Fasting: why do I bother with it?
The rumble of my stomach, the light wooziness I'm feeling in my head, the need for mints while I drink endless water and tea...
That's right, I'm fasting.
No, I'm not super holy and yes, I do struggle with it.
I've tried to build fasting into my life regularly over the last few years but today it feels particularly difficult. It may be due to the amount of exercise I did last night, general tiredness, feeling a little under the weather...
Whatever the reasons it feels hard today. But, let's face it, fasting is hard. And I think that's part of the point – it isn't supposed to be easy. It's about focusing our attention; using that time that we would normally be eating to come before God.
Now that in itself can be quite a challenge. I have skipped breakfast, but I certainly didn't have time to pour out my heart in prayer to God while making sure the kids got ready for school. It's now, after the school run, that I have a bit of space and that I can focus on coming before Him.
Fasting is one of those strange disciplines isn't it? We are under grace, so we don't have to do it, but, if we look at what Jesus said about fasting He referred to 'when you fast' rather than 'if', which means He expected it to be a part of the disciples' lives.
I can remember using any excuse not to fast (being pregnant is obviously a very fitting one, but running around after small children – well, not so convincing)! And I enjoyed the 'grace' statement of "fast whatever you want, it doesn't have to be food". That liberated me to fast TV for a night, rather than actually make much of an effort.
However, over recent years I've been challenged to take another look at the whole area of fasting. Turning again to the Scriptures I found that Acts is full of examples of the disciples praying and fasting when they had major decisions to make (see Acts 13:2 and Acts 14:23 for two). I truly believe it is supposed to be part of the natural pattern of our lives as Christians and often holds the key to unlocking difficult situations.
I regularly fast to see breakthrough in situations – within my own family or as a way of standing with a friend going through difficulties. But I also have times when I spontaneously decide to fast, like this morning. Believe me, I'm not really a spontaneous person so I usually take note of those small nudges inside that seem to be suggesting I do something out of my usual routine.
I find that, rather than spending long periods in prayer over what would have been meal times, that I use the hunger pangs as triggers for shorter prayer times.
There is such an intensity to fasting – the mind begins to feel dense and heavy and longs to wander, but the growling and pangs in the stomach really do focus you in a way nothing else does. Praying through the pain is quite an experience – not an easy one but one that does indeed draw us closer to God in quite a unique way.
So, if you've never tried fasting can I encourage you to set aside a time to do it? Lent is a fantastic time to start and it will certainly aid your spiritual fitness. Be realistic though – start small rather than deciding to go for a 40-day fast the first time you try it. Why not skip one meal once a month to start with? If you do something that is achievable to begin with you can build on it later, once fasting is part of your routine. If you already fast regularly I'd just like to give you some encouragement to keep going. Yes it's tough, but it's worth it!