Fasting and Flossing

As a church we are fasting from Sunday Night at 6 till Tuesday night at 6 as we pray through the 2016 Vision. Mark Heger wrote a blog on fasting to give us some of the what, why and how of fasting.

And when you fast...
— Matthew 6:16

When John Bower asked me to write a blog on fasting, at first I was honored and encouraged.  I thought to myself, “He likes my writing style…He respects my knowledge of the bible…He appreciates me!”  But then I realized something:

Getting asked to write about the topic of biblical fasting is pretty much like getting asked to speak at a “Flossing your Teeth” seminar: most people wouldn’t ever want to hear what you have to say, and those that do listen probably won’t ever practice your instructions even if your instructions are helpful.  Because let’s face it, we can all agree that flossing is probably a good discipline for us to practice, but NONE of us are actually going to start flossing anytime soon!  All that being said, it sure feels like I got tricked into writing this…Good one John!

Like flossing, most Christians can agree that fasting is probably a good thing ("My Whole30® is for Jesus!").  There are most likely some hidden benefits that might rise out of depriving yourself from certain luxuries for extended periods of time.  But who would actually want to find out benefits that “might be” when you could enjoy the benefits of the luxuries that “are”?  It seems a little silly doesn't it?  Well good thing “silly” happens to be my specialty.  So sit back, relax, and by the end of this blog you’ll be yearning to fast…and maybe floss.

“Fasting” is the practice of voluntarily giving-up of something that is normally habitual for a defined period of time.  The most popular habit that people give up is eating, but rest assured you are able to fast from anything you feel is routinely important to your day.  Allow me and my friend Wayne to explain.

In Wayne’s book, Systematic Theology he explains 6 key benefits received from fasting.  And sense Wayne is super smart and often difficult to understand, I have decided to “translate” these 6 items for everyone to understand:

1. Fasting makes you realize how weak you are.  Realizing how weak you are increases your humility.  And increasing your humility reminds you how dependent you are on God’s grace.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in your weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

2. Fasting allow you to focus more on prayer.  Imagine how much time you would spend in prayer if you substituted all your [insert your important routine here] time with praying to God!

3. Fasting is a continual reminder for us to sacrifice our personal comfort just as Christ sacrificed Himself for us.

4. Fasting is a tangible example of our ability to abstain from certain desires.  Just as we are able to choose against food, we are also able to choose against our own sin. Our suffering during our fasting is a reminder of our ability to suffer against the temptation to sin. “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.“ (1 Peter 4:1-2)

5. Fasting heightens our spiritual and mental awareness as we focus less on the material things of this world and more on the presence of God in our lives.

6. Fasting is symbolic of our willingness to lay down our lives in order to follow God’s will.  Since we would literally die without food (or Facebook, coffee, SportsCenter, etc.), we are saying that being with God is better than eating and that His presence is enough to sustain us!

Fasting is symbolic of our willingness to lay down our lives in order to follow God’s will.

Getting excited yet?  This flossing seminar is coming to an end, so what are the practicals?  What should we do in light of this new found respect for fasting?  Thankfully the guys at desiringGod gave us a pretty awesome “Beginners Guide to Fasting”.  Check out these steps:

1. Start small.

Don’t go from no fasting to attempting a week-long. Start with one meal; maybe fast one meal a week for several weeks. Then try two meals, and work your way up to a daylong fast. Perhaps eventually try a two-day juice fast.

A juice fast means abstaining from all food and beverage, except for juice and water. Allowing yourself juice provides nutrients and sugar for the body to keep you operating, while also still feeling the affects from going without solid food. It’s not recommended that you abstain from water during a fast of any length.

2. Plan what you’ll do instead of eating.

Fasting isn’t merely an act of self-deprivation, but a spiritual discipline for seeking more of God’s fullness. Which means we should have a plan for what positive pursuit to undertake in the time it normally takes to eat. We spend a good portion of our day with food in front of us. One significant part of fasting is the time it creates for prayer and meditation on God’s word or some act of love for others.

Before diving headlong into a fast, craft a simple plan. Connect it to your purpose for the fast. Each fast should have a specific spiritual purpose. Identify what that is and design a focus to replace the time you would have spent eating. Without a purpose and plan, it’s not Christian fasting; it’s just going hungry.

3. Consider how it will affect others.

Fasting is no license to be unloving. It would be sad to lack concern and care for others around us because of this expression of heightened focus on God. Love for God and for neighbor go together. Good fasting mingles horizontal concern with the vertical. If anything, others should even feel more loved and cared for when we’re fasting.

So as you plan your fast, consider how it will affect others. If you have regular lunches with colleagues or dinners with family or roommates, assess how your abstaining will affect them, and let them know ahead of time, instead of just being a no-show, or springing it on them in the moment that you will not be eating.

Also, consider this backdoor inspiration for fasting: If you make a daily or weekly practice of eating with a particular group of friends or family, and those plans are interrupted by someone’s travel or vacation or atypical circumstances, consider that as an opportunity to fast, rather than eating alone.

4. Try different kinds of fasting.

The typical form of fasting is personal, private, and partial, but we find a variety of forms in the Bible: personal and communal, private and public, congregational and national, regular and occasional, absolute and partial.

In particular, consider fasting together with your family, small group, or church. Do you share together in some special need for God’s wisdom and guidance? Is there an unusual difficulty in the church, or society, for which you need God’s intervention? Do you want to keep the second coming of Christ in view? Plead with special earnestness for God’s help by linking arms with other believers to fast together.

5. Fast from something other than food.

Fasting from food is not necessarily for everyone. Some health conditions keep even the most devout from the traditional course. However, fasting is not limited to abstain from food. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose.”

If the better part of wisdom for you, in your health condition, is not to go without food, consider fasting from television, computer, social media, or some other regular enjoyment that would bend your heart toward greater enjoyment of Jesus. Paul even talks about married couples fasting from sex “for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer” (1 Corinthians 7:5).

6. Don’t think of white elephants.

When your empty stomach starts to growl and begins sending your brain every “feed me” signal it can, don’t be content to let your mind dwell on the fact that you haven’t eaten. If you make it through with an iron will that says no to your stomach, but doesn’t turn your mind’s eye elsewhere, it says more about your love for food than your love for God.

Christian fasting turns its attention to Jesus or some great cause of his in the world. Christian fasting seeks to take the pains of hunger and transpose them into the key of some eternal anthem, whether it’s fighting against some sin, or pleading for someone’s salvation, or for the cause of the unborn, or longing for a greater taste of Jesus.

So what should we learn from all of this?  For starters, biblical fasting is something that when done out of a heart of obedience and a spirit of joy, can make us feel closer to God, help us to realize His great love for us, and allow us to hear His voice more clearly.  Also, the suffering/sacrifice that we experience during fasting is something we should consider an incredible honor and a great joy, because we get to experience (albeit in the slightest amount) the suffering and sacrifice that Christ experienced for our redemption.  And with the success of fasting, comes the mental and spiritual strength and confidence to abstain from future sins that will inevitably tempt us later in life.  Lastly, I hope that each and every one of you might consider with the utmost sincerity and truthfulness the last time that you actually flossed your teeth…gross!

Mark Heger and his wife, Emily, live in Lake Highlands.  He enjoys flossing and his wife is grateful for that fact. He can be reached at Mark@WakeWell.org.  You can also check out his national ministry at www.wakewell.org.