Spiritual Transformation – The Discipline of Fasting

It was taking over my life. I had to break free! I left the hot, black, bitter life behind. Two days of throbbing headaches and two weeks of frustrating cravings later, March ended in a more peaceful way. But I am not controlled by it any more – that hot, black, bitter, beautiful…coffee.

I’m sure we have all been “addicts” at one time or another. My physical pains were indicative of my enslavement to the fine grounds. But, who cares? Who’s it hurting? Well, me. And, of course, God cares. Scriptures tell us that we are not to be controlled by something other than the Holy Spirit (Eph, 5:18). So, how can we see whether or not something has a stranglehold on us? Take whatever you suspect to be the “drug” away and see how you deal with it.  Eliminate the addictive behavior or substance from your practice. In other words – fast.

Most of us haven’t done much of this. In fact, we look on with a raised eyebrow toward those who observe this current time of Lent. It may seem to some to be a legalistic sort of action only observed by those who don’t understand the true meaning of grace. But, as Elmer Towns suggests, “Perhaps we are currently so into ‘feel-good religion’ that we don’t want to be bothered with any thought of hunger or self-denial.”

You might wonder who would even suggest the need for denying ourselves when we live under this celebratory period of God’s grace through Christ. You might be surprised. 

“Jesus assumed that after He ascended into heaven, those who believed in Him would fast: ‘Then shall they fast in those days’ (Mark 2:20, KJV); ‘Moreover when ye fast’ (Matt. 6:16, KJV). Now that the bridegroom has been taken from us, we should be engaged in disciplines of self-denial enabling us to enjoy something of the closeness to Him enjoyed by the original disciples when they walked and talked daily with their Lord.”

Fasting is not some legalistic discipline or meaningless tradition. Rather, it is purposeful and should be intended to ensure the Holy Spirit’s free reign in our life in a very real way. Fasting is also very revealing. “This discipline teaches us a lot about ourselves very quickly. It will certainly prove humiliating to us, as it reveals to us how much our peace depends upon the pleasures of eating” (Willard).

There are many types of fasts, though. It doesn’t always have to do with food. “The concept of fasting as an abstention can also be applied to other arenas of living, to target any lifestyle aspect in danger of becoming an addiction and distraction from being more aware of God” (Issler). So, what is controlling you? Coffee, e-mails, cell phones, news channels, Xbox, or perhaps the tempting combination of luscious, creamy, chocolaty filling surrounding a whole hazelnut within a delicate, crisp wafer all enveloped in milk chocolate and finely chopped hazelnuts?!?

You could determine to observe a complete fast for a couple of days to concentrate on taking something specific before the Lord in prayer. I have also recently observed this type of fast. Each pang of hunger reminded me of what I was doing and why. I became more aware of His presence. “If a deeper friendship with God is desired, Christians must become convinced that although God is invisible, he is more real than any material object, and he is ever present” (Issler). Fasting is a consistent reminder to go before the Lord once again in prayer. (For other fasts, consider reading through Towns’ book listed below.)

Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” With that in mind, “fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in him a source of sustenance beyond food. Through it, we learn by experience that God’s word to us is a life substance, that it is not food (“bread”) alone that gives life, but also the words that proceed from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4)” (Willard).

As this month comes to an end, I admit that it has been difficult in terms of self-denial, but one through which has brought much clarity and peace in my life. “One of the greatest spiritual benefits of fasting is becoming more attentive to God – becoming more aware of our own inadequacies and His adequacy, our own contingencies and His self-sufficiency – and listening to what He wants us to be and do.” Just as March is almost over, so is my fast from coffee. I will soon be drinking coffee again. (Can I get an AMEN!) But now that practice will have to submit to the Guardian of my heart and life.

Is there something you’re not willing to give up for Jesus? If so, how do you think that’s affecting your life with Him? Might I suggest practicing the discipline of fasting?

Suggested Reading:

Foster, R. Celebration of Discipline

Issler, K. Wasting Time with God

Towns, E.L. Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough

Willard, D. The Spirit of the Disciplines

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