Spiritual Training Cycle: Surrender (wk. 5/13)
This month is all about spiritual exercise. Think of spiritual exercises as the nuclear reactors of our faith. When we pray, read the Bible, or gather in community, we’re engaging in activities that are incredible catalysts to connect us to God. What’s amazing is that none of these exercises are new. They’ve all been around since the early church began, so in a way, we’re also connecting to the men and women of faith who have gone before us. As you learn more exercises and engage in them, you broaden your spiritual horizon and create more ways to deepen your connection to God. Let’s take a closer look at the spiritual exercise of fasting.
Fasting is most commonly defined as abstaining from food and drink. There are all sorts of fasts out there, so it’s important that we look at this concept from a Biblical perspective. When we engage in a fast, our goal is to let go of an appetite we have for something in order to seek God. Fasting for any other reason may help someone lose weight or rid their body of toxins, but it doesn’t deepen their connection to God. When we look to the Bible for examples of how to fast and who fasted, we find plenty. People such as Moses, Elijah, and Daniel fasted privately. In other contexts, God’s followers fasted together, a practice still common today in some denominations. With the technological advancements and speed of our society, it seems we have appetites for more than just food. Whether that’s public praise, social media, or Netflix, if you think it might be hindering your spiritual growth, simply remove it from your life and find out. But before you pull the plug on your favorite vice, here are three things you’ll learn when you do.
Fasting reveals deeper desires – if you ask God to show them to you. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of prayer in times of fasting. Not only will you need God’s strength, but you’ll also need to ask Him this question – Why? Don’t focus on the object of your desire, focus on the reason for your desire. Your “why” is what should really be under examination during a fast. The goal is not to avoid Instagram for the rest of your life. The goal is to let God rewire your desire.
Fasting is a practical process – It’s fairly simple. You identify something that you turn to for comfort, amusement, or nourishment, and you remove it from your life. How long is up to you. If you are newer to fasting, my suggestion is to start small. Maybe replace lunch with a time of meditation for three days. Trust me those cravings are going to come. When you condition your body through consistent pleasure cycles it will let you know when you’ve missed one. But that tension is part of the growth process. Healthy tension leads to healthy transformation.
Fasting draws us closer to God. Honestly, if it doesn’t, you need to recheck your motives. For example, I once gave up coffee for 21 days. By day two, I was irritable and cranky. By day three, all I was doing was counting the days until I could have coffee again. I wasn’t engaged in a spiritual fast to grow closer to God, I quit something because everyone in my church did, and I thought coffee would be less painful than wine. See where I’m going? You don’t fast to see how much you love coffee. You fast to see how much you need God. What I realized is I depended on coffee for warm comfort in the morning and a boost of energy from caffeine. Fasting from our comforts gives us space to shift that dependence to God.
Questions for Reflection:
What has the experience of fasting been like for you?
When has self-denial brought you something good?