The moment I opened my eyes, I was filled with immediate dread—truly, no exaggeration of how I felt. I honestly was not sure how I was going to make it through the day, never mind the next forty. I began to cry. Okay, it wasn’t wracking sobs, but still, tears filled my eyes as I thought about the fact that I had committed to not eating all day as part of a 40-day fast my church was doing. (To be clear, this wasn’t a water-only fast; rather, the idea was to not eat until evening, when we would break the fast with a small meal.) Although this was not my first fast, I had never done one that went so long without food (almost 24 hours) for 40 days straight. Oh, and there was one other small detail that nearly pushed me over the edge: no coffee. In past fasts, I drank black coffee, which still felt like a big sacrifice given that I love milk in my coffee. I hadn’t considered fasting from coffee for this long fast since I only drink one or maybe two coffees in a day, and not using milk was already a sacrifice in my eyes. This time, however, I felt God prompting me to cut out the coffee as well😩. The nerve…
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I did not agree to that condition without a fight. In fact, at first, I ignored the prompting altogether. I rationalized that God’s message must have been put in the wrong mailbox. I reasoned that since I don’t drink that much coffee, and I had already proven that I was willing to drink it black, I felt that God should challenge someone else who really has issues with coffee. That would not be me. However, the little niggle about fasting from coffee would not go away no matter how much I put my hands over my ears and chanted, “LA LA LA LA LA…” like a small child. Fed up, I decided to confront God head-on.
It isn’t often that I audibly yell at God, but this was one of those times: “I don’t understand why you are going on about this! I mean, I drink coffee when we are hanging out in the morning! It’s our thing!” (I always had my morning coffee as I read my Bible and journaled.) I continued, “It’s not like I’m addicted. What is your problem??”
I sensed God standing before me with his arms crossed but with a smile on his face. I suddenly became aware of how much I was kicking and screaming about this and immediately knew this was exactly why he was asking me to fast from it. I was gutted. I’d been around God long enough to trust that He knew what I needed. Still, no one said I had to be happy about it.
Somehow, I made it through the first two days of the fast, but my mood had not shifted. I was really, really sad about not eating and not drinking coffee. In case you have not noticed, I truly love food, so every time I woke up and remembered I wasn’t going to eat until evening, I felt depressed. By the third day of this nonsense, I had enough. I couldn’t imagine waking up for the next thirty-seven days feeling like Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh books. Something had to give…and I don’t mean that I planned to give in by breaking my fast. I just wasn’t sure what to do next.
As I lay in bed on the third day of the fast, depressed and lethargic, I suddenly remembered that worship is a weapon of spiritual warfare. Although the last thing I felt like doing was singing, I forced myself to warble the first song that came to mind.
This is the day! (This is day!)
That the Lord has made (That the Lord has made)
I will rejoice (I will rejoice)
And be glad in it (Be glad in it)…
By the time I finished my pathetic rendition of this song that I hadn’t thought about in years, something broke over me. The depression I was feeling left instantly. From that day on, everything was different.
Looking back, I can clearly see what God was doing. Slowly but surely, he was helping me to shift my dependence away from anything that kept me from relying on him for—well—everything. Even though I didn’t think I had a physical dependence on coffee, as I had no headaches when I stopped drinking it, I had a psychological one. I couldn’t imagine enjoying my morning time with God without my cup of joe. God gave me forty days to realize that hot water does the job just fine. “Oh, what a friend I have in Jesus…”😜
Another thing I learned is that it’s still possible to work out during a fast. On day 2, I wanted to go for a run but worried that my blood sugar would crash. I decided that I should probably eat a little piece of fruit first to keep that from happening. I picked up a mandarin orange and paused, worried that I would be breaking a fasting “rule.” Without missing a beat, I heard the words, “Try me,” inside my head. I half-imagined God standing there with a smile on his face, urging me to trust that I could lean on him. Convicted, I put the fruit back in the bowl and headed out for my run. I am delighted to report that I’ve now worked out countless times while fasting, and I have never felt shaky. I know this seems like a small thing, but it has boosted my confidence that I can trust God with every aspect of my physical health. Before this particular fast, I hadn’t realized how much I depended on my own systems and habits to sustain me. Of course, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t use wisdom when it comes to looking after ourselves; however, God wants us to trust Him above anything else.
So, why am I sharing all of this with you? Well, I am now three days into my New Year’s fast—a practice I’ve been doing for years now—so I’ve got fasting on my mind. Second, despite the fact that I somewhat dread starting the fast every. single. year, I am always blown away by what God does in me as I fast and pray. I don’t want you to miss out on those results, so I encourage you to dip your toe in the fasting waters as well. Some of the benefits of fasting may include:
- Increased intimacy with God
- Breaking free from unhelpful habits or coping strategies
- More peace and joy (since HE is the ultimate source of those things)
- Increased trust/dependence on God
- Increased mindfulness
- Increased mental clarity
- New levels of discipline
Keep in mind that you don’t have to fast from food if that would cause you health problems. Fasting from social media, games, television, or other worldly distractions is also an option. Also, you don’t need to commit to a long fast to get started nor do you have to start at the beginning of the year. I often fast a few times a year—usually for shorter time periods than 40 days. Sometimes I just fast from breakfast to increase my attention on God when I feel I really need it. Lastly, I want to highlight a common mistake that people sometimes make when they fast—they forget to pray. Fasting without praying is simply dieting—there’s no spiritual benefit to be gained. And for the record—please don’t diet; it’s never a good idea. 🙅🏻♀️
Whether you are a person who prays regularly or not, you may be wondering what praying during a fast looks like. When I begin fasting, I view the time I am not eating as a time to increase my focus on God, not just an increase in the volume of my prayers. Here are some practices that you might consider if you decide you want to give fasting a go:
- Pick a time to pray every day during your fast. It can be any time, but the key is to commit to it. I tend to get up earlier so I’m not rushed in my time with God. Yes, it’s a sacrifice, but trust me when I tell you it’s worth it.
- During your first prayer time, tell God what you hope to get out of the fast. In other words, what do you want to happen? Do you want to hear His voice more clearly? Do you want to understand the Bible better? Do you want to learn to depend on Him more? Do you want to learn to prioritize your relationship with Him? Converse with God about what you want to happen.
- Perhaps more importantly, ask God what He wants you to get out of the fast. His answer may surprise you, or you may not get an immediate answer—it may only be in retrospect that you understand what He was doing. (See coffee example above.)
- Consider starting your day on your knees before you do anything else. (If you are giving up coffee, you may be driven to your knees the first few days—that’s OK, trust me!) Refuse to look at email, social media, or your to-do list before you kneel down and greet God. This act helps you to remember your decision to put God first. I love doing this: Sometimes, I bow my face to the ground; other times, I raise my hands in the air. Either way, this act is a powerful reminder of my dependence on God.
- If you have never journaled, consider starting that practice in your fasting season. I find it so helpful to write to God what is on my heart and mind and then journal what I hear Him saying in response. Remember, prayer is just conversation. I like to have a record of what is being said.
- If you are not in the practice of worshipping God through song, a season of fasting is the perfect time to try it out. Try singing a worship song before you start to talk to God. “How Great Is Our God” is an oldie but goodie.
- If you decide to try fasting from food, when you feel hungry throughout the day, use it as a prompt to pray. Thank God that He is the one to sustain you.
- If you are fasting from media, use that time to read your Bible or journal or pray instead.
- Lastly, make a point of taking note of what thoughts and emotions come up in you as you fast. You may notice that, like me, you first feel depressed or are more irritable than normal. Be curious about that, and give yourself lots of grace. It can be hard to deal with the tantrums that pop up because we don’t get to comfort ourselves with food or distract ourselves with media.
If you make a decision to try fasting, even in a small way, I’d love to hear from you. Consider putting 👍🏻 in the comments so I can be praying for you.
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I pray that each of you will experience increased health and joy in 2024. Happy New Year!