I’ve frequently asked God about it.
I’ve heard and read many many things about it, and I’ve heard people quote various verses so many times that I think I have them memorized! But I still never “got it.” I’d ask God, “Lord, people say fasting can break spiritual strongholds, but why in the world would going without food change anything spiritually? People say it helps you hear from God, but how does food being in my stomach (or not) change how well I can or can’t hear You? I don’t understand!”
Added to that is the fact that I’ve never been able to fast food completely. The few times I’ve tried, I started having physical reactions that would scare my husband and I, and we’d both agree that I had better go eat some food. Those experiences would cause me to wonder if I just “needed more faith” to “get past that stage.”
So that’s one of the areas that I’ve had a lot of questions about over the years.
It’s also an area that I finally have clarity! I’d like to share, if I may! So here goes.
Fasting is not really about not eating. Yes, that’s the traditional method of fasting, but “not eating” isn’t really the point.
It’s about going without something that you have come to depend on every day.
It’s about shutting yourself off from that reliance, and looking to God instead.
It’s about putting the pause on something that takes up a significant amount of your attention, and then focusing that attention on God instead. Fasting is when you say, “The time and attention that I normally spend on this, I am going to give to You instead, God!”
I realized the other day that in Bible times, they did not have fast food, TV dinners, or refrigerators that could hold ready-to-eat food. Much of their days were spent in meal preparation in one form or another. So for them, fasting could free up a lot of time and attention. So if they replaced that food preparation time with prayer and reading the scriptures, suddenly God was getting a lot more of their attention!
I also realized that, for me personally, fasting food wasn’t really laying down much, since I’m not one of those people who love to eat. Taking the time and effort to eat a meal is more of a chore for me. No wonder God did not give me the grace to lay it down! But He did give me the grace to lay down what was replacing Him in my life. Here’s how it happened:
At some point last year, I started feeling convicted about the amount of time I was spending on a particular game on my phone. I knew I could be spending that time with God, but I reasoned that the game was what I played to wind down, and there was nothing wrong with either the game or with winding down. (Both of which are true statements.) But when I totaled up how much time I spent on that game and compared it against how much time I spent giving God my full attention, I felt convicted. Finally, I did surrender to the feeling that I really needed to stop, and I uninstalled the game.
A month or so later, though, I realized that I had replaced that game with something else. Again, the ‘something else’ was harmless. But I still wasn’t giving God all that much focused attention every day. He was always sharing my attention with this or that, because I was always doing something else while I prayed. Half the time I was multi-tasking while I read my Bible!
Looking back now, I realize that the Holy Spirit was gently and repeatedly urging me to lay aside the things that I was turning to when I could and should be turning to Him. In fact, He’d been urging me to do that for years, but I didn’t recognize His voice or heed that urging for a while.
Not until Covid.
As the slower weeks went by, the gentle whisper continued. At one point I realized that for myself, at the point that I was at, social media and the news were doing me quite a bit more harm than good. I was not ministering to or blessing anyone most of the time, and instead both had become a door for frustration, judgment, criticism, and other feelings that were not the fruit of the Spirit. So finally I made the commitment to stay off with just a few very limited exceptions. My phone games were still uninstalled and on my “don’t go there list,” and I’m not a TV person. So when you put this all together, it meant that I’d actually cut quite a few things out of my life.
And finally, God was getting lots of my attention!
But it wasn’t actually until after a few months had gone by, and I looked back at the increased clarity and ability to hear God, that I actually put two and two together. I realized what had happened.
When I wanted to unwind, I went to God instead of my phone games.
When I wanted something random and interesting to look up, I looked in my Bible.
When questions and troubling thoughts arose, instead of drowning them out with this or that, I talked with God about them.
And in all of those situations, He ministered to me in ways that the old things that I used to turn to simply could not match!
It is now so clear to me that that this change in focus is what fasting is really all about! It allows us to hear Him more clearly. It allows Him to give us revelation because we are listening. We’ve shut out the things that cloud the ears of our spirit. We’ve gotten rid of the interference.
Fasting frequently allows us to hear His call to repentance in various areas of our life, and that too is often instrumental in our ability to receive from God. We have to repent of the sin that is blocking our ability to hear from Him.
I would like to encourage you to seek God for direction on what you should fast. Don’t apply your mind to the question of what things you rely on the most. There may be some things that you rely on that He has given you in your life to support you. Ask Him to show you which things you rely on that are not from Him. Or perhaps some of your focus is just out of balance. He knows which things are getting in the way of your ability to hear Him and receive His directions. He knows what is stopping you from receiving the revelation the Holy Spirit wants to give you that will change your life.
He will show you. Maybe it’s food — or maybe just your snacking habits. Maybe it’s social media. Maybe it’s stopping this thing or that thing. Maybe it’s texting with your friends. Maybe it’s chocolate. Maybe it’s eBay or YouTube. Maybe it’s some type of book or a certain hobby. Maybe it’s Netflix. Maybe it’s something that no one else would understand, but He and you both know that you look to that thing for satisfaction, relaxation, stimulation, etc instead of looking to God, and He’s asking you to lay that down and direct that attention to Him.
Don’t be afraid of laying it down! It’s a privilege to be invited to trade in something worthless for the companionship of the King of the Universe!
Every time you feel the old impulse to go for that thing that you are fasting, go to Him instead. Open your Bible and say, “God, I’m coming to you to find the satisfaction that I used to find in___. And You said that when I seek You with my whole heart, I’ll find You. Where do You want to start this new work in me?”
Go for it! Eagerly!
He is worth it!
For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
– Isaiah 43:19