A testimony to the effectiveness of fasting
By Darcy Sproule
Have you ever seen a vehicle where the dash in front of the driver is full of papers or books? It has scraps of notes, receipts, work sheets from a project or any other such thing cluttering up the top of the dash. While it doesn’t interfere with the driver’s line of sight, it does interfere with looking through the window. The reflection in the windshield distracts from seeing clearly ahead. Similarly, our lives can get cluttered—with things both good and bad.
In a way, I consider fasting for personal spiritual growth and excellence the same as removing the papers from behind the steering wheel in my vehicle. Fasting has many benefits to it; I find myself stronger and closer to God after doing a fast.
This is my testimony of the power and effectiveness of fasting; it is not a theological paper. I include lessons I have learned and the blessings and results I’ve experienced.
Cumbersome and sanctifying
First, a look at the negative side. Fasting is not easy. If it was very simple and not cumbersome, many more would do it. It is time consuming. It requires patience and self discipline. It can be an annoyance to your daily routine and sometimes a distraction all day long. After all, who wants to not enjoy a good meal?
Moving on to the positive, there are different things that happen when I fast. It is a sanctifying process in my relationship with God. It humbles me as I continue to deny myself and seek him. I am setting aside time to seek God in a unique way. It has a way of pointing out to me where there is either overt or hidden sin in my heart; this is a good thing. Pride, apathy, indifference and other things are addressed in this special time with God.
This spiritual discipline is one that has amazing benefits. As I seek God with pure simplicity, I grow closer to him. I see God from a different perspective. God’s Word comes alive and is fulfilled as I follow through. The pain my stomach reminds me there is no fuel in the tank. Yet, while my body is being temporarily starved of fuel, God is speaking to me through his word, nurturing me by his Spirit and giving me the grace to finish the tasks I need to do for the day. I am reminded it is not by bread alone that we live, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
Fasting from food
Some churches promote Lent as going without something for the season. Maybe it is electronics, or coffee or sweets or other things. Anytime we do without as an act of worship, we are taking a step of faith and maturity.
Reading through Scripture, I do not find evidence that fasts had to do with anything more than food. If you are fasting, feel free to do so from different things as needed in your life; I do not want to discourage this. When reading God’s Word, however, I interpret any mention of fasting as going without food for a time.
What we do in place of eating
There can be many things that draw our attention while fasting. The prime and central focus of our fast should be Jesus. He is the one we are looking to, the one we are honouring and seeking. There will be things vying for our attention including our needs, weaknesses, sinful attitudes or thoughts, our empty stomach, advertisements for fast food and sweets, work and family.
Fasting is much more than just doing without; it is also about replacement. Simply going without food for a set amount of time has another word: dieting. By simply removing food or other such things, we are doing part of a fast. Even more important is what you do in place of eating.
Being in God’s Word is a vital part of fasting. When you go without a meal, spend the time by opening your Bible and allowing God to feed you. Meditate on Scripture and pray. Allow God to minister his Word to your life and situation.
When you do without food and replace it with God’s Word, you take a step of faith. You are saying to God that his Word is important to you—even more important than the essentials of our physical bodies.
Prayer is the other important part of the fast. Communicate with God, presenting to him the things on your heart that are important to you or others. These prayer requests can be for yourself personally, for those around you (including family or acquaintances) and for your church.
It is important to have a concise list of things you are praying about during your fast. It can be one thing or twenty things. However long the duration of your fast, remember to keep these things before the Lord in prayer every time you fast.
The three disciplines of giving, praying and fasting
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches about three spiritual disciplines (Matthew 6). This teaching takes up more than half of the chapter and amounts to roughly one-sixth of the entire sermon. The three spiritual disciplines described are giving, praying and fasting. We don’t see giving as optional; we know we should be generous. We also don’t see prayer as optional. We pray regularly—daily or more so. Why, then, do we see fasting as an antiquated concept? He did not say “if” we do them, but he said “when” we do them. It was not optional for him, yet we seem to focus on only two out of three.
Of the three spiritual exercises described by Jesus in Matthew 6, each one has the same promise (vv. 4, 6, 18). You will be rewarded for giving, for praying and for fasting. Consider the reward for fasting as found in Matthew 6:18. “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” The plain interpretation here is that God will reward the one who fasts.
Blessings I have experienced
There are many specific blessings from doing a fast of any length. Here are some I have experienced. I feel closer to God and am renewed spiritually from the journey. I am refreshed despite the difficult task, and I have seen God work specifically through the fast in my life or others’ lives.
I been strengthened in my faith and have seen prayers from the fast answered. I have seen how God has blessed others and been amazed at what he did for them. I have a greater appreciation for some of the small and insignificant things because of the self-disciplining I have just done. I gain a sense of joy and accomplishment at completing the task. I have honed and refined my relationship with God and my theology has changed a bit. I now see him in a way I never did before as he provided for a journey I have never been on before.
Denying ourselves while pursuing more
God is amazing, he is good, he blesses and provides. He delights to see me do this—the same thing so many in the Bible did. I am doing something new in my life, but something almost as old as the human race. I feel like I have completed spring cleaning in my heart and mind. Cobwebs and dust are removed and more room is made for the living Christ. I have stretched and practiced an overlooked and unused muscle in my body.
These are among many things God does with and because of our fasting. God brings spiritual renewal and breathes new life into our frail, frustrated and discouraged bodies as we deny ourselves while pursuing him.
Our conference is seeking God’s renewal in the coming season. Fasting is a specific and powerfully effective way of removing clutter from your life, making room for renewal. Please join others in the conference by taking this step of faith again or for the first time in your life. Fast for yourself, your loved ones, your church and the EM Conference.
Darcy Sproule (BA, MDiv Pastoral Ministry) grew up in the Giroux, Man., area on a mixed farm. He enjoys astronomy, cutting firewood, riding his bike and having yerba (but not coffee) with his wife Lina. He became a Christian just shy of his 20th birthday and continues to grow in his walk with the Lord.