“Blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast…” Joel 2:15 (NASB)
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NASB)
In this chapter we are encouraged to follow these principles when preparing to fast:
1) Prepare yourself spiritually
2) Prepare yourself physically
3) Identify a purpose for your fast
4) Plan the particulars of your fast
Spiritual preparation involves making sure our motives are pure. Thrasher states that “Fasting is a humble response that puts us in a place to receive the life and victory Jesus has won for us.”* Fasting is not meant to curry God’s favor or impress others. It can never be used as a substitute to appease God for our lack of obedience. On the other hand, Thrasher reminds us that we should be thankful that God has created us for enjoying the food with which He blesses us.
Physical preparation involves making sure we are healthy enough physically to endure the type of fast we wish to undertake. This includes having good eating habits to begin with. We are also encouraged to consult a doctor if we have health concerns.
Identifying our Purpose may be the most important element in fasting. Our intention should be self-denial for the purpose of drawing near to God. The two scriptures mentioned above speak to this. In Joel we find an exhortation to “consecrate a fast.” The informal definition of “consecrate” from the New Oxford American Dictionary is “to devote (something) exclusively to a particular purpose.”** We need to define clearly why we want to fast and determine the object of our devotion. The chapter mentions several good spiritual purposes highlighted in scripture.
1) Fasting during a time of spiritual warfare (Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29).
2) Fasting to express your intense concern for the work of God (Nehemiah 1:4).
3) Fasting to express your grief (2 Samuel 1:11–12; 12:16, 21–23).
4) Fasting to keep your desires under the control of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 9:24–27; Romans 13:14).
5) Fasting for direction or a spiritual breakthrough in your life or ministry.
In our practice of fasting, Thrasher reminds us that, “God honors any effort of setting aside time to seek Him.”* In 1 Samuel we see that God looks at our heart motives in whatever we do. We must always remember that the fast is designed to draw our hearts, thoughts, and prayers toward God.
Planning the particulars of our fast is also an important element in fasting. Several well-known Christian and Secular speakers have quoted this expression: “If you aim at nothing you are bound to hit it every time.” It is important to spell out the duration and the nature of your fast. The duration of your fast could be abstaining from anything from a single meal or snack to all foods for several days or weeks. The nature of your fast can range from a singular type of food to all food and drink. Your fast may even be from a non-food item. Fasting from favorite activities, such as the Internet, television, shopping, and books can all be included. Again, our intention is self-denial for the purpose of drawing near to God.
My story is a work in progress. I am just beginning to explore the spiritual discipline of fasting.
Recently, God has allowed my circumstances to place me on a compulsory fast. A month ago I was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity. If I want to feel well and symptom-free, I need to abstain from gluten, which means all wheat and wheat-derived ingredients. Who really wants to eat a salad at a fast-food restaurant? I mean, why am I at a fast-food restaurant to begin with? A burger is not a burger without a bun!
It is obvious that it is God’s will that I fast. It is up to me to turn it into a spiritual opportunity to draw near to God. I have been using this as a springboard for prayer. Every time I realize that “I can’t eat that,” I try to turn the moment to prayer and thanksgiving.
Do you fast? Have you found it to be a time of drawing near to God? If not, consider how you might fast in a more purposeful way in the coming month.
* Thrasher, William (2003-05-01). A Journey to Victorious Praying: Finding Discipline and Delight in Your Prayer Life (Kindle Location 1648). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
** (2010-04-01). The New Oxford American Dictionary (Kindle Locations 173832-173833). Oxford University Press.