Fasting

This coming Sunday, the message will draw our attention to the useful practice of fasting to help us listen to God. I’ve been thinking, praying, and preparing for this in small ways for several weeks.

I have not made fasting a regular practice in my life. In the broad history of the church, however, fasting has been a very regular part of living for God. I wonder if the (right) concerns about legalism have caused me to have a (wrong) reluctance to make it a way to seek God.

All that to say, I have been and continue to experiment with it. I want to share here on the blog a “sneak peek” at something we will distribute next Sunday, and invite you to consider whether God might be prompting you to experiment, as well.

Have you tried fasting in order to focus on God?

Our longing for God, our longing for something deeper, our longing to be Jesus people is leading us to try and do the things Jesus did.

One thing Jesus did was to fast. In Luke 4: 1-2, at the very beginning of his public ministry, he sought God’s leading in the desert, and he focused his attention by fasting. It’s safe to say that fasting is not a normal practice for people in our culture, yet it has been and continues to be an important opportunity for growth in our relationship with God.

In the bible and throughout history, fasting refers almost exclusively to going without food for a period of time for spiritual purposes. Recently, Christians have realized that abstaining from other things which pull our attention in order to give our attention to God is also a very helpful practice. Television, news, music, turning on the radio in the car, the internet, Blackberry devices, cell phones, sports scores, checking your appearance in a mirror, coffee, soda pop…all of these things and many more can become opportunities for fasting. We can choose to intentionally go without something for a period of time, in order to focus our mind, heart, and spirit on God.

Would you consider fasting this week? Here are some suggestions.

1. Choose what you are giving up. (All food, snacks, or some of the suggestions above are options.)

2. Set a time limit for the fast. (If you are fasting from food and not in the practice of doing so, a 24 hour fast from lunch to lunch is a good way to begin. Drink lots of water, unless you have experience with a total fast. The body can go without food for quite some time, but needs water often.)

3. Tell God you are doing this to follow Christ’s example, and ask God to help you focus on Him.

4. Prepare a sentence prayer. Some examples to help you think of your own are: “I worship you, God.” “I love you, Jesus.” “Help me, Holy Spirit.” During the fast, whenever you miss the thing from which you are fasting, use the sentence prayer to direct your attention to God.

5. Reflect on the experience. Write down or talk with someone about what your experience of fasting was like.

(For further reading, Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline has a helpful chapter on fasting; if you have other reading suggestions, please include them in the comments.)

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5 thoughts on “Fasting

  1. I’ve never done it. But I will think about it.

    I used to work for a priest who fasts pretty often, for lots of spiritual and political reasons. He is in fact a holy man, gifted with faith and vision. But the people who work with him on a daily basis know that fasting makes him cranky.

    One of the parts of fasting that interests me is the solidarity with people who fast involuntarily – and raising awareness of the right sharing of the world’s resources.

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  2. I’ve done it a little but rarely with food. I became philosophically opposed to fasting from food in college where they would announce a campus wide fast and then close the food service for the day. I get seriously grouchy when I don’t eat and I don’t think that’s the spirit we’re after, now is it? I liked the time the elders called us to fast and pray for something and the sanctuary was open at lunch and dinnertime – it was nice to do it together. I haven’t had any epiphanies or mystical moments fasting but I have felt called toward simplicity and a simpler lifestyle as a result of giving up TV for several months. My resolve for that ebbs and flows, however. Malls, marketing and teenagers don’t help!

    I think fasting together this week is a great idea. I especially like Robin’s point of doing it to bring awareness to the right sharing of world resources.

    What are you going to fast from? I’m thinking about giving up every beverage except water so I’ll take time to be grateful for the clean water I have at my fingertips at all times and to pray for those who don’t, particularly people driven from their homes in Darfur.

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  3. Greg,

    I appreciated your challenge in church today. It is great to walk away from church with a homework assignment; something practical we can do as a community and share our experience a week later. This week I think I will fast each morning from an hour of sleep, then spend the time listening to the Holy Spirit. I will be gone next week on a school trip, but will let you know how things went. Thank you for the encouragement to step out in this way.

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  4. Thanks, Robin, for being willing to consider joining in with our community. I gave short shrift today to the many other reasons for fasting, like the “raising awareness” reasons you brought up.

    Kathy, they must have done away with the “close the food service” thing before I got there! I’m pretty surprised about that…seems to cross a few legalistic lines somewhere. Maybe they just ran out of food and made a spiritual reason. I’m doing another food fast, a little longer this time. I’m consiidering fasting from web surfing and reading blogs, but I obvously haven’t done that yet.

    Andy, I’m glad you’ll take the challenge! I think your idea is an interesting one, and I’ll look forward to hearing how it went.

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  5. 🙂 We always thought they did it because SAGA was over budget.

    I have been choosing water to drink since Friday and yesterday I chose the breath prayer, “You alone Lord.” It’s been good. My kids have chosen to fast from MySpace and video games for a week. Ask them about it if you see them next Sunday.

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