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A 'Fast' Reflection

“Whenever you fast…” (Matthew 6:16)


On the day I began writing this piece, I sat at my desk, savoring the luscious remnants of a celebratory meal.


I had just completed a three-day fast from sundown Thursday to sundown Sunday. I like the sundown-to-sundown format of fasting because 1) a biblical day starts at sundown (Genesis 1:5), and 2) it’s a psychological thing if I start there. If I start a fast at dawn, three days feel longer than starting after dinner. It covers the same time, but it seems shorter because I feel full in the evening, and then I sleep, burning through almost twelve hours before I sense hunger. Yes, I’m a wimp, and I need all the help with fasting that I can get.


Speaking of help, I absolutely need God’s help to fast. When I’ve chosen to fast simply to lose weight, I get skull-splitting headaches within hours. But when the Lord prompts me to fast, it’s much easier, and no headaches. As with Jesus’ teachings, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).


What I’m about to share is not to try to impress you but to encourage you. To be brutally honest, I hate fasting because I love the taste of food. I love satisfying my wolf-like desire to feed my face, more out of pleasure than need. You know what I’m talking about, all you late evening, in-front-of-the-TV-chip-and-dip munchers. And don’t sit there looking all smug, you chocolate fiends. We’re all in this together.


Some Christians fast as part of a regular spiritual discipline. Some fast sporadically. In my case, very sporadically, although the Lord is changing that for me, I think. But for most of us Christians, we fast when the Lord prompts us to do so. That’s especially true for me because, as I just described, if I try to fast on my own or with my strength, it feels like the London Symphony Orchestra’s percussion section has taken up residence in my noggin with my stomach growling in concert.


However, if God is leading me, the Holy Spirit usually kicks it off by giving me a method, a target date to start, a precise duration, and (usually) a reason. When that happens, I’m much more motivated, the Holy Spirit sustains me through any physical discomfort, and He constantly reminds me why I’m fasting. Plus, He dogs me to push a lot of water. Lots of water. Lots and lots of water. So much so that I think the water level in the Everglades abutting our community drops an inch. That’s probably why I don’t get the headaches; the water is flushing freed-up toxins from my system.


The week before my three-day self-denial trial, the Holy Spirit got me thinking about fasting. He was beginning to nudge me. After I had finished dinner just before sundown that Thursday evening, it was really on my mind, and I ate nothing before bedtime. When Friday morning arrived and I was in the shower (a great place for morning prayer, by the way), the Holy Spirit impressed on me, “This would be an excellent time to fast, don’t you think? Hmm? Hmm?” By then, I was open to the idea and agreed. Smooth, Holy Spirit. Real smooth.


I asked for how long, and He impressed on me, “Three days, and you started last night (Thursday) at sundown after dinner.” “Great,” I thought. “I’m already well on my way.” I then asked the Holy Spirit how long the fast was to last. “Three days until Sunday’s sundown.”


“Wow, that’s a stretch,” I thought, although I feared the Holy Spirit would say seven days because that was what was on my mind earlier. I was thinking of a seven-day fast since hearing about how fasting benefits the human body. I had read that a three to seven-day fast resets your body’s metabolism and other bodily systems. Thankfully, the Spirit only said three days.


So, what do you think my next question was? Right. “Why?”


For other fasts, I’ve usually been given a target like focused prayer to overcome a challenging situation or asking the Lord for insights or clearer spiritual sight and hearing.


But this time, the Holy Spirit was strangely silent. All I “saw” in my spirit was Him pointing to Monday. That’s all I sensed – Monday. Of course, I wondered if something was going to happen on Monday. The Lord knows about all my family’s tough situations that I want to see straightened out.




And so I began.


I honestly can’t report that anything spectacular happened during the fast—no hunger pangs. No stress. Just water. Lots of water. An unbelievable amount of water.


I did feel a slight discomfort as I neared sundown on Sunday. When it came, I enjoyed a very modest dinner. Important safety tip: When ending an extended fast (3+ days), eat easy-to-digest foods in small measures unless you want to risk a gut ache.


After dinner, I half expected the heavens to open and the Lord of the Universe to manifest with some answer to prayer or special blessing.




Had I missed it? Had I assumed I heard the Lord and didn’t? It wouldn’t be the first time, you know. But in the still of the night, there was nothing. Nothing at all. Just silence.


Until the next morning.


When I woke up, I desired to tuck into a big breakfast and begin snacking my way through the rest of the day. But no. Rather than feel driven by that desire to nosh, I could resist it and tamp it down, unlike before. Instead, I had a small breakfast, a cuppa coffee, and some fizzy water with lemon juice. Delightful, actually.


I suddenly discovered how out of control my food consumption had become. Now, overeating at meals or pecking at snacks didn’t have that same appeal. Lo and behold, self-control had returned. I sensed the Holy Spirit asking me, “Are you sure you want to go back to gluttony?”


Not long into the morning, another natural desire tapped for my attention. Had I satisfied it my way rather than stick to the Lord’s way, I would have sinned because it was outside of His boundaries. Once again, I felt myself resist and tamp down that desire with an ease I hadn’t experienced for quite a while. The desire was there and then – nothing. Once more, I sensed the Holy Spirit ask me, “Are you sure you want to keep thinking like that?”


I suddenly realized what the Holy Spirit had done in and for me. I had long needed a self-control reset, and He knew it. Physically, I had let my desires get out of my control. The same was true spiritually. Surrendering self-control is the quick elevator down to a basement full of problems.


God gave us every one of our natural desires and pronounced them “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But when we surrender control and let our desires take the wheel, we’re tempted to sin, and giving in to sin affects us. It brings forth death. James puts it clearly in his letter, “But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).


What is this death effect that happens when we let desires control us to the point of sin? Death separates us from God, our Source of life. As we all know, anything and everything decays without a constant source of life.


If a battery isn’t recharged, it fails. If we fail to eat or drink water for too long, our bodily systems fail. If we cut off God’s life by not consuming His Word, breaking our bond of fellowship by ignoring Him, or rebelliously sinning while refusing to stop and turn back to the Lord, our relationship with the Lord weakens and decays over time. A Christian can become the Walking Dead. For the Calvinist, that means the Christian is saved but utterly useless. For the Arminian, that means the Christian’s salvation is in peril. Either way that Walking Dead Christian is in deep trouble.


When death invades our fellowship with the Holy Spirit, His voice grows softer, our awareness of His presence fades, and our commitment to living Jesus’ way weakens. In that increasingly separated state, sinning becomes easier, and death’s effects compound until we become callused toward the Lord, and returning is not only tricky but worse, we don’t even care if we do.


Here’s the irony of fasting. When we say to ourselves and our desires, “You’re dead to me,” God comes alive to us, and we live more for Him. We don’t eat, yet we’re filled. When we stifle desire’s cry, we hear the Lord’s voice. When we refuse our will, we find ourselves eager to obey His.


In the morning after my fast, I realized that the Holy Spirit had been incredibly gracious. He knew I needed a reset, and it was more than just physical. There were sinful habits in thought, word, and deed that I had tolerated and fed. That situation came from my not listening to the Holy Spirit and outright disobedience. The rift in our strained relationship had to be addressed. Even though I was clueless, the Holy Spirit knew, and He acted.


When a person is unsaved, they’re driven by their desires. Humanity’s first sin was all about satisfying desires our way, not God’s. “The woman saw that the tree was good for food (the lust of the flesh, the desire to enjoy) and delightful to look at (the lust of the eyes, the desire to obtain), and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom (the pride of life, the desire to achieve)” (Genesis 3:6). Do you see any regard for God in that? Nope. And the rest is history.


A fast is when we take our most basic desire for food and body slam it into submission. It’s impressive how our other appetites follow suit. When we fast, we exert our will to master every desire with the Holy Spirit’s power. Isn’t this what God warned Cain about? “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). In other words, “Cain, I know your desires. If you don’t master them, they’ll master you, and you’ll sin.” Again, this is James 1:14-15.


A fast is taking one of our base desires and teaching it who the boss is. Here’s a discipleship pro-tip: This works with any desire that demands to be fed. Paul talks about a sex fast between a husband and wife so they can devote themselves to prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5).


One time, the Lord led me to fast employment. Yes, you heard that right. With the Lord’s leading, I left an associate pastor position in June 1997. For four months, I looked for work. Even though I reconstructed a church’s stained-glass windows, it didn’t bring in enough dollars to meet the bills. In October, after a failed attempt at becoming a cemetery salesperson (I only lasted two days), the Lord told me to stop flailing around and just sit with Him. He told me to fast employment until January 1, 1998. Boy, did my wife hear about her “lazy, good-for-nothing husband” during that time. We ignored it, and the Lord provided remarkably.


In December, I was asked to fill the pulpit for a burned-out pastor who had gone through a church split. They also wanted me to lead the worship music portion of the service. I obliged, and by the end of the service, unbeknownst to me, the elders had rushed to the pastor, asking him to hire me as the congregation’s new worship and associate pastor. You see, the previous worship leader had just resigned. Interesting coincidence, huh? And the start date?


January 1, 1998.


I began my new position with a clear sense of purpose and a freshness in my spirit that I had lost at the end of my previous associate pastor tenure.


There are many ways to fast and a multitude of reasons for fasting. Sometimes fasting is God-led, and sometimes it’s borne out of our desperate cry for the Lord’s help. For me, I always love the end of a fast. It’s not because I get to revel in food again (it always tastes fabulous after fasting!), but I’m fascinated to see what the Lord does because of obedience and self-sacrifice. It confirms that I serve a living Lord who is deeply involved in His children’s lives.


But let me offer a cautionary note. Beware of regarding a fast’s end as permission to go wild. A fast is to tame our wolfish desires and bring them to heel like obedient dogs. When it came to my appetite for food, I realized I didn’t want to start “feeding the wolf” again. That means subsisting on carbs rather than veggies and protein and small portions rather than large ones.


When it came to all my other desires, it was the same thing. Why would I want to return to ungodly thoughts, words, and deeds that disrupted my newly rejuvenated communion with the Holy Spirit by feeding them rather than nurturing my fellowship with the Lord? Proverbs succinctly states, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so also a fool repeats his foolishness” (Proverbs 26:11).


Lest you think you can take a little taste of sin after a fast and be fine – beware. Sin only gets more ravenous the more we feed it. Once desire is on a leash, the leash must stay firmly in your grip.


I recommend fasting. For those of you who haven’t fasted for the Lord’s sake, try it. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. Try one meal, two meals, or twenty-four hours. Start at sundown after dinner. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the method, a target date to start, a duration, and a reason, if need be. Speaking from experience, even a general fast without a reason, greatly clarifies one’s spiritual thinking, sensitivity, and devotion.


Jesus expected that His disciples would fast, “Whenever you fast…” (Matthew 6:16), and “Jesus said to them, “You can’t make the wedding guests (disciples) fast while the groom is with them, can you? But the time will come when the groom will be taken away from them—then they will fast in those days” (Luke 5:34-35).


This recent foray into fasting has encouraged me to practice it as a self-discipline because I already see how the recently gained bulwark against the pack of howling desires in me is already bowing in the middle under their daily onslaught. So, I plan to do it weekly. No, not weakly. One day a week, sundown to sundown, Sunday to Monday, until further notice from the Holy Spirit. I get the impression He wants to use it to focus me at the week’s outset. If I’m led to do so, I’ll let you know what happens.


Gee, I hope there’s enough water in Florida.

Shining the Light of God’s Truth on the Road Ahead


Pastor Jay Christianson

The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts


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