“After fasting forty days and forty nights, He (Jesus) was hungry.” (Matt 4:2)
Just thinking about going on a fast makes me hungry. It’s like my brain starts sending signals to my stomach…”All hands and forks on deck – the captain is walking the plank!” So my stomach responds by setting anchor at the next port, and stocking up on potato chips and snickers bars.
The longest fast God ever put me on was a liquid-only fast for seven days. Right around day five I caved. Every food group and by-product was calling my name, so I ate. The next morning upon awakening, I decided I was in need of French toast sticks. I figured since I already broke my fast the night before, I might as well eat.
Apparently God had different plans. As I lie there dreaming of breakfast, I suddenly had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I rolled over towards Mark, and I groaned “Oh, no!” “What’s wrong now?” Mark asked. (Note to self: don’t start whining before Mark has his coffee.) “I don’t think God will let me eat breakfast!” “Just go ahead and eat,” he said “problem solved. Now go back to sleep.”
I immediately headed downstairs, confident that I could eat, since Mark said it was okay. (And in case God should question me, I would answer “it was the man you gave me, he told me to eat!”) I put some French toast sticks on a pan, and put them in the oven. As I was waiting for the timer to go off, God started tapping me on the shoulder. “What do you think you’re doing?” He asked. I tried reasoning with Him, and explained that I already broke my fast with last night’s pizza. He didn’t budge. I then reminded Him that wasting food is a sin. Still nothing. Finally I gave in. “Fine” I said “but don’t come along later with a big guilt trip about all the hungry kids in China when I throw my French toast sticks in the garbage!”
I made it the rest of the week without too much complaining. On the seventh night, our son Jordan was healed at a prayer service. I finally understood why God wanted me to fast the entire week, it was for a miracle. I was so impressed by the logistics of it, that I started fasting one day a week from then on. I didn’t fast for anything in particular, mostly for other people’s prayer requests. I really thought I had struck gold with this new discovery, and I was determined to stick with this fasting regiment for the rest of my life. But then I read what the Bible had to say about fasting.
Esther instructed Mordecai to gather the Jews to fast when Haman was bent on killing all of them (Esther 3, 4). The Israelites fasted and wore sackcloth as an act of repentance to the Lord (Nehemiah 9). David fasted in sackcloth and ashes to plead with the Lord to turn from his anger towards Jerusalem (Daniel 9).
And this was interesting: Jezebel called for a day of fasting to honor Naboth, but it was all a ploy to murder Naboth in order to obtain his vineyard (1 Kings 21). That particular fast was obviously not Spirit led, which taught me that we should be careful who we listen to when it comes to fasting.
Isaiah 58 paints a different picture of what God thinks of fasting. He said “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your good with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
And in Matthew 9:14 when John’s disciples asked Jesus why His disciples didn’t fast, he said “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” So I concluded that feeding the hungry was more important to God than just sitting at home with my stomach growling. And if Jesus said we should fast out of longing for the bridegroom, then I decided I would fast out of my longing for His presence, and not just because I want some physical answer to prayer. But then another question arose– how often and how long should I fast?
And then one day God answered my questions. Oh, this is good, are you ready? He said “There is no formula.” Aha! God didn’t want me to make a ceremony or ritual out of fasting; instead, it should be a matter of the heart, not of men’s rules and regulations. In a matter of seconds, I was in the kitchen pigging out on peanut butter.