I’m going to briefly look at fasting as a Christian, and write down what I experienced whilst fasting.
During the past 21 days I undertook the ‘Daniel Fast’, which, for anybody who doesn’t know, is a term used for the fast Daniel undertook in…well, appropriately, the book of Daniel in the Bible.
In essence, the fast is ‘based on the fasting experiences of the prophet Daniel along with standard Jewish fasting principles’. (daniel-fast.com)
The Daniel Fast excludes many foods, although not all. It excludes all drinks other than water. This is based on the Daniel 10:2-3, which reads: ‘In those days, I, Daniel, had been mourning for three entire weeks. 3I did not eat any tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth, nor did I use any ointment at all until the entire three weeks were completed.’
During this fast, I did not allow myself salt, sugar, tea, juice, alcohol, spices, white flour, yeast, processed foods, meat, dairy, (including alternatives), sweeteners, honey, canned food, fried foods, etc. (There’s a whole list online of accepted/unaccepted foods if you’re interested. I just added the salt thing and dairy alternative thing because I wanted to make sure all the food was as bland as possible. And because I only drink milk alternatives, doing so for the Daniel Fast wouldn’t have been much of a sacrifice).
Now firstly, I would like to mention that I grew up in a family that believes in the power of fasting. My mother, mainly.
And secondly, I would like to mention that I’ve always thought of fasting as some ye olde, unnecessary ritual. Probably because most of the christian friends I have don’t fast (at least, not to my knowledge.) Also probably because fasting isn’t really spoken about in some churches. It was advocated for at the church I grew up in, but I’ve been to churches since whose members don’t seem to practice fasting. Either (or both) of these facts culminated over time and meant that I felt that fasting was unnecessary and out-dated and misguided.
Also, the common argument I heard for fasting was to ‘get closer to God’ which always struck me as odd because surely you’re either close to God or you’re not? God loves you at all times, and the idea of having to fast to get close to Him perplexed me.
So I’m not entirely sure how exactly it came to be that I embarked upon this fast. All I can say is that it must have been God’s intention, because I had a strong desire to dedicate the beginning of 2016 to Him. Here are the things I discovered, from the viewpoint of someone who has never understood this seemingly ‘bizarre’ part of being a Christian:
- Dismissing the flesh
Personally I feel like the Daniel Fast should be a time of dismissing the wants of the flesh, and venerating the wants of God. So for me, that meant dismissing all types of fleshly desires, which I guess includes – although is probably not limited to – physical desires and cravings (such as smoking, drugs, etc) and sexual desires. I think I’ve always been one of the people that has never really seen the point of abstaining from certain things, especially if you enjoy them. But then I realised really early on in the fast that IF I AM CRAVING certain things, and IF I CAN’T SAY NO to them, no matter how hard I try – who is really in control here? Think about it. Anything you can’t resist, you don’t control. It controls you. You are a slave to it. I didn’t realise how much I relied on certain things – even items – until I gave them up, and that concerned me. And I think we can all see such vices in our lives.
Obviously I don’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy things. One of the best quotations from the Bible pretty much sums up the ‘point’ of life, like this:
‘So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.’
God wants us to eat, drink and be merry – YES! But I think God wants us to achieve this in a way that doesn’t take away our freedom. It’s a bit like social media. (Bear with me). I mean, I can say that I have the freedom to access youtube, which is great. But then if I spend days consumed by it, unable to do important things because I’m clicking on the next video and then the next without control, then…well, I’m not really free, am I ?
Freedom can – in a roundabout way – lead straight to slavery if we’re not careful. As the Bible says, ‘“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.’ Or, in another translation, ‘All things are permissable, but not beneficial.’ Be free – be truly free.
It was cool to spend twenty-one days putting God before the pleasures of the flesh. To wake up and pray before eating or leaving the house, or running errands.
The Bible says, to ‘live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.’ I definitely realised this during the fast. I was so, so tempted by invitations to go out and eat/drink, but I found that when I gave it over to the Spirit – which I interpreted as praying to God for strength – it became a lot easier. Fasting shows God you’re serious; it shows a commitment. It definitely feels weird going to a cafe and drinking a cup of water around others. Especially as I didn’t tell many people why I was doing it. Which leads me nicely to point number 2.
2. Not Making It About You/The Food
It’s so easy to make things about us. We’re taught to look out for NUMBER ONE. We’re taught to protect ourselves. We’re taught to do as is done to us. The reason I tried not to mention the fast (which I know I failed at a few times) is because Jesus said:
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.”
I find this so funny, because Jesus KNOWS what we’re like. Here he was pre-empting my temptation to make it obvious to all what I was doing. He knows it’s scarily tempting to take a picture of your meal, upload it to instagram and be like ‘#danielfast #prayer!!’
But that would have totally defeated the point. The fast is not about me. It’s not about the food either, so I tried very hard to shy away from making complicated daniel-fast friendly recipes, or posting lovely, mason-jarred salads [which, if you know my instagram, you’ll understand that this in itself was a challenge!]
3. Trusting in God
This is the biggest one for me, I think. It’s so easy to SAY you trust in God but then to never actually trust in God, you know? I’ve learnt a bit more (although got a way to go) about trusting in Him, and not being anxious about anything (which is an actual command in the Bible). I was taught this lesson REAL quick when I prayed for healing for a friend, but went to bed internally worrying about her. The next morning as I prayed more about healing, I fell under intense physical discomfort (to the point of fear). And in that moment God reminded me to trust in Him. As soon as I did, I was healed and filled with such a feeling of peace. [The full story is on my instagram as I posted what happened there immediately, I was so overwhelmed]. *This is not to be confused with posting about the Daniel Fast on my instagram.
Here’s something I experienced – once you rely on God to sustain you during a fast and to help you resist temptation, you feel equipped to trust God in the bigger things too.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
God says to meditate on the Bible day and night (as I type this, I still need to work on this) which builds up our faith or ‘trust’ in God. The great thing about the Daniel Fast is that your primary focus is God and the Bible, so I grew in faith as a result of reading the word.
I do understand now what people mean by saying fasting brings you ‘closer’ to God. Relying on God to help me exercise self-control, helped me worship Him. I don’t mean worship Him in the traditional sense of praying & singing (although it did that too). But I mean in the sense of true worship; trying to make every action glorify Him. (Definitely need to work at that too). This fast allowed me to worship him with my body; by only eating foods that He has provided (no processed, man-made food) and thanking Him for what He has provided. Again, even though this is showing a commitment to God, God did not sit watching me and think, ‘Good! She is suffering/not enjoying things.’ He himself told me that ‘It is not sinful to enjoy what I have provided for you.’ Because God is all about JOY and FREEDOM. And experiencing both to the full.
‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, SELF-CONTROL; against such things there is no law.’
God gave me answers to some questions I had. (Big questions for me, but everything is simple for God). Answers that benefitted me and answers that benefitted others. God works in me to help others, which is amazing.
Answers are a result of prayer and meditation, which of course, the fast helped me to focus on more. It tried to be STILL and discern God’s voice, trying not to treat prayer as a one-way thing. If your prayer is not two-way, it’s not prayer.
I experienced such peace during these 21 days. God gives true rest; he REFRESHES our soul, which is pretty cool when you think about it. I can have a rubbish night of sleep, but I never come away from prayer feeling unrefreshed.
Peace certainly comes hand in hand with trusting God. ‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.’ (Isaiah 26:3) What peace doesn’t always do, is come hand in hand with happiness. You can be in a totally scary position and still feel peace – which is pretty epic.
In conclusion, I’m not saying a fast is a necessary part of being a Christian. But on the whole it was an amazing experience. I experienced no down sides, which was due to God’s faithfulness. I’ve actually had a medical condition in the past which made such fasts – even ones like the Daniel Fast – problematic. But God was with me throughout, showing me both physical and emotional healing. I would certainly do it again if I felt led to. I no longer feel that fasting is out-dated or plain weird. Jesus himself fasted and I would be mindful not to discount ANYTHING Jesus himself felt was necessary in his own walk.
What is called growing closer to GOD, I experienced as HEARING FROM GOD MORE OFTEN. This is most probably because I spent more time immersed in His words. 🙂