There is no record in the gospels of what happened on Wednesday, but it is thought that Jesus remained in Bethany in preparation for Passover and His Passion. It is the calm before the storm.
In the ebbs and flows of life, I find that God often gives us times of quietness before times of intense activity. Our God ordains rest and blesses stillness.
I would like to use this respite to address a related issue. We have set aside the two weeks leading up to Resurrection Day for prayer and fasting. On Monday I received an email from a young friend who has questions about fasting.
“My husband and I started the year with a Daniel fast, and I was pretty surprised at how the Lord used that to reveal so much in my heart that I needed to repent of, and surrender, and make right with others. I have tried to learn as much as I can about fasting, but it is still such a mystery to me. I was wondering if you could share your experience with fasting, and some insight on why we fast and why depriving ourselves from food causes such spiritual breakthroughs. It is so confusing to me, but I want to understand!”
She also gave me four questions she would like me to answer.
“Food hasn’t been a temptation or idol in my life, so sacrificing it doesn’t seem as though I’m depriving myself of something I really am attached to. I’m familiar with fasting from other things, like TV shows and my phone and things I really enjoy, but the Bible talks about food specifically.”
You are right. The Bible talks about fasting from food. We call this a complete fast, but there are also instances of fasting from food and water (e.g. Esther’s three-day fast). I believe that the purpose of fasting is not so much to deprive ourselves of something we like, but to be more intensely focused on God and His will for our lives. The Pharisees fasted two days a week. They also found fault with Christ’s disciples for plucking grain on the Sabbath. But Jesus told them:
“If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”Matthew 12:7 (NKJV)
God isn’t seeking our sacrifice as much as He is seeking to bestow His mercy upon us so that we will be merciful to others.
When we fast from food, then the attention we usually give to food–preparing, eating, cleaning up–can instead be given to God. But I do believe something more goes on in the spiritual realm than we can explain. I can’t tell you why fasting leads to spiritual breakthroughs, but it does. Fasting helps us “tune-in” to the Spirit to hear God’s voice and receive His wisdom, understanding and power. Although a technology or media fast is not mentioned in Scripture for obvious reasons, anything that occupies our mind or heart space can be set aside if it distracts us from communion with God. The apostle Paul speaks of a married couple abstaining from sexual relations for a short time to devote themselves to prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5).
“I don’t know how to fast. Is it more than simply not eating? I know it is intertwined with prayer, but I don’t know how to put that into practical use during my day as a stay at home mom juggling kids. I don’t really have the ability to lock myself in my prayer closet during meal times.”
I struggle myself with knowing how to fast, what to fast from, and how long to fast. I prayerfully seek to map out a course. Dr. Bill Bright from Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) gives practical information in 7 Steps to Fasting.
Fasting and praying with small children is undoubtedly a challenge. Locking yourself in a prayer closet clearly isn’t an option–unless it’s during that glorious hour called naptime. I heard a story by Jill Briscoe where she tried to put her children into a playpen so she could have a “quiet time”, but they would never cooperate. She discovered that if she got into the playpen, then they would leave her alone! Probably the best plan is to learn to “pray without ceasing”. God knows you have responsibilities as a mother. He sees your heart, and you can carry on a dialogue with him while you’re changing diapers, just as you would with a good friend.
“Is fasting supposed to be a routine discipline, or only when I am requesting something from the Lord?”
The Scripture supports both practices. Under the Mosaic Law, the only required fast was on the Day of Atonement. That was an annual routine. The book of Zechariah also mentions a regular fast in the fifth and seventh months (Zechariah 7:5). Other times in Scripture fasting is for specific reasons, such as in obtaining protection from God (Ezra 8:21), seeking a divine revelation (Daniel 9:3), or casting out demons (Matthew 17:21).
“If I fast, how do I keep from letting the wrong reasons creep in, and if they do, is the fast pointless and wasted? I get so discouraged at the temptations to think of this as a way to eat less and lose weight or whatever, and I feel like I failed when those thoughts creep in.”
Remember that prayer and fasting is engaging in spiritual warfare. When you dedicate yourself to this, don’t be surprised if you are bombarded with all kinds of temptations. Remember that Jesus was tempted by Satan while He was fasting. Satan wants you to get discouraged so that you will stop short of receiving the full blessing God has for you. It is not uncommon to fail in your fast in some way. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). Your fast is not pointless or wasted, just as a toddler’s first steps aren’t wasted when he falls–provided he gets up again. It is all part of the growing process. Another good article from Cru is Stuffing Our Soul: On Fasting.
I hope this helps! Fasting is a spiritual adventure that every Christian should embark upon. Make sure you journal your experiences, because as my friend points out, the Lord will reveal much that is in your heart, and you’ll want to remember it all later–maybe even over a cheeseburger!
Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash
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