Unprepared and nervous about my personal famine, I thought maybe I should read a book on how to fast for the first time, a book God would surely want me to read prior to my belly’s sacrifice. Unfortunately, I’d read the Bible, the authority on fasting. It didn’t seem like anything else would measure up, and when Scripture talked about fasting, it seemed to want me to learn by doing.
The decision came at 6:45am on a Thursday morning. I’d eaten a large bowl of cereal the night before so I could sleep and was feeling guilty over my late night snack. I woke up feeling fat, like I should just stay in bed eating pizza all day. That’s how my first fast started—as a guilt fast—but with high hopes it would become a God fast.
Food is waging a war against mankind, trying to gain the upper hand, trying to prove who is really in control, which is more of a man. When man wins, he lives a happy normal lifestyle. When food wins, it either starves the man into weakness, too conscious of his weight, or overloads him, commanding him to eat more and more—sucking the life out of his heart and arteries.
After Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit led Him out into the wilderness to fast and be tested. Matthew 4:2 says, “And after he had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.” What blows my mind, is How Jesus was so satisfied with God it took Him forty days to become hungry. I don’t usually forget to eat, but when I do, it’s amazing. I’ll be sitting down to work on my book or blog and three hours will pass and I realize it’s two o’clock and I haven’t eaten lunch yet. I wonder if that’s what Jesus felt like, if He was so wrapped up with God that He simply lost Himself in a forty-day prayer.
But it probably wasn’t that easy, especially since the devil shows up in Matthew 4:3 with fresh baked bread. “If you are the Son of God,” Satan says, “command that these stones become bread.”
God abstained, answering the devil with scripture, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”(Matthew 4:4) Jesus was a man and Jesus liked food. But Jesus did not let food have victory over His nature. He conquered food through relying on the Holy Spirit. In one sense, though Jesus Christ didn’t eat anything for forty days, He was the first full man in all of history—living entirely on God.
The Lord is supposed to work when you fast, work in your life, and the lives of those around you. You’re supposed to be more sensitive, more easily moved, maybe because you’re lighter than usual. The first morning, I did notice something changing inside… hunger. My stomach spoke. I wanted to go to lunch.
That’s when I ran into a coworker whose Mother was sick. I was walking by her, not really paying attention, not really considering her troubles and her pains. “Ask how her mom is,” the Spirit moved. I couldn’t resist. I couldn’t stop.
Jerking around, I asked about her mom. My coworker’s face melted. She started crying—right in front of me, in front of a coworker she barely knew. Her mother was dying and her heart was dying with her. She loved her mom. I told her I was sorry, asking for her mother’s name. She asked if I would pray for her, the beautiful woman she loved so much.
Nodding my head, I said of course, surprised she would ask for prayer. “I’m spiritual, I can tell you’re spiritual too,” she said her eyes wet. “You asked for my mother’s name. I knew you’d pray for her.”
Shocked. I told her I would pray and walked away, realizing there was something to this fasting discipline. I didn’t know what she meant when she said I was spiritual. I didn’t know if she knew Jesus or if she was talking about something else. But when she spoke with me, she also sensed I had something different. I’d like to think that the fasting brought a Holy Spirit victory, a chance to reach out to a coworker in need. When I thought of that, the fast turned into a multiday experiment and suddenly I wanted to see what other surprises lay on the far side of the hunger curtain.
Day two of my food fast had a Friday night party in the schedule. It helped determine what type of fast I was on. It shaped my hunger by giving it a name. That’s important when you’re figuring out how to fast for the first time. A name symbolizes the struggle, the battle. That Friday night I named the war, calling it a food and alcohol fast (or FAAF). This meant that besides not eating any food, I would not drink any beer. The Christian party was not a FAAF celebration. They had food. They had drinks. I wasn’t sure what to do.
Making my way up to the bar tender, I ordered an orange juice. Someone called it a “screwdriver.” I called it a “cup of juice.” They looked at me confused. So I told them I was fasting.
That’s when I remembered what the pastor said about keeping the fast a secret. In Matthew 6:17-18 Jesus called out the religious leaders of the day on their making a big show of fasting, a big show of their tummies hurting. Jesus didn’t like that. He knew fasting was about something bigger. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret. ”
Washing your face meant looking like you always do, keeping the fast a secret. It meant I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. I figured since I was thinking about losing my reward in heaven, I’d probably lost it anyways since God is all about rewarding us for when it’s not about us. So I explained my fast to my new friend. I told him it sucked and I was hungry and how I was fasting for God and to discover what it all really meant.
He listened, watching me sip my orange juice for a few moments. He asked a few questions, none of which I remember, but I do remember him encouraging me to stay strong, to finish the fast God had laid upon my heart.
On the third day of the fast, I’d signed up for a short-term missions trip to a kid’s Saturday program called DayBreak in the projects of Washington D.C. Driving down into the assisted housing complex, I realized I had two options. I could get mugged and die—or survive and be fine. I prayed hard for the second option.
The place was a wreck. Only miles from our nation’s capital people live in poverty, in rundown brick buildings selling wilted roses on the side of the street to make a living. Most don’t have jobs. They seem like they’re waiting for someone, anyone. If you look west you can see the tall white dome of the capital. It looks rather hopeless from that far away.
So many people attended DayBreak that day that the leader had to divide the extras into prayer warrior groups willing to pray over the home and walk the street, asking God to intervene in the peoples’ lives. They asked for whoever wanted to go. I knew I had to go and pray. I knew I had to walk the streets I feared praying for release and healing.
So that’s what I did. I walked down a street with my friend Jovan circling community, circling chrome spinner wheels, circling drugs, circling red brick buildings, circling children, circling war zones—praying God have mercy on the city’s soul.
The fast was almost over, and I was tired, and weary, and ready to eat, but I knew I must go on. I knew I must pray for this city and this people and this hunger they felt. A poor man walked up to me and asked me for a sandwich. He said he hadn’t eaten in days. He probably hadn't smiled in that long too. I didn’t have a sandwich, but we’d given fruit rollup snacks to the kids and I’d stowed one in my pocket. He thanked me and for a moment his face held mine—hoping and praying he wouldn’t break once more.
Fasting and manhood are connecting by weakness. The poor man didn’t feel like a man, neither did the rich man. We didn’t feel strong. We felt helpless. And yet, God was teaching us manhood in weakness.
That afternoon, somewhere in my heart I forgot how afraid I was. I even forgot how hungry my stomach felt. All I saw was a people’s hunger and all I knew was weakness before God, unable to help, unable to do anything but ask for God to satisfy my flawed manhood and to satisfy all flawed manhood.
Dragging myself home that night, I fell asleep exhausted, weak from the day, weak from the spiritual famine, weak from a hurting city. And yet, I fell asleep a man, a true manly man. Food had no hold on me. Fear had no hold on me. Even strength had no hold over me. Only God had hold over me.
Day four of my fast was a Sunday, but I didn’t go to church. You would think that’s the perfect way to end a fast, in the presence of brothers and sisters in Christ. My church was hosting a group fast that day, teaching the congregation how to fast for the first time. Most everyone started Saturday night, giving up food or Facebook or some other life-controlling force. But I had no plans to join them. I should have, especially since I could have dropped I’d been fasting for four holy days as compared to their one meager day of hunger. All that glory was so close, so tangible, but I skipped out.
I didn’t join them because I was a heathen or knew I’d succumb to unholy pride. I simply had work. I was going to California on a business trip. So Sunday morning I packed up and headed to the airport for a six-hour flight to San Francisco.
As my coworker and I waited in the airport for the plane to leave, the attendant announced over the loud speakers the flight was oversold and she was looking for some good-hearted passengers to give up their tickets for a $300 voucher good for any flight. That sounded like a great deal, but we chose to pass, wanting to get to San Francisco for a sunset dinner at In-N-Out.
Sacrificing the vouchers, we boarded the plane, but as the flight as taxing towards the runway it stopped and the Pilot informed the cabin and crew we were turning around because of mechanical problems. We left the airport four hours later on a different plane. The plane we could have gotten on with the extra voucher left an hour earlier. That was upsetting, but even in the midst of the unfairness I tried to thank God for our safety since the other flight was probably going to crash and we were saved because of the delay.
When we arrived in San Francisco we skipped dinner to drive straight to the hotel two hours away, something I didn’t like since I was planning on ending my fast. I sat silent and grumpy, not wanting to talk. I’d given up a free flight for a fresh In-N-Out burger that never happened. The day felt as if it would never end, especially since we’d gained three hours on the flight and weren’t planning to arrive at the hotel until almost 10:30pm West Coast time.
But that’s when I remembered what fasting was all about. It was about not letting something control our lives. It’s about giving up what we use to check out of reality. For some, this means giving up movies, smoking, drinking, Internet, reading, working out, or other time consumers. But for me, I needed to give up my pride. I was using it as an excuse to focus on self, to think about how hungry and malnourished I was instead of using the alone time my coworker and I had to grow in friendship and perhaps talk about Jesus.
But I couldn’t change my heart on my own strength. I had pray to God, asking for Him to give me the strength to abstain from my self-centered nature and its desires. I had to recognize my limitations and call on supernatural strength. We all have to do that, not only when we’re fasting but everyday. As my friend Klint said once, “God is the only thing we should not be able to go without. A person in a strong relationship with God should not be able to last ten minutes outside of Fellowship with Him.”
So for the rest of the car drive I let the Holy Spirit fill my mouth and stomach, talking about faith and church and family and whatever else God intended for us to talk about. The Holy Spirit returned the favor with a 24hr Denny’s right next to the hotel. It wasn’t In-N-Out, but that didn’t matter.
I let God do His thing through me; and when that day was over, and the four days of hunger were complete, God satisfied my stomach as much as He satisfied my soul.
Photo By: RussellJSmith