Here are some things to keep in mind so that you can complete a fast and reap the spiritual benefits that I mapped out in my last post. I have made some mistakes in my efforts at fasting and this is what I have learned.
- Check your motivation. If you are more interested in the health benefits and the possibility of weight loss then you are not fasting in the spiritual sense. In fact, that mindset might be counterproductive. One of the reason that you participate in a fast is to take the focus off yourself and put it onto God. Instead, pray before you start that nothing will come out of the fast except what God wants. My problem was not with focusing on the physical benefits but trying to mark something off my spiritual achievement list. I saw completing a fast like I saw completing a Half Marathon or Marathon, it was a mountain to climb, something difficult that some never do and I was going to be a guy who got it done. “Kudos to me. Aren’t I special.” Again, the focus was on anything but God.
- Batch your fast. As I discussed last week, the fasting we find in the Bible is almost always centered around a sacred moment – some heavy repentance, mourning, a deep request for God to intervene and was always fasting from food. When my dad died, I took a day and fasted to work through some of my grief and remember his life and God’s gift to me through him. As you are first beginning to take up fasting, find a day or event that has some sacred meaning to it or combine it with a deep prayer need. Choosing a random Tuesday to fast just to fast will not give you the intentionality you need to make it work as you starting out.
- Add an activity. Similar to the one above. Combine your fast with an activity. One of the reasons fasting is so difficult is because we can get bored. Eating, thinking about eating, and preparing to eat take up a lot of our day. To eliminate that is to bring on a lot of time where it seems we are just sitting on our hands doing nothing. This can make a challenging thing even harder. I like to walk during my fasts. This is a good way for me to combine prayer with my fasting and to be present in nature where it seems we are often better able to reflect and hear from God. Warning: don’t make your activity too strenuous on your weakened fasting state. Other activities that might be good with a fast: worship, playing or listening to music, writing, watching an inspiring and moving film, or sleep.
- Start small. With anything we start a new, we have a tendency to plan for more than we can actually carry out. Or, we get through the first time but at such a cost physically and emotionally that we have zero motivation to do it again. With fasting, I would just start with one meal and then work your way to a 24 hour fast. You may think you are such a wimp to just fast one meal at a time but again, we aren’t interested in spiritual achievement but giving God a chance to work and dedicating ourselves to the practice to begin to reap the spiritual benefits.
- Don’t gorge yourself at the end of the fast. I have learned this one the hard way. I may be so famished that I think that my next meal has got to be some big taco plate or that BBQ sandwich. After living off of water for a day, dropping a big fatty meal into your stomach is a shock to your system and your body will probably react negatively. I like to make my next meal breakfast (a meal that is smaller anyway) and include some small protein and some fruit. If I respond well to that, I might add something a little more substantial an hour later. Resist the urge to feast.
- Give yourself a break. This may be cheating but I will stick with water throughout the day but will give myself a little tea with a little milk or honey in the afternoon of my fast. This is usually just enough of a pick me up to take the edge off of my sluggishness and gives me some motivation to stick it out the rest of the fast.
- Listen for God. Remember that you are doing this to place yourself in front of God and to learn to rely on him for everything. He is with you and you will learn from him as you make fasting a regular practice. If your first time is nothing but a challenge, that is normal. You and God will begin to find each other during your times of fasting and you will have sweet moments together.