With the Lenten season upon us many people have decided to give up something for forty days, just as Jesus Christ had done before beginning his public ministry (Matthew chapter 4 verses 1 to 11).
However, for many of us, is this simply a religious ritual or a time of intentional repentance and seeking God?
Fasting: My Horror Story
My first experience with fasting from food was about a year ago when I decided to accompany my mother on a three day fast. I had resolved to do a Daniel fast since I was new to this.
The day started out fine; I had devotions, ate a salad and then took a nap (to conserve my energy I thought). By the time I woke up I was starving and there seemed to be nothing in the house to eat except for everything I couldn't eat.
Finally I found some dried peas and put them on to cook, after having them on the stove for about thirty minutes I read the bottom of the package which indicated that they were to be left overnight; I became furious.
In a fit of anger caused by the cob webs growing on my stomach walls I delivered a long rant to my mother, who calmly suggested that I was not ready and should therefore stop my fast. Completely taken aback by this diabolical suggestion, I rebuked her and stormed off to my room where I fell on my face before God.
To make a long story short, within the next thirty minutes I was eating a bowl of mac and cheese and apologising to my mother. I could tell a couple more horror stories about fasting experiences that I have had; however, I think it may be more productive for us to examine where I went wrong.
Why do we fast?
Recently, I watched a sermon by Stephanie Ike of One Church Los Angeles, entitled 'Living a Fasted Life', which helped to put a lot of the pieces together in terms of my fasting confusion.
She made the point that fasting is a positioning of our heart to hear from God and a physical discipline for spiritual development. As I reflected on my fasting track record, I realised how much more my heart was focused on staying away from the foods that I couldn't eat or making it to 6.00pm, than on hearing from God.
Stephanie went on to address my exact worry in her message by implying that what I was doing was torturous and a waste of my time. So I tried to think about all of the examples of fasting in the Bible that I could recall and in each case I noticed that the people were bent on getting an answer from God.
This was their only focus so much so that they gave up food to show God how important His answer and intervention was to them.
How long should we fast for?
In the past, I figured that people determine their time frame for fasting based on the urgency or size of their issue. However, both Stephanie Ike and my mother challenged this notion of mine, by indicating that unless instructed by God, we ought to fast simply until we get an answer from Him. We see an example of this in the story of David in 2 Samuel chapter 12 verses 22 and 23:
He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."
Therefore, why must we continue to fast for seven days if we have received our answer on day three? Though things are not always this simple, especially when it comes to corporate fasting, I found this to be a very helpful point in guiding me away from the very ritualistic type of fasting that I had grown accustomed to.
As we approach a more traditional fast like that of lent, we must all try not to fall into the trap of being disgruntled that this time of year is here again, or feeling pressured to do what our churches may be doing. Instead, let us use this time to intentionally focus on seeking God's will for our lives, and give up one or more of the things that could distract us from hearing Him.
Isaiah chapter 58 verses 6 to14 speaks of true fasting, and should we follow these guidelines, we may think less of the things we are giving up and more of the benefits we would gain. I think of things like: social media, television, gossip, alcohol or our favourite foods just to name a few as definite distractions from hearing God.
Who knows, maybe after these forty days we will realise how much we never really needed them.
Danielle Jones was born on the beautiful island of Barbados to phenomenal parents. She is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Arts in Drama as a part of a joint programme between the University of the West Indies, Mona and the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Jamaica. She hopes to be fluent in Spanish very soon, do global missionary work and spread the love of Christ.
Danielle Jones' previous articles m ay be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/danielle-jones.html