Honestly, I don’t ever look forward to starting the year with a 21 day fast. Yet I’ve done it the past eight years.
I don’t look forward to it because what should be a deeply spiritual act nearly always deteriorates into nothing more than a shift in what I eat.
I keep trying year after year to raise the spiritual bar, but haven’t quite nailed it (yet). What I have nailed is a few practical pointers that I hope will help on your next fast.
Here’s hoping year nine (finally) makes me look forward to fasting in year ten! :)
1. Jesus, Only Jesus
There’s no spiritual benefit to just not eating. So don’t get too caught up in the details of what (you’re fasting) and forget the why (deeper intimacy with Christ).
That’s why I recommend a food and reverse fast.
In short, a reverse fast is when you intentionally make time during your day to seek God more than you would typically. Where people tend to spend most of their time focused on the food-aspect of a fast, a reverse fast reverses the priorities and places it on God.
It’s been, by far, one of the more practical things I’ve done to increase spiritual engagement during a fast. Read about it.
2. Focus Your Fast
Fasting in the Bible always accompanied a specific reason.
Write down 1-3 main things you’re praying and believing God for during your fast. Be bold. Dream.
Give the fast a reason to matter personally and spiritually to you. Spend time praying for these things, listening for God’s direction (if applicable), reading related Bible verses, etc.
Know what you’re fighting for. It provides purpose and motivation. When you have a reason for going into battle, you’ll fight harder, longer and with more passion.
3. 100%, Not 98%
Right now, commit to yourself and God that you’re going to honor your chosen fast 100% of the time. Not 98% or any other number lower than 100%.
Let’s be honest, when you make an exception due to “extenuating circumstances,” the odds of you completing the fast go down drastically. If you justify doing it “just this once,” there’s nothing keeping you from doing it again.
The next couple tips will help you stay at 100%.
And even if you do drop below 100%, start over again that day. You’re now back at 100%. God extends grace. Take it.
4. Make an Allowed List
Make a list of the foods you’re allowing yourself to eat and only eat foods from that list. And be specific. Specific types of foods (e.g., apples, bananas) within specific food groups (e.g., fruit).
Do this before you start your fast. Alternatively, make a list of fast-approved recipes and only eat those recipes during the fast.
Inevitably, you will ask yourself the question: is this allowed? I guarantee you’ll ask that question multiples times as you’re presented with catered work lunches, dinner out with friends or cooking at home.
The list is designed to make that decision extremely easy; saving your time and energy for much more important things – seeking God (remember #1).
On the list, eat it (yums). Not on the list, nope.
And as you’re making the list, don’t get too caught up in the details of what’s allowed or what’s not in XYZ fast. For example, does whole grains include whole grain pasta or just whole grain rice? It doesn’t matter. Put it on the list or don’t. You choose for yourself.
Create a daily calendar. Every day, every meal. Answer the question: what are you going to eat?
Again, it’s all about making decisions at the start which drastically reduce the number of stressful game-time decisions. Game-time decisions are often when you’re the most tired, have the least amount of energy and and zero willpower to stick to your fast. (It’s called decision fatigue.)
Cook as many meals in one marathon cooking session as you can. Store it and have it ready to eat when you need.
5. Plan, Plan, Plan
Identify potential roadblocks. Where in your schedule will you run into some challenges during the fast? Maybe it’s a work party or out-of-town travel.
What are you going to do in those situations. See #3. Stick to your fast.
You can create a detour now that you know where the roadblocks are. Pack your meal for those occasions. Have something ready to eat when you arrive at a roadblock.
6. Jesus, Only Jesus REEEEEEMIX
With all these practical tips, let’s not forget why we’re fasting in the first place. To know Jesus more intimately. To see Him work in our lives on a much greater level.
How can we do that?
Spend more time in prayer, worship and the Word. You created margin for those things with a reverse fast, right?
Those three things should be staples of your spiritual diet. Want those things just as much as you want food. Oh, and don’t forget to give God an opportunity to speak. Be intentional about listening for His voice and the Holy Spirit’s promptings.
Fasting is hard. You’ll be tempted. You’ll feel like a failure at times. Embrace your weakness because Christ’s power is made perfect in it (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life. (from Why You Should Fast)
Fasting changes us. It breaks down the idols in our lives. Forces a reliance on God. Brings about humility.
But you know what the cool thing is?
Even though it changes us, fasting (in God’s goodness) can also lead to answered prayers.
Ezra 8:23, "So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer."
That’s humbling and also demonstrates the spiritual significance of fasting. Let this verse motivate you to honor your fast, seek Him more and pray for bold things!