I have asked this question for years: does fasting really work?
The answer: it depends. If I have learned anything about this deeply moving spiritual discipline, it is that does fasting work? is not the right question to begin with. Fasting is both difficult and difficult to understand. In my experience, it rarely ‘works’; by that I mean, it rarely causes anything big to happen right away and it usually causes something totally different than what I was expecting and hoping for. One year ago today, I completed a 3-day food fast and wrote a blog entitled, ‘I Didn’t Eat for Three Days, and Nothing Happened’. Today, I want to revisit that.
What drove me to this fast was the nagging suspicion that I needed to get off the couch and actually do something about Matthew 6, where Jesus uses the phrase, "whenever you fast". I made a special note that He does not say if, but when. Fasting is like every other Christian discipline; it doesn't always, but it can cause movement in the heavenly realm and should be a practice that saved believers (at least) think about (at least) occasionally. What it can also lead to though, is little more than a hangry Christian with no immediate answers.
After extended seasons of attending Zootown Church in Missoula and Antioch Community Church in Waco, I had come to expect a lot from fasting. I had seen my food-free peers experience supernatural healing, prophetic declaration, the works. As a result, I had begun to expect Spiritual Awakening when I fasted. So...
From sunrise on October 14th to sunset on October 16th, I did not eat any solid food. I drank water, milk and juice. I read the same passage every morning when I woke up and every evening before I went to sleep. (For the record, it was Psalm 119:33-40) I attended daily prayer meetings at my church and I only listened to worship music.
And nothing circumstantially changed in my life.
I woke up on Saturday morning in the same apartment with the same job, still hungry, still a graduate student. I was still unsure of how I was going to wrap up the next chapter of my thesis and my last semester of grad school. There were no fireworks, no prophetic dreams, no writing in the sky and no dry fleeces in my shower. I had no visions of a museum career in Virginia (where I wanted to move at the time), no name of my future spouse underlined in my Bible and no burning desire to be any nicer to the annoying undergrads that blared loud music last night. In fact, I'm pretty sure every emotion I felt those three days, every word I prayed and every faint whisper I may have heard from God (or imagined) were all recognizable, repeated things I'd heard and felt before. They were old and too-familiar. Leftovers.
And somehow, the God of the Universe knew that leftovers were EXACTLY what I needed.
Today, I look back on that fast and I can’t help but smile and give thanks. Knowing what was about to transpire just a few weeks after that fast, I can see the fingerprints of God all over that feast of leftover hope and faithfulness. Now, I’m not saying I found my dream job, a new home, a new ministry, and a husband just because I fasted. No, no, no. What I am saying is that change and the coming of our destinies will happen when God knows they should and not a second before.
For the last year, I have been devouring the book of Esther, where we see a secretly Jewish scribe named Mordecai fasting, putting on ashes and mourning at King Xerxes' gate, crying out to Yahweh to save his people. At the end of his fasting, the Jews are still not saved, but Mordecai is still certain that 'relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place' (4:14). I wish I could add, ‘at some other time’ to this verse. How I wept and prayed for a vision, for clarity, for specific answers to very specific questions from God during my fast. And all along He knew it everything I was seeking would arrive in just a few weeks.
The question that I am pondering today is this: If I had known it was all coming to me anyway, would I have fasted and prayed and worshiped as fervently as I did for those three days? Would Hannah have wept and prayed for a son if she had known that Samuel was in her future? Would Abraham have pleaded for most of a chapter of Genesis that God would save Sodom and Gomorrah for just ten faithful men if he had known there were not even that many?
If anybody out there is considering fasting, I continue to pray that you can be content with whatever gift or revelation God gives you or chooses to save for later. If He told us everything we wanted to know, we wouldn't need Him, so even when we fast, He sticks to telling us what we need to know and when we need to know it.
And sometimes, all we really need to know is, Dear Heart, did you know that I love you?