Fasting

An Ancient Solution to Digital Weariness

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My college diet was deplorable. Many days, I saw Taco Bell’s “Fourth meal” less as marketing lingo and more as a privilege. I cherished ramen, fast-food, and freezer pizzas for their convenience and ease (and of course, their taste). Though the food tasted good, it left me feeling . . . not so good. My fat-saturated diet was served up with a side of regret and left me feeling bloated and weary.

These days it’s a tech-saturated diet that has me feeling weary. But instead of gaining weight, I’m losing meaning.

My eyes are dry and strained from endless scrolling on a brightly back-lit screen. My hand aches from forming the claw necessary to hold my phone all day. My brain is exhausted from trying to survive the information tidal wave it wakes up to each day. And my heart is discouraged at the frustration and the futility in it all.

Paul contends, “our outer selves are wasting away” (2 Cor. 4:16), and our devices used in excess certainly do not help. We are, as Neil Postman suggests, “amusing ourselves to death.” Half of our problems with digital devices would go away if we’d simply use them in moderation. But sometimes a hard reset is also appropriate. This is where fasting comes in.

FASTING: AN ANCIENT SOLUTION TO A MODERN PROBLEM

Fasting is an ancient practice designed to free us from what we hold most dear. Fasting provides an opportunity to routinely and starkly remind ourselves of who we are and what truly nourishes us.

Resolved to break free from my tech-saturated world, I considered my strategy. I felt like I was standing at the bottom of a long staircase holding several very heavy bags. I could see the top of the staircase, where I was master over my devices, and I knew it would take more than a few big steps to get there.

So I decided to take on two different forms of fasting; two small steps towards developing a normal rhythm of tech-fasting. These steps are small, but the tech-dependent baggage I carry is heavy. And there’s nothing wrong with taking the stairs one at a time.

A CLEANSING FAST

My first form of fasting was a cleanse. I decided to spend an entire day cleansing my palette of all devices and screens. No phone, no computer, no television. Only the baby monitor was allowed.

Before I started, I thought to myself, It’s only going to be about eighteen hours without devices. It’s not a big deal. Right?

But when you’ve been tech-saturated for years, the itch to sneak a look at your screen is much more tempting to scratch than you might think. While I didn’t feel quite like an addict having withdrawals, there were a couple of moments where I questioned my approach.

What if I miss something—something important? Is this responsible for me to do, as a pastor to people? What if someone depends on me to answer them and my phone is off?

I came to realize these were weak arguments for breaking my fast. But it’s an argument many pastors can relate to. We feel the impulse to be as available for our people as a fully-staffed 24/7 hotline.

Availability is not a bad thing, in and of itself, but if we aren’t careful, we will convince ourselves that ministry hangs on our shoulders. That God is not quite so sovereign apart from our ability, that we are somehow less in need of rest than our flock.

Shepherds watch over and sacrifice for their sheep, to be sure. But they sleep, too. In fact, a shepherd can’t effectively protect and guide his sheep without rest.

PUTTING CLEANSES ON THE CALENDAR

I’ve resolved to begin the practice of being device- and screen-free for three regular time periods: one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year. This kind of regular detox will remind me that the world can and will continue to turn without me. It will remind me that there is something far more worth my time than an infinite scroll of information.

After all, fasting is not just about doing without but replacing the emptiness with something we need. How could I regret replacing screen time with prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual disciplines? What if I devoted all that former screen time to face-to-face time with family or friends?

I’ve also resolved, thanks to the wisdom of Andy Crouch, to begin putting my phone to bed at night and waking it up in the morning. Too often my phone demands my late-night attention until I’m too tired to go on, and it’s there crying out for me the moment my alarm rings in the morning. But my phone is my pet, not the other way around. I need to take the leash back.

Disconnecting for one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year may seem unattainable for you. It will probably be uncomfortable the first time you do it. But it will be a routine reminder that this world and God’s plans are much bigger than you or anyone else. 

A SPEAKING FAST

My next fasting strategy had to do with talking less. Epictetus (and my mom) used to say we have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak. I decided to fast speaking, choosing to listen and observe instead. This kind of fasting doesn’t get nearly as much attention or exposure as the other, but it is arguably just as important for our souls.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve taken several-days-long periods away from saying anything on Facebook. Though still online, I have made it a point to stay silent. And silence is quite the teacher.

Every tweet, every blog post, every status update, every comment can be liked, shared, retweeted, affirmed, reacted to, analyzed, and engaged with. This means the whole of our online contribution is measured, evaluated, and scored by others. We know this. Yet we continue to justify the need to play the game.

Many of us in ministry see our online platform as a chance to share gospel truth with people in our sphere, but because of the inescapable metrics of social media, we also see it as a chance to be impressive. Do we wordsmith a theological statement and post it to the glory of God, or to the glory of self? Do we share a book quote because we want people to be sharpened by it, or because we want to be seen as the kind of person who reads that book?

If we’re not careful, we will mistake gospel proclamation for platform promotion. We will say with the migrants in Shinar, “let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4).

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE’RE SILENT

What does it do to our soul when we log onto social media and find no notifications waiting on us…again? During my fasting from speaking, I found out.

First, it humbles us. It reminds us that the world doesn’t need our platform. We are dust (Gen. 3:19).  It also reminds us that listening first helps us to speak wisely later, instead of being reactionary or presumptuous. It allows us to press into the right discussions at the right time, and helps us avoid getting caught in the “vain discussions” Paul warns against in 1 Timothy 1:6-7. Finally, fasting from digital speaking allows us to choose empathy without anything to gain from it (Phil. 2:3).

We need to empty ourselves of thinking the world needs our words, and more so, that God needs us. He doesn’t. His Word is sufficient. The fact that he speaks through us at all is a cosmic miracle. He does not need to use us, but he wants to use us. That’s what makes being a part of his mission so humbling and so shocking.

FAST FORWARD

“All things are full of weariness,” the Preacher reminds us in Ecclesiastes. Spend some time on social media, and you will agree. Each day is a deluge of debates and statuses and breaking news and sales pitches and memes and noise.

But Christ has the answer for our digital weariness: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Fasting takes our gaze away from our blue-tinted screens and turns them toward the only Shepherd who never sleeps (Ps. 121:4).

We will never be fully in the know. We will never say everything. We will never satisfy our deepest longings. Fasting reminds us of all these truths. You may not start with an extended, long-term fast. But start somewhere—for the sake of your soul.

Don’t be afraid of the emptiness, for it is there that you will find the Way to be filled.


Zach Barnhart currently serves as Student Pastor of Northlake Church in Lago Vista, TX. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University and is currently studying at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, seeking a Master of Theological Studies degree. He is married to his wife, Hannah. You can follow Zach on Twitter @zachbarnhart or check out his personal blog, Cultivated.

3 Fundamental Reasons to Recover Fasting

Recently I was asked to preach on fasting. Better yet, I was asked to preach on fasting on Super Bowl Sunday. In my mind I was being asked to preach on a super spiritual topic to the super spiritual people in our church who would actually show up to our services. Because I’m still being trained for ministry and never turn a preaching opportunity down, I pursued this  curious assignment with excitement. As I studied and tried out what I was learning, I began to realize what a normal and important practice fasting was for believers in Jesus’ day, and more importantly I experienced why.

We talk a lot about spiritual disciplines (rhythms of grace, or whatever term you want to use for personal disciplines that help line our lives up with all that we have in the gospel) in the church today—and rightly so, because we need them. But for some reason we treat fasting as this abstract discipline reserved for only the spiritual elite, removed from normal, everyday Christian life and discipleship. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus only talks about three spiritual disciples (giving, prayer, and fasting), and treats them with equal weight (Matt. 6:1-18). In Matthew 9:15 Jesus explicitly states that he expects his disciples to fast.

So what is fasting? And why does Jesus treat it as important and normal in the Christian life? Fasting creates hunger to experience more of God.

Creating hunger

Creating hunger means we take something out of our lives for a period of time that will hurt. Usually this is food, but it can also be other morally neutral things that are staples in our lives and would hurt to go without (like Facebook, email after work hours, TV, shopping, etc).

To experience more of God

We are not ascetics that just enjoy pain. The hunger we create is so we can feast on something greater. So fasting involves not just the cutting out but adding in—you have to fill that space with something. Use the time you would have spent consuming food or something else with feasting upon God. It’s for this reason that fasting in the Bible is always tied to prayer.

Why fast? Here’s three ways we specifically see this play out in our lives:

1. To plead with God/seek guidance.

This is one of the most common ways we think of when we think of fasting. For me, it was the only way I had thought of fasting before this sermon. Some examples include the Jews when facing annihilation (Esther 4:3) and the church at Antioch considering whether or not to send out Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2-3).

In this way, fasting creates space for us and reminds us to pray. It helps align our soul with an appropriate seriousness and tunes us to hear from God. Martin Lloyd Jones says it this way, “One any important occasion, when faced with any vital decision, the early Church always seemed to give themselves to fasting as well as to prayer.”

2. To help fight besetting sin.

Just as we might train in a gym for a big triathlon, so God calls us to train ourselves for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). Fasting is one of the ways we do this. When we say no to bodily urges in the form of food or something basic, we are exercising the muscle to resist in other areas (i.e., sexual temptation).

Fasting trains us to not just gratify our bodily urges. This strength to resist will transfer to other areas where we fight against sin. Martin Luther says, “Of fasting I say this: it is right to fast frequently in order to subdue and control the body.”

3. To remind us of Gods presence.

Have you ever gotten through a day and realized you forgot about God all day? Me too. It’s madness! You know when this doesn’t happen? When you’re fasting. The hunger pains serve as a reminder that there is more going on beyond what we can see. Fasting tunes us to a deeper and truer reality. The sovereign King of glory is with us, in spite of how we are doing, and this is where we find true life in the midst of our crazy circumstances.

As I got up to preach this sermon to my church family, I was really preaching to myself all that God had been teaching me . Fasting is not something we must add to our lives in order to earn God’s love, rather fasting is a gift to help us live more awake to the undeserved love of God in Christ and to stay clear of distractions that numb and take our life .

If we’re serious about walking in the joy, freedom, and life of the grace of God, how can we neglect fasting? Incorporating fasting as a regular discipline into my life has taken me into much more vitality in my walk with the Lord .

What do you need to take out of your life, where do you need to create a hunger, to help you tune your thoughts, affections, and energies toward God?

Chad A. Francis (@chadafrancis) serves as the Ministry Coordinator at Garden City Church, where he is being assessed and trained for future pastoral ministry. He’s obsessed with grace and passionate about being a waker where complacency exists. You can read more from Chad at www.chadafrancis.com.

Bringing the Multiplication Mindset Home

Long days are draining. You need rest, but you’re not actually expecting it. You’re preparing yourself for children’s excited voices greeting you. You’re ramping up to mediate disputes between them, hopefully about who gets to hug you first. You also might greet a relieved spouse, fatigued from a long day of either being with the children or being at a long day of work. You’d think the daily re-assimilation into home would be seamless. But it isn’t, is it? Sometimes we are not spiritually or mentally prepared for it. Sometimes we are exhausted and our guard is down against pride and selfishness, resulting in ruinous family patterns.

Knowing this, practicing a routine that prepares the heart, soul, and mind for re-assimilation into family life is essential. It is an intentional discipline not just for your spiritual formation, but also for your wife’s and your children’s. It’s a small step taken as you lead and disciple them. In turn, you and they will duplicate the mindset in all other discipleship environments: school, work, extra-curricular environments, and third places. When we approach every place with this mindset, we are better prepared disciple multipliers.

Obviously, the mindset shift into a new environment is not always successfully executed. This is the case particularly for fathers or mothers re-entering home environments after a long day of work. That’s why I picked this one to discuss. It’s easy to re-engage home with work-brain. But when we shift to home-brain, much discipleship fruit is cultivated. And so is the model for your children to duplicate as they multiply disciples in other contexts (2 Tim. 2:2).

It takes only a few minutes each day to prepare our mindset. We can do this in our car before departing from work, or as we are driving home, or sitting in the driveway. It’s a really simple and classic process: shift your mindset, read Scripture, and pray.

1. Shift Your Mindset

Shifting our mindset is not some rote process. It is an intentional plan of engagement where we earnestly decide that what is ahead is more important than what is left behind. Thus, we plan to lay aside our pocket screens, ignore notifications, and push back any residual work until after little ones are tucked in bed. This is also when we place work cares upon Christ; anger, fear, anxiety are relinquished in him (1 Pet. 5:7).

We prepare our minds for inquiry. We want to be quizzical of how the day went: the joys, trials, conflicts, surprises—all that took place during our absence. And quite honestly, a stay-at-home spouse will crave adult conversation, so we must be prepared to listen.

We also want to enter with the posture of service. Typically, I am in the practice of swooping into the home and whisking all three children away for a walk or playtime at the community playground while my wife, who is the one staying at home in our case, gets 15-30 minutes of quiet solitude.

Most working dads—if they are honest—have a Ward Cleaver or George Banks expectation for home arrival: immaculate home, hot dinner, spotless and perfectly behaved tykes, and wife in a dress and pearls. My mindset is a little different. I’m hoping for no fire, flood, or other acts of God to have occurred. But most of the time, I’m certain a tornado hit our kid’s room.

However, we should have realistic expectations rather than idealistic expectations. God, fully anticipating our fallen condition, has been long in suffering with all our short failings. We, likewise, should follow in his step, not expecting a picture of Eden when we arrive home.

2. Read Scripture

Thomas Watson said, “The Scripture is the compass by which the rudder of our will is to be steered.” My will is prone to drift off a God-glorifying course due to the desires of my flesh. Scripture is what holds the course of the mindset.

It’s not enough to think on Scripture; we must share Scripture, too. We should be primary feeders of Scripture to our children. What if we had a Scripture to share with our children every time we returned home from work? How glorious would that be for our family? Not only would our will be set on the right course, but it sets a pattern for our children to be set on the right course with the right instrument to aid them: Scripture. When our mindset is built off Scripture, then it will be that much easier to mold our children’s minds towards the same end. In many ways, this will be effectively caught more than taught, as long as we are contagiously and earnestly conversant with our children about what the Lord is teaching us.

In Taking God at His Word, Kevin DeYoung says, “The word of God is more than enough for the people of God to live their lives to the glory of God” (55). He’s not just talking about Scripture’s sufficiency to tackle the tough question of apologetics, theology, and our wrestling with doubt. DeYoung is saying Scripture is sufficient for everyday people to live everyday lives to the glory of an extraordinary God. Scripture dishes up helpings of truths that sufficiently ground us in the fruit of the Spirit and armor us to wage war against our enemy.

Thus, we’re prepared to enter the foray of a potentially chaotic household. God’s Word serves as a sufficient implement of peace in our hearts and homes. That peace is the peace of Christ. For Ephesians 2:17 says, “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” That peace will then be spread afar by those whom we are training in our household to bear that peace to others. They will see us bring it, and they will long to share it with others.

3. Pray

You will regret watching too much TV, playing too much Candy Crush, and reading too many tweets. You will never regret praying too much. You can’t pray enough. Prayer is this incomprehensibly extraordinary gift where we have direct and full access to the God of the cosmos. He instructs us to ask for wisdom (Jas. 1:5) and to petition him with our requests (Phil. 4:6). Yet, we treat prayer like someone who picks a particular mobile carrier with unlimited talk minutes with a particular person, but who never actually called that person. That’s precisely what we have—full access; and that’s precisely what we do—full neglect.

Prayer doesn’t produce a desired outcome as much as it transforms our current outlook. When we earnestly pray for our family before arriving home, it reorients our family around God rather than our children or ourselves. Helplessly bringing every concern, fear, or potential conflict to the Lord sets us up for entire dependence upon him for resolution. So often we rack our brains on how we can provide solutions and fix problems. Perhaps those tensions or problems exist not to give us something to troubleshoot, but to direct us to shoot the message of our troubles up to heaven. They become a grappling hook that draws us up to God.

If we’re always praying about how we want things to change in our family, then it might just be us that require change. If nothing else, we need to open our eyes to the gift our spouse and children already are. They are a gift to steward, so we should ask God to show us how to steward, lead, and equip this gift as we prepare to commission them for gospel ministry.

So we shouldn’t just deliver requests to God, we should express thanks and praise to him for our family as well. Before you head home is a great time to do this. It will—just like reading Scripture—facilitate that right mindset you wish to have when you return home each day.

I know what Scripture says about praying in our closet, but there is something valuable about praising God’s answer to prayers before our spouse and children. If they never know that we’ve been praying for them, they will never have appreciation for God’s answered prayer. They will also not share the same value and import prayer into their mission contexts. So don’t just secretly pray for your family, openly discuss what you pray. Not only this, but solicit their prayer needs. That way, you can pray specifically for them as you are about to re-engage in your family context.

Multiplication in Mind

Our society is programmed to pull families further and further apart over time. This is not healthy; it is actually potentially harmful. The more families are apart, the more false doctrine and false teachers may slyly slink into the family and corrupt convictions. This could slay souls.

Those few hours that exist after work and before bedtime are critical. They are the hours that we have to build into our family the stronghold of a Christian worldview. We’re not just constructing a stronghold; we are training emissaries of our King. Our family will be sent out to herald good news to others. This means they must have first heard it from us, seen it demonstrated by us, tasted the fruit of it, and felt a stirring to multiply the process. Ones who have tasted the nectar of the gospel will naturally share it on to others.

Joey Cochran served as an Associate Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma for four years before transitioning to be the Church Planting Intern at Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois under the supervision of Pastor Joe Thorn. Joey is a graduate of Dallas Seminary. Joey blogs at jtcochran.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @joeycochran.

A Season to Fast and Pray

Lent is a time for prayer and fasting. It is a season of spiritual preparation in which we remember Christ’s temptation, suffering, and death. Historically, the church has celebrated Lent as a 40-day period beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding the day before Easter. It is observed in many Christian churches as a time to commemorate the last week of Jesus’ life, his suffering (Passion), and his death, through various observances and services of worship. Many Christians use the 40 days of Lent as time to draw closer to the Lord through prayer, fasting, repentance, and self-denial. We live in a culture of fast food, instant gratification, and self-centeredness. One of the best ways to get our eyes off of ourselves and back onto the Lord is through fasting. However, fasting has practically been disregarded and forgotten in the comforts of the modern church. Fasting didn’t end in Biblical times, there have actually been proclaimed fasts in America. Fasting is nothing new in American history. The pilgrims held three formal periods of fasting before leaving for the New World. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress proclaimed July 20, 1775, as a national day of fasting and prayer in preparation for the war on independence.

What is Fasting?

What does it really mean to fast? According to the Oxford Dictionary, fasting means to abstain from food; especially to eat sparingly or not at all or abstain from certain foods in observance of a religious duty or a token of grief.” Fasting and religious purposes cannot be separated because they are intricately intertwined. The Bible gives us numerous references to individual and corporate fasts. There were even certain days that were designated each year for fasting and prayer. Fasting is a gift that God has given to the church in order to help us persevere in prayer. Fasting draws us closer to God and gives power to our prayers. Our central motivation with this lesson is to teach about the reasons to fast, different types of fasting, and then discuss how to fast.

Reasons for Fasting

People have been fasting since the ancient days of the Bible. The Bible records numerous accounts where people, cities, and nations have turned to God by fasting and praying: Hannah grieved over infertility “wept and did not eat” (1 Samuel 1:7); Anna, who was an elderly widow, saw Jesus in the temple and “served God with fasting and prayer” (Luke 2:37). Saul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, “was three days without sight, neither ate or drank.” (Acts 9:9). Cornelius told Peter, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour…” (Acts 10:30). Most people fast for religious and spiritual reasons, while others choose to fast for health reasons. There are several specific reasons that the Bible tells us to fast.

  1. To be Christ like. (Matthew 4:1-17; Luke 4:1-13).
  2. To obtain spiritual purity. (Isaiah 58:5-7).
  3. To repent from sins. (See Jonah 3:8; Nehemiah 1:4, 9:1-3; 1 Samuel 14:24).
  4. To influence God. (2 Samuel 12:16-23).
  5. To morn for the dead. (1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:12).
  6. To request God’s help in times of crisis and calamity. (Ezra 8:21-23; Nehemiah 1:4-11).
  7. To strengthen prayer. (Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:17-29; Acts 10:30; 1 Corinthians 7:5).

Types of Fasting

In the same way that God appointed times and seasons to fast, He also designated several types of fasts. Because of certain medical problems, and physical needs, there are different types of fasting. Not everyone can go on an extended 5-7 day fast; in a similar way, not everyone can totally abstain from food and water. A person should exercise wisdom and consult their physician if they have any medical concerns before they fast, otherwise it could actually be harmful to your health. However, there are at least three types of individual fasts: absolute fast, solid food fast, and partial fast.

1. Absolute Fast

An absolute fast is conducted by abstaining from all food and water for a certain period of time. This is also known as the “total fast” because an individual chooses to abstain from all foods and beverages. There are several Biblical examples for the total fast. Moses and Elijah both abstained from food and water for forty days and forty nights. (Deuteronomy 9:9, 10:10, 18:25-29; 1 Kings 19:8). Although the Bible says they fasted for forty days, many people usually only totally abstain from food and water for three days.

2. Solid Food Fast

A solid food fast is where an individual may drink juice and water, but chooses not to eat solid food. Certain scholars and theologians think that Jesus may have drank water while in the wilderness since the Bible doesn’t say that he was thirsty after his forty day fast (see Matthew 4:2). Drinking water while fasting for several days can actually be therapeutic for your body. In any case, you should not fast for more than a week unless you consult a doctor.

3. Partial Fast

To fast simply means to “abstain” from something. A partial fast is where you choose to abstain from certain foods and drinks instead of complete abstinence of food or drink. The Bible tells us that Daniel abstained from bread, water, and wine for twenty-one days (Daniel 10:3). Others may choose to fast from television, computer, newspaper, and hobbies. This will help you free up some time to spend in prayer and reflection.

Jesus and Fasting

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught a lesson about how to fast and how not to fast:

“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your father who is in the secret place; and your father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:16-28)

We see that it is important to not brag or boast to others about fasting. The Jews of Jesus’ day used fasting and giving to make everyone think that they were more spiritual than others. But Jesus tells us that fasting should be done in secret so that it can’t be used as a way of bringing glory to ourselves. Fasting should make us humble instead of proud. In the end it is not our works, but our hearts that matter to God.

Dr. Winfield Bevins serves as lead pastor of Church of the Outer Banks, which he founded in 2005.  His life’s passion in ministry is discipleship and helping start new churches. He lives in the beautiful beach community of the Outer Banks with his wife Kay and two daughters where he loves to surf and spend time at the beach with his family and friends. Twitter: @winfieldbevins

(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Prayer Life by Winfield Bevins available through GCD Books.)