Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fasting--What I Get

Despite having grown up in church, I didn’t grow up with the discipline of fasting. No one I knew ever mentioned fasting. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned about fasting as a discipline for modern times, and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I understood it wasn’t just a religious requirement that could be used to impress God and convince Him to see things my way or do things my way.

Fasting isn’t ominous or mysterious, and it isn’t a way to manipulate God. The fact is fasting is pretty practical, easy to understand, and does nothing for God whatsoever.

Honestly, for a long time I thought fasting was just another requirement God threw at us so we could prove our devotion to Him by being miserable. The fact is fasting is something God offers as a means to grow closer to Him by giving up dependency on ourselves or other things and learning to focus that dependency on Him. Sounds lovely and theoretical, doesn’t it? Let me make it a bit more practical.

About five or six years ago I was going through a time when I really wondered how committed I was to the Lord. I am blessed with a pretty nice lifestyle, and I honestly wondered if I would be willing to be uncomfortable or even miserable for Him. Could I give up my comforts and still praise Him, or would I blame Him? Being a simple person, I simply asked Him, and He answered, “Fast all food for three days.” Huh? What kind of answer was that? That’s all He said, so I did that.

I fasted all food for three days. When it was over, I asked, “Okay, are you going to tell me now?”

He answered with a question.
“Were you ever hungry?”
Yes.
“How did that feel?”
My stomach hurt, like cramped and ached. I got dizzy sometimes, and I really didn’t feel too good.
“Then why did you do it?”
Because I wanted to know if I was willing to be uncomfortable for you.
“Were you?”

I suddenly knew. Yes, I was willing to be uncomfortable for Him. How much so, I didn’t know, but I believed if He could give me the ability to meet the discomfort He asked of me then, He would give me all I needed to meet the requirements He had later.

On another occasion I had been praying for our family, and I had been asking the Lord to knit our hearts together and unite us. In response, He said to fast the TV and computer. We don’t watch trash TV or play questionable games. Surely Dora wasn’t bad, but fasting isn’t about what’s bad. Fasting is about finding out what is better. And I wanted better for our family than what we had.

I sent my friends a message that I would be offline and only taking emergency phone calls for two weeks. I turned off my computer and started counting down to the answer He was going to give me.

It took all of about three days for me to realize the fasting was the answer. Instead of spending time on mindless things that isolated us, we spent our time playing games, reading together, and going for a walk. We found each other again, and we loved it. When the two weeks were up, my son looked at me sadly and said, “I don’t want to have to turn the TV back on. I want us.”

Now we make a habit of no electronics so we can enjoy each other.

This year the Lord has asked me to again give up the electronics, but that isn’t all. I am to give up all blogs, social sites, and electronic media, along with all written material such as books, papers, or magazines, that I use to meet my spiritual or emotional needs.

At first, I thought I was hearing incorrectly. The Lord always allows Christians to encourage one another. Why would He cut that line? He corrected me. That isn’t what this is about. He is not trying to alienate me. He is endeavoring to focus me.

When I’m having a bad day or am struggling with some kind of mental or emotional turmoil, it is easy for me to look for solace in one of the Spirit-filled blogs I read. They hear from God, so I trust them. God wants me to make the effort to hear Him for myself and to trust He cares enough to say something. Frankly, that is sometimes more my problem than believing He talks. I know He talks, but knowing He still cares about the mundane life of a human being takes a lot of faith. He wants to build mine.

It’s easy to let folks in my social networks affirm me and validate me. It is also easy to become a target for lies about how little value I have or how unimportant I am if I am not validated or affirmed enough or at the right time. The Lord doesn’t want me living in that trap. He wants me to be affirmed and validated by Him.

When I’m facing a problem and I feel overwhelmed, it’s always nice to let my brain rest in a good book, but a book is not my hiding place. Only my Lord is.

As the Lord began to share these things with me, He spoke clearly, “I’m asking you to give up your idols. Those things aren’t bad, but your heart toward them is.”

Wow. Who knew Oswald Chambers could be an idol? He would be mortified.

The Lord did not ask me to fast those things because they are bad or because He likes to see me give up things I love. He doesn’t sit on His throne and think of ways to make me miserable. Instead, He thinks of ways to answer my prayers. My recent one has been, “Lord, get rid of anything that keeps my heart from you.” How much love He must have to answer so quickly and with such clarity.

As I said, fasting does nothing for Him, but it will get rid of the band aids I use and force me to look to the perfect Comforter, the real Counselor, and the only true Refuge to meet my needs. I’m giving up stuff, and I’m getting God. That is what fasting does.

Copyright 2010 Jerri Phillips

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