This Wednesday we're encouraging as many of us as possible to pray and fast us to find the right people to fill the three vacant roles we have within our kids work.
In the light of that Jacqui Webber-Gant has written some really helpful advice on fasting, on the benefits of fasting and how to practically go about it.
Whether you've ever fasted before, or if it's completely new to you, please consider engaging in some way on Wednesday. And longer term be thinking how you could build the discipline of fasting into your wider walk with God. It will do you good!
Fasting is a spiritual discipline. The spiritual element is that when we set aside eating food for a day or more we free up some special time to focus on prayer, worship and bible reading. This enables us to draw closer to Jesus. The temporary hunger pangs that we will experience remind us that we are putting our flesh through discomfort to enable our spirit to be fed. One time when the disciples were urging Jesus to eat the food they had gone some distance to buy Jesus told them that he had food to eat that knew nothing about and said, 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work'" (John 4:34).
Jesus fasted regularly as a devout Jew. He had learned how to endure hunger pains to develop his character and faith. Jesus started his public ministry by fasting for 40 days and 40 nights. During this time he was tempted by the devil but he resisted and was filled with the Holy Spirit. He rebuked the devil who tempted him to turn stones into bread by saying 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' (Matthew 4:4) This fast took place in the wilderness away from the hustle and bustle of commerce and family life. This fast was a foundation for the ultimate act of obedience Jesus made when he was arrested in Gethsemane, tried before his accusers, publically shamed then crucified taking the sin of mankind as He died in our place.
The discipline aspect of fasting grows with practice. Most of us eat three meals a day and possibly snack in between. We eat for pleasure as well as to nourish our bodies. Most meals are shared with the people we love the most and all of the very best times in life are accompanied by food. If you have never fasted before then I suggest you start gradually and see how you get on. Start by missing one meal and decide the hours that you will not eat. Replace that mealtime with a time of prayer and you may find it helpful to pray whilst you walk to keep focused. Use your prayer time to praise and thank God, to pray in tongues, to pray intercessory prayers asking God for the concerns on your heart. You could memorise a bible verse and use this as a basis for your prayers. Try to just drink water so that you really are sacrificing the pleasures of sugar as well as solid food. You may feel a bit light headed or crotchety but ignore that and keep going.
Gradually build the time that you can go and listen to your body. I find that I need to stop drinking caffeine a few days before fasting because caffeine withdrawal gives me bad headaches and it's difficult to pray and be happy with a headache. Jesus taught that fasting (Matthew 6:16-18) should be a secret between you and God and you should maintain a cheerful heart and demeanour. That means you need to decide when you are going to fast and for how long. It is helpful to tell your family members you are fasting so they are aware and can support you and not cook your favourite meal for you!
Try to maximise your prayer time. Fasting without prayer is really miserable, so look at your diary and find the time when you can pray on your own and with others and really give your attention to prayer.
I fasted a lot when my children were younger. I would prepare food for the family spend a bit of the mealtime with them, as this is a precious time of the day, then go for a walk or upstairs to pray. If you are feeling horrid then you probably don't feel like praying. Press through this to get to the reward.
I find fasting gives me clarity. I am more open to God's spirit. I am more aware of the spiritual battle we are called to fight. I am more sensitive to the needs of others and alert to the world around me and I grow in my love for Jesus and my need to be filled continuously with the Holy Spirit. I find I hunger for righteousness and find a deep and lasting satisfaction which is different to the satisfaction we get from eating.
Prayer and fasting is particularly powerful if you want to see a breakthrough. In Acts the early church prayed and fasted before appointing apostles and at times of key decision making. I remember the regular call to prayer and fasting when we were believing God for huge sums of money to build the Kerith centre and K2. We would gather for whole nights of prayer and this is where I learned how to do longer fasts. I have fasted and prayed for loved ones with chronic and life threatening illnesses.
Fasting is not dieting. Although there can be many health benefits from a period of fasting, the purpose is to get closer to God. Some people need to be very cautious when thinking about fasting. Those on medication, the young and the elderly and anyone who has had an eating disorder should consider a different approach. You may choose to give up chocolate, ice cream or puddings for a set time. You may find that you can manage a 'Daniel fast' of simple vegetables or just a small portion of bread and water.
Why don't you agree a day to fast with your small group? Book a time together to pray in the prayer room or go on a prayer walk. Perhaps you could babysit for someone so they can get alone to pray. Make a note of what God speaks to you and share this encouragement with others.
One of the best things about fasting is stopping. It makes you so grateful for the bounty and variety of food that God has given us. Never does a cheese sandwich taste so good!