Tuesday, August 2, 2011

2011 Disciplines: Prayer & Fasting

A few years back our team had read Celebration of Disciplines by Richard Foster and I was overwhelmed by the many faceted christian disciplines that are to be normal occurrence in my life.  I'm not sure about you, but as a recovering perfectionist and oldest child, I have a hard time doing things I'm not good at. I just avoid them like the plague. Last year God changed that aspect of my "thought" system a little and I've been more open to things I don't always feel competent at - I think homeschooling had a lot to do with that! So I asked God what two disciplines I should focus on for 2011 - he laid on my heart Prayer and Fasting (since they go together a lot).

The prayer portion didn't seem like such a stretch compared to fasting! I've gone without things for periods - like giving up TV, or fast food, or Starbucks, but never a biblical fast from all food. Yikes - when God picked fasting for this year I really felt out of my comfort zone. I do caution  that I'm only writing about a fast to encourage others in this life changing discipline, not to bring glory to myself. For that reason, when I have fasted in the past I choose not to tell anyone because it is something personal between just myself and God.

Here is some of the research I did before my first fast:

Purpose: The purpose of a biblical fast is to gain deeper fellowship with God. By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can more successfully turn our attention to Christ. I found that having a purpose in fasting is a great motivator - so for example I fasted for our trip to Colorado, praying we would be a strong witness while spending time with family. The last fast was for John's presentation in Vietnam, having a vision throughout the day to pray specifically for, made it much more personal and intimate with the Lord.

Why fast?: The Bible gives us examples of God's people fasting and praying so they could be reminded of their covenant with the Lord. King David wrote that he "humbled [him]self with fasting" (Psalm:35:13). Fasting brings us clarity like never experienced before, we are brought back to the deep reality that we are not self-sufficient. Fasting allows our fragility to deepen our dependance on God. I look at fasting as a detox from the world - fasting is a direct connection into the mind and heart of Christ, which reveals my greatest weakness and convict me of beliefs that are paralyzing my relationship with God.

A Caution from Matthew 6:16-18 on fasting, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Lessons Learned:
  • Start small - I did my first fast from dinner to dinner so it didn't seem like such a long time.Then gradually added more time - the longest fast I've built up to was 36 hours.
  • Drink lots of water
  • When done fasting, eat light otherwise you'll get a huge stomach ache!
  • Pre-plan meals, the temptation was so great when I had to be in the kitchen making the kids food, so I pre-made lunches and made Mac n Cheese for dinner - quick, simple and not as tempting. 
  • During the day my stomach would rumble - especially getting closer to the 36 hour mark, it was in those times I chose to pray more frequently. The rest of the time I tried to stop each waking hour to pray and reflect on what the Lord was teaching me. Sometimes I  would just sit in silence, other times pray for specific needs, or just meditate on a scripture I'd been practicing.
  • Avoid going out! I realized so many temptations are just a drive away. When I was at my weakest I was out driving the kids places and saw the media and advertising for what it truly is - temptation! Temptation to not be satisfied with what I already have been blessed with. As I get better at fasting I think this will be less of a temptation, but I'm still a  baby when it comes to this discipline so avoidance is the best option right now.
  • Don't go grocery shopping unless you want a lot of point of purchase items making it home!
One last caution, start slow - I've only done a handful of fasts and its already August! Fasting will be a life long discipline that over years and years I will establish more consistency with - I know they will get easier and more deep, but I had few expectations and just wanted the Lord to speak to me and teach me afresh. I know God honors my attempts and He is there with me in my weakness.  Do not get discouraged, celebrate the small accomplishments - otherwise fasting leads to a joyless person who no one wants to be around!

* Fasting by Jentezen Franklin
* A Hunger For God by John Piper - I have this on my list to read but haven't gotten to it yet.

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