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  • Writer's pictureRalph Felzer


Photo by Rawan Yasser on Unsplash


So, last week I mentioned that we don't always need to fast from food.  The truth of the matter is that there are all kinds of appetites, all kinds of things with which we fill our bodies, souls, and minds–and we can fast from any of them.  Remember, fasting isn't always–or even usually–about the actual thing that we're giving up.  It's about the hunger for God in the deepest core of our being, and if our fasting doesn't reach into that central place of our existence it really has little if any value.

Like the picture above, our hearts are packed full of all sorts of pretty desires.  Most of them look good.  Most of them are good!  But life goes south when those good desires get hold of us and crowd out what ought to be our one, true passion–life in and with Christ.

One thing to remember is that even before we were Christians, we've been haunted by a desire for God.  In fact, a desire for God is one of the very truest things about us!  He is what we were made for, and something deep inside us has always desired Him.  C.S. Lewis said that “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world” (Mere Christianity).  Now, Lewis isn't talking here about fasting, but he most definitely is touching the heart of what I want to say this week:  Fasting gets at us in a way that reaches the deepest desires of our hearts.  Most of the time, we don't desire what we ought to, or we find, as I talked about last week, that our desires are not too strong, they're too weak (another Lewis quote!).  

What do you want more than anything?  Really?  If you're anything like me, you know that the right answer to that question is "Jesus."  I want Jesus more and more fully in my life, my thoughts, my desires, my relationships … my everything.  I want the freedom and the life that can only be found in following Him.  But when push comes to shove, I also know that that isn't the driving, consuming, overriding desire in me that I wish it were.  More often than I'd like to admit, I find myself choosing to follow lesser desires than Jesus.  The fact is that my "chooser" is broken!  My desires, real and genuine as they are, are also broken and distorted.  Like a warped arrow, my aim may be spot on, but my arrow (that is, my desire) flies way off the mark.  

Maybe an even better analogy would be golf.  You can know all the right elements of a successful swing–feet square, firm (but relaxed) grip, proper posture, smooth backswing, still and steady feet, you get the picture.  Here's my point:  You can know these tips inside out.  You can memorize them and recite them backwards and forwards, you can even teach them to others.  But you can work so hard thinking about and mechanically executing these actions and still find your drive sailing wildly off into trees, water, sand–almost anywhere but where you desire for it to go!  Just wanting a long, straight drive and knowing everything that needs to happen in order to make it happen isn't enough.  Something's wrong.  Something's missing.  Something's broken.

The Christian life is much the same way–our desires and our intentions don't match the way we actually live our day to day lives.  We mean well and we try hard.  We read our Bible and we ask ourselves "What would Jesus do?" but our ball still caroms off the trees or sails into the bunker.  Ugh.

What to do?  How do we get our desires to flesh themselves out in the way we actually live?  Well, golf again gives us a clue.  We start in the wrong place.  We tend to start with knowledge and technique and execution.  Why don't we step back for a minute and work on what gets in the way of our right, good, and godly desires?  Let's work on our posture before God.  If I say I want, really want, to follow God and live a Christlike life, but I find that other desires crowd that out, what I'm really saying is that my loves, my desires, are somehow out of whack.

And this is precisely where fasting comes in!  What fasting does for us is it helps put us in a position where God can get at our deepest desires.  So we practice taking something we really like and, on purpose, we set it aside for a time in order to create a sort of empty place in us.  (And empty places aren't usually a whole lot of fun!)  This empty place then becomes a sort of foyer to our soul, the place where we remember God and invite Him, welcome Him, into our hearts and lives.  

God won't take a battering ram to our hearts.  He won't come in and manhandle our desires like a circus performer twists balloons into whatever shape he wants.  But we can make room for Him to come in and do a little demo work.  And fasting is one way to make that happen.

So let's finally talk a bit about ways to fast that have nothing to do with food.  If you remember, last week I talked about a season in my own life when I fasted from food from breakfast on one day to breakfast on the next, and the lesson I learned from that was this:  I don't have to say Yes to every appetite, every urge, every itch.  In other words, the lesson I learned had ramifications way beyond what I ate.  But food is just our most obvious appetite, right?  It's one we have daily and very naturally.  There's nothing wrong with eating!  But sometimes even healthy behaviors can get a grip on us that is unhealthy, and since eating is something we all have in common, food is very often a good place to start.

But what are some of the other habits in your life that God might use to help you break free of something that's holding you back from life and freedom?  And remember, it doesn't need to be a bad thing!  In fact, if you're fasting from a bad thing, that's not really fasting, it's repentance, and you ought to stop doing it!

So let's just rip the band-aid right off.  How about technology?  Is there a way for you to just turn it off or set it aside for, say, 24 hours?  Or maybe just an afternoon or evening?  I shared briefly last week about how I did this recently and found it incredibly freeing.  And I wasn't just freed from the technology, I was freed to spend more time on things I had been putting off or on really listening to my wife share what had been bugging her during the day, or even just focusing solely on the mystery we were watching on TV–or even, gasp–prayer and remembering the presence of Christ with me and in me.  The almost rabid busy-ness of thought, the stimulation that hits us like BBs in a trash can, is addictive–even if it is unpleasant.  Even if it is something we want to rid ourselves of.  Just try it once and see.  You can do it!

Back to food for a minute–how about fasting not from all food, but from one food in particular?  Like coffee.  (Or whatever source of caffeine you use.)  Or chocolate.  (Not dark chocolate, though, that's a basic food group!  Just kidding–none of this is especially useful if you can't keep a sense of humor about it!)  

How about fasting from buying things?  Take a day or two, and don't buy anything–no groceries, no gas, no trip to the ice cream parlor down the road, no Amazon purchases.  Begin to wean yourself from consumerism.  You'll be amazed at how liberating such practices can be.

How about fasting from noise?  Turn off the radio in your car.  Leave your earbuds at home.  It's startling how much we dislike silence, even the most introverted among us.  Fasting from as much sound as possible is a great way to learn to pay attention to what we're thinking and feeling–and let's face it, a lot of us are highly invested in not hearing those things, so we drown them out with all of our self-imposed noise and distraction.

You can see how fasting can become a healthy part of your life very easily.  And it can be a way of finding a freedom that we feel has been evading us for a very long time.  The way into that freedom may be a little uncomfortable, but let me assure you, you won't regret a moment of it!  

Remember what the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 5:  "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."  He has set us free–let's live out that freedom!  There's another word from Paul on this subject that encourages me:  "All things are permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial.  All things are permissible, but I will be the prisoner of nothing" (1 Cor. 6:12, my paraphrase).

I began this piece with a question:  What do you really want?  I'll tell you what you want–freedom.  And Christ Himself has both purchased that freedom for us and blazed a trail into it for us to follow.  The way is narrow that leads to life, and fasting is just one way for us to enter in at the narrow gate.  Fasting is not about how-to-do-life as much as it is about making a way for God to get at our hearts and our desires–our loves–and begin setting them in order.

So what holds you prisoner?  What causes you to walk through life with a weight on your shoulders and dark clouds overhead?  Perhaps the place for you to begin entering a life of freedom is fasting.  Why not ask God?  And if you'd like to talk to or pray with someone, give me a call and we can sit down together.

Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.

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