Today I am excited to have Ashleigh Rich here to share what she has learned from making fasting a regular spiritual discipline in her life. She is saying four ways fasting helps with spiritual growth, plus tips to get started!
Every Wednesday for the past couple of weeks I’ve had to make the same choice: am I going to fast today, or not? I made a commitment to start fasting on a regular basis as a part of my spiritual goals for 2018. However, making a goal is one thing but following through with it is another.
I’ll be honest and say I didn’t really want to make this goal. I hate fasting. I happen to like food, a lot. Fasting for any length of time means saying no to something I love, even if it’s only for a few meals. It’s not fun.
I think I would be more willing to fast if something awesome immediately followed. If I knew I would hear the audible voice of God speaking to me as I fasted, or I knew I would feel super close to God that day, I would be more motivated. But neither has ever happened to me while fasting.
Why do I do it then? Two reasons:
1. Jesus said we should. In Matthew 6:16-17 Jesus gives his disciples guidance on what to do when they fasted, not if they fasted. Jesus expected his disciples to fast.
2. I know it’s good for me. I force myself to be miserable for a short period of time because I want something better in the long run. This is a biblical concept. Hebrews 12:11 reminds us of that: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (NIV)
Four Ways Fasting Helps with Spiritual Growth
What “harvest of righteousness” do we get from fasting? Here are four I have personally experienced:
1. Fasting highlights the ugliness inside you.
Going without food shows you who you are at your worst. I learned this while in college. Most often I do a juice fast. That means I don’t eat anything, but I’ll still drink juice (and sometimes milk). I do this so my stomach isn’t growing all day and I’m not getting lightheaded.
However one time in college I tried a water-only fast and learned I can get really hangry (angry from being hungry). Okay, I may have already known this about myself, but when I did this particular fast, I saw how ugly I could be. I got easily frustrated when I wasn’t getting what I thought I deserved and needed. It wasn’t pretty, but I needed to learn that about myself. It showed me something God and I needed to work on (and He did).
2. Fasting teaches you to function when you’re uncomfortable.
We live in a world of comfort and convenience. We get frustrated when we have to wait for anything. We complain about the tiniest things because we so rarely experience hardship. Fasting reminds you that life goes on and can be joyful even if you’re a little uncomfortable.
Fasting helps to put our problems in perspective. You can have a great day even if you didn’t eat anything. Living with a little discomfort is a valuable lesson for everyone to learn.
3. Fasting reminds you of God’s faithfulness.
I tried to fast consistently when I was single because I realized (with some help from people older and wiser than myself) that fasting was a good reminder of God’s faithfulness. Even if I didn’t have every desire of my heart, He was still there with me. God works while we are waiting to received our deepest longings. Fasting can help teach us this lesson.
When we go though our day longing for food, we are reminded that just as God will get us through this little longing, He will also get us through the bigger longings of our heart. Whether we desire a relationship, a child, a sense of purpose, the salvation of a loved one, or anything else, God alone brings us fulfillment. Fasting reminds us to rely on God alone.
4. Fasting helps you learn to suffer well.
The Bible talks about suffering, a lot. As Christians, we should expect to suffer. However, we often try our hardest to avoid suffering. We shouldn’t be surprised then, that when suffering finds us (and it always will), we don’t suffer well.
When we fast, we voluntarily enter into suffering on a small scale, which teaches us how to suffer well on a larger scale. We learn how to be patient with ourselves and with others even when we are suffering. We discover God is sometimes most present in our lives when we suffer. Through suffering well, we reap the benefits of suffering listed in Romans 5:3-5 (perseverance, character, and hope).
Once again, I am not saying fasting is fun. I’m also not guaranteeing some sort of super-spiritual experience if you fast. Instead, I’m saying the momentary difficulty is worth the spiritual growth. Each time I fast I learn something new about myself, God, or His plan for my life.
So I challenge you to try fasting to help with spiritual growth. Start small and do a 24 hour fast. The easiest is to go from dinner to dinner so you really only skip two meals. If you’re more adventurous, try fasting for a whole day or even a couple of days.
If you’re nervous about fasting (or can’t for medical reasons) try limiting yourself to eating boring/bland foods (like rice and beans). You can also give up something like meat, sugar or some other favorite food for a while. It’s okay to start small. The important thing is to start. Try it and see what God does.
If you would like to learn more about fasting and other spiritual disciplines, check out my 6 Week Spiritual Growth Journey, a free email course available through my blog. This course helps you to develop a biblical understanding of these practices and offers practical tips on how to incorporate them into your life. You can sign up for free here.
Ashleigh is a writer, blogger, wife, and dog mom who lives in the Portland, Oregon area. Her blog is focused on authentically living out the Christian Life, particularly when it comes to relationships (with people and God). You can find her online at ashleighrich.com, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.
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