Fasting: What’s in it for me?

fasting loving jesus prayer the worthy walk May 20, 2020

I didn’t really “get” fasting for a long time. As a kid, it seemed like some sort of mean test from God: “If you really love Me, you’ll go hungry.” Then when I got a little older, fasting and praying felt like the way a toddler gets what she wants: “If you don’t give me what I want, I won’t eat!”

Over the past two decades, I’ve done a few fasts—a day here and there. I have always appreciated the reminder to pray and the discipline of obedience, but the deeper purpose still eluded me.

And then three years ago, I found myself in a pit of depression, frustration, and—I’ll say it—despair. Each of my kids was facing a different and significant struggle, my husband was overwhelmed at work, and a foot injury had me unable to bear weight on my right foot, not even enough to push the gas pedal. In other words, I was stuck at home with a whole lot of big feelings and nothing to do but think about them.

I was depressed and angry and completely powerless. I was desperate… and in my desperation, I decided to fast. Why not?, I reasoned. It can’t hurt.

So I fasted. I abstained from eating, and when I felt hungry, I prayed. I started to fast one day every week, replacing time in the kitchen with time spent in prayer. And slowly, slowly, something began to change. Did my husband’s work stress disappear? No, though he diligently worked to decrease it. Did my kids stop struggling? No, and in some ways, they are still walking through them.

No, my circumstances didn’t change—at least, not in big, immediate ways. What changed through my prayer and fasting was me. My heart changed. My perspective shifted. I turned my eyes away from my circumstances and onto the One who holds all things in His hands, who uses all things for our good and His glory.

That’s when I realized the true purpose of fasting. It isn’t about getting something, it is about getting Someone. Fasting and prayer provide us with a unique opportunity to pull back from the mundane necessities of life and focus on the God who gives us life.

“Please show me your glory,” Moses said in Exodus 33. The Lord had determined that He would no longer go with the Israelites after their latest rebellion, the golden calf. Moses pleaded with God, who relented and assured Moses that he had found favor in God’s sight. And this was Moses’s response. He didn’t say, “If I have found such favor, can you please make the traveling a little easier? My bed a little softer? The people maybe, I don’t know, a little less stubborn and rebellious?” What Moses wanted—what he really wanted—was more of God. That is what fasting and prayer are all about.

Fasting is not a divine bargaining chip. It isn’t a test we have to pass. It isn’t a show to display our religiosity. And while we are absolutely encouraged to bring our requests to God, prayer ultimately isn’t about getting something from God. Fasting and prayer provide us with a unique opportunity to get more of God, to align our hearts with His.

And what an amazing gift that is.

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