Intro to Prayer and Fasting
Over the years I have found that it is one thing to step into a season of prayer and fasting, and another thing entirely to stick with a season of prayer and fasting. Throughout this journey, various voices from within the church family will hopefully serve as a voice of practical encouragement for the journey that we are on together.
Although all forms of fasting can stretch our souls, the purpose of this post is to speak to the physically stretching many of you may be experiencing if you have chosen to fast from food in some fashion and how you can stay focused to receive all that God has for you during this time. As always, if you are fasting food, I highly recommend checking with your doctor first.
This Isn’t What I Expected
I have found that expectations can make or break nearly any aspect of life. If there is too great a distance between what we expect and what we experience, we are prone to failure or, at the very least, a grave disappointment.
Years ago when I began fasting for the first time, I remember having rather grandiose expectations about what I would experience during my time of fasting. I had visions of spending hours in prayer, hearing clearly from God about various things I was discerning, and just feeling closer to God in general. What I experienced, however, was quite different.
Rather than feeling at peace and connected to God I felt hungry, tired, and angry. The hours that I had expected to be deep in prayer were consumed with many thoughts, but most of them were not about God. In fact, my first few attempts at fasting felt more like survival than spiritual growth. Maybe you can relate now that we are a few days into this journey together.
It wasn’t what I had envisioned, and it almost became disheartening.
If your experience is anything like mine was, you may be asking yourself the question, “How do I move forward when all I want to do is quit?” You know that there is a promise of reward (Matthew 6:16-18), but with a fatigued body, wild running thoughts, and imbalanced emotions, sticking to the commitment you’ve made may feel cumbersome.
You Are Not Alone
If this is where you are, you’re not alone. I get it, and so does Jesus. He felt the enormous strain of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion when He went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days (Matt. 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13).
Here are a few things I have learned that I would recommend trying:
Shorten Your Focus: Instead of trying to mentally prepare for getting through your entire day, ask God to help you get through the hour. There may even be times you need to ask God to help you get through the minute. This is one of the benefits that come from fasting. It trains us to spend every waking moment with God in a place of dependency.
Pray Continually: I would encourage you to find a short prayer that you can pray "without ceasing" during this 21-day fast. Some people refer to these short prayers as breath prayers. The point is having a prayer that is so short and simple, you can pray it in one breath.
Change Your Setting: During times of hunger, go for a prayer walk, listen to worship music, or have a healthy conversation with a friend or loved one. Choosing to leverage your times of hunger for spiritual intimacy with God and others can serve as a real blessing.
Set Healthy Expectations: The truth is that you have no idea what God wants to do in your heart during this season. I have found that simply learning to be with God is indeed the reward itself. If the only thing you gain during this season of prayer and fasting is the strengthening of your ability to pursue God, then you have experienced a major victory that will produce life long fruit.
Dancing with Grace & Discipline: Finally, fasting is like learning to dance with both grace and discipline. There will be many times you feel yourself struggling to find the balance between the two. That's okay, it means you are normal. Remember, this is ultimately about your relationship with God. You aren't trying to prove anything to God, but you do want to honor your commitment to Him.
Don't be discouraged! There will be times over the next few weeks that you will find difficult and stretching. If you stumble and fall, talk to God about it, then get back up and keep walking. God loves you and He is closer than you could ask or imagine. He is your strength.
If you have already experienced some resistance during this time of prayer and fasting, rejoice about it! Keep pressing into the presence of God! Lean heavily on God and your community of faith. Remember, the breakthrough often comes when we decide to continue to walk through what is attempting to hold us back.
I will leave you with one last piece of encouragement from 2 Chronicles 16:9. It says,
"The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him..."
My prayer is that you will experience the strengthening of your heavenly Father as you seek to devote yourself more wholeheartedly to God.
By: Jason Cooper
Senior Pastor, Redemption Church