Small Fasts

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Every now and then I read a little bit more of The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. It’s an old book, from the 17th century to be exact. The title alone challenges me. We would all do well to practice the presence of God. We do not, of course, change God’s presence by our practice. We merely change our awareness and the frequency of our communication with him.

“Pray without ceasing” is impossible if we define prayer as hitting our knees and shutting our eyes in order to talk with our Lord. That phrase must have some other definition. I believe constant prayer means, in great part, a constant awareness that we are in the presence of God. Furthermore, we are constantly able to talk with him and to ask him to make us ever better at hearing his direction in our lives. We can present our requests and our words of thanksgiving anytime, anywhere.

Recently, I’ve discovered something that helps me practice the presence of God. I warn you that it is not fun or fancy or innovative. It is what I can best describe as a small fast.

Many months ago, someone dear to me had a great need, a situation that would not resolve for the better part of a year. However, I’m a wimpy faster, very seldom going without food for a full 24 hours, let alone any longer than that. Even the most devoted in that spiritual discipline cannot go hungry for months at a time. How could I sustain a fast for so long?  I gave up one category of food—one I knew that I would miss. And miss it I did.

Perhaps it is the missing that matters most. Each time I made that small sacrifice, I was reminded to pray for my loved one. I must confess that there were days when I didn’t “make it.” But there were more days when I did, when I went back to prayer over and over and over again because of that mini-fast. Toward the end of the fast, the needs of my friend made it very clear that prayer and fasting were in order. Smaller, longer-term fasts are now a part of my spiritual arsenal. Would they fit in your armory as well?

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Why Fast?

33Why fast?

Jesus and Moses and Paul and Barnabus and David and Esther all fasted, but I still don’t really understand why God would ask me to stop eating now and then. I like to eat! Nevertheless, in the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus taught about when (not if) we give, pray and fast, so I figure that practice stays on my to do list.

Fasting somehow makes our prayers more fervent and effective.

Fasting frees up funds to share with those in need.

Fasting reminds us that we won’t die if we miss a meal, and allows our bodies to take a rest from the monumental task of digestion for a short while. For many, it helps restore a natural appetite for wholesome foods as well.

The Bible doesn’t outline how often or for how long we ought to fast. We each have to determine those details for ourselves. If you’ve never fasted, though, and you’re looking for a starter plan, here’s one to consider. (First, consult a physician if you have any medical conditions.)

The day before your fast, eat simply and lightly. Get a good workout if you can, and don’t snack after dinner. Once your fast begins, rest a little extra and drink plenty of water.

Week 1: On fasting day, eat only “plain plants” like brown rice or oatmeal, beans, raw nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables prepared without sauces. (Potato chips do not count!) These foods are usually easy to digest, and are full of vitamins and fiber. You are fasting from processed food and “treat foods,” a substantial discipline, but you will not experience hunger yet.

Week 2: Fast from everything except water until noon, then consume “plain plants” for the rest of the day.

Week 3: Fast until midafternoon. Then have a piece of raw fruit, followed later by a simple dinner, preferably made up of “plain plants” again.

Week 4: Fast until dinnertime. Then have a simple meal of “plain plants.” Now you have fasted for 24 hours! Consider waiting until morning to eat, making your fast 36 hours long.

The day after your fast, be careful. Eat simple foods in small amounts. Don’t make up for lost time, or you’ll ruin some of the benefits of your fast. (You’ll also end up with a stomach ache.)

Do you fast? Tell me why, how, and the results you’ve seen.

Your comments are valued below! Welcome to Lent! 

And if you have the time, check out this great video on fasting from Living Water International. http://vimeo.com/3166394