I’m following up (a few weeks late!) about fasting in the modern age. In my last post, I reminded readers (and myself) that fasting is a commandment and is lumped right in with giving and praying as far as spiritual disciplines go (Matthew 6). It seems fasting is forgotten or overlooked maybe because it’s such a personal discipline, and because it seems unfeasible to fast every day. We can pray in a worship service, we can have a time of giving, but it’s kind of hard to fast as a group every Sunday morning. If we were to think of a Christian who prays and gives (in whatever way) only on Sunday, wouldn’t we question his or her commitment to Christ? In the same way, if we only fast every once in awhile, but fasting is as essential to the Christian walk as praying and giving, we maybe need to step up our spiritual discipline game – not for the purpose of checking off a list to earn favor with God, but for deepening our relationship with him.
So, if you are a novice faster (like me), and would like to start by fasting from something that controls you, drives you, and occupies your mind, here are a few suggestions (none of these are inherently evil, and can be used for God’s kingdom. I’m only suggesting fasting when they begin to control you or become even slightly more important than Christ).
Things you can fast from:
- Social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you name it. I would suggest fasting for at least a day from social media. You will not die. I promise. Give yourself time to break the habit of scrolling through your news feed in a lull in a conversation, in 5 minutes of free time. Remember what it’s like to not be entertained every second of every day. For the über ambitious or exasperated, fast from social media for a week or more. You will almost physically feel the chains loosen as you stop feeling the need to post, like, and be liked. If social media consistently vies for control of your habits, fast from it at least one day a week.
- Your phone: This is related to fasting from social media, but slightly different in that the phone represents a general concept of attachment and security for so many (me!). I feel naked without it. If I forgot it at home, I go back to get it. I will spend much time looking for it if I’ve misplaced it. If I’m unhappy with the company I’m in, I text someone else. THIS IS AN ISSUE. Fast from your phone. Leave it at home for the day. Turn it on airplane mode. Don’t default to it when your mind becomes slightly bored.
- Work: (Gasp). I am not suggesting you ignore your responsibilities and commitments. I am suggesting that if your perfectionism or workaholism has gotten in the way of your relationship with Christ or others, you should plan ahead to set aside time for fasting from work. Don’t bring work home with you one night when you’ve been away from your family all day. Don’t study during lunch when you’ve compulsively studied all weekend. Rest. Meditate on Him instead of your to-do list.
- Netflix/TV: Clearly through this list, I’m counting my own sins. How often have I turned to an episode on Neflix when I have a 30-minute break instead of reading my Bible? How often have I turned to a rerun at the end of a long day instead of turning to my Savior through prayer or even through resting? Eek. I would hate to actually give that answer.
These are just a few examples, but the list could go on and on – shopping, video games, sports, makeup – anything you have turned to for comfort, escape, or distraction at a time you should have turned to the Savior.
So finally, what does fasting look like? I’m still shaking the old idea that fasting means shutting yourself off for a day and praying and reading Scripture nonstop. Maybe it could mean that for you, but I personally don’t have the attention span or enough words to say in prayer to fill up a day with spiritual discipline. Jesus himself said that when we fast, we shouldn’t look downcast or miserable to let everyone know we’re fasting, but to get dressed and look presentable and go about your day as normal (Matthew 6:16-18), but with a different mindset and heart-set, which will lead to different actions.
Here’s what you could do during your time of fasting:
- Pray: Doesn’t have to be 10 or even 5 minutes. Instead of scrolling through facebook, take the time to communicate to God your gratitude for Him and your salvation. If you prayed for one minute instead of looking at your phone every time you get the urge throughout the day, that probably adds up to a lot of talking time with God.
- Engage: Instead of texting a friend or checking Instagram, engage with the people around you. Encourage them. Listen to them. Be present. You don’t have to say or do anything remarkable to let others know you care. Your full presence and attention is enough. This is especially important when we are trying to influence non-believers – a good, attentive listener is rare these days. Let them know something is different about you by engaging with them, and that something is Christ.
- Read: You don’t have to read an entire book or chapter to fill your time of fasting. Pick up your Bible instead of your textbook or phone and pick a verse or two to meditate on. Let those words fill your mind throughout the day, instead of internally reviewing for a test or working through your to-do list. I promise that having Scripture in your mind to reflect on throughout the day makes a big difference. I feel the difference when my mind is full of dialogue from TV shows (even though it’s not bad!) and when it’s full of God’s word.
- Serve: In your time of fasting, focusing on others will help you focus on the Lord. Instead of watching Netflix for 20 minutes, write a note to someone, wash your roommate’s dishes, call a friend who’s struggling, and look for little ways to serve those around you.
- Rest: Jesus withdrew often to pray, but also to rest. Maybe this means taking a nap to refuel your batteries, maybe it means just shutting your eyes and dwelling on God, but it definitely doesn’t mean laying in bed checking your phone for 30 minutes before you go to sleep. Actively rest.
If any of you have ideas or suggestions on what to fast from or how to fast, I’d love to hear them. May God bless your time of fasting.