Are you struggling with a worry that you can’t seem to pray away? Sometimes, the roots of our worries are buried so deep into our hearts and minds that we need to give God special permission to dig deep and remove it.
Have you always been worried about money?
Do you always worry about the people in your life getting hurt or abandoning you?
Are you quick to flip out when uncertainty just won’t get certain fast enough?
Some of our toughest worries are like that stubborn plaque that mere brushing can’t remove. To eliminate those deep down, stuck-on worries, we must be willing to put up with being uncomfortable while God’s expert hand goes to work. Like a dental hygienist’s hook, God uses a secret weapon to scrape and chip away those hard-to-remove roots of worry from our lives.
Warning: This secret weapon is rejected by most Christians in the US because it makes most Christians feel too uncomfortable.
What is this secret weapon? Fasting.
By definition, fasting is to abstain from all or some things of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.
I know that bringing up fasting makes most Christians uncomfortable. If that’s you, I promise that it’s okay. It’s safe for you to be a little squirmy right now. My friend, no one is judging you. Especially not me! I refused to fast for years, but God gently led me toward fasting and I believe that God wants to gently lead you there as well.
Let’s start here – How do you feel about fasting?
- Don’t know much about it.
- Intimidated or uncomfortable just thinking about it.
- Tried it, but not a good experience.
- Fasted in the past, but not recently.
- Periodic or regular fasting.
For many years, I tried fasting, but it wasn’t a good experience. I like food and it didn’t make sense as to why God would ask me to give it up during a fast. But then the pain of my life exceeded my cares about comfort. I encountered a spiritual battle so fierce and so difficult that I had to give God permission to use this secret weapon in my life. Not just so that I could survive my worry battle, but so that I could thrive in the midst of difficult circumstances.
What Jesus’ teaches us…
In Matthew chapter 4, God’s Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted for 40 days and 40 nights. Think about what it must’ve been like for Jesus in the desert. There, He was fully exposed to harsh weather conditions and no protection from wild animals. He had no friends to call on and no place to lay His head.
Let’s not forget that Jesus didn’t eat for a very long time! Can you imagine going all that time without food? In the early days when I tried to fast, it only took about three or four hours before I wanted to give up and grab a snack. In this case, Jesus fasted for more than a month. If we calculate based on our Western diet, Jesus fasted 120 meals. And we feel like we could die after skipping just one meal!
Then the devil shows up. Note to self: Satan always show up when you’re in the midst of a difficult battle.
Why did God’s Spirit lead Jesus into the desert to be tempted?
It seems harsh that God would allow Jesus to endure spiritual temptation on an empty stomach. But God did this so that we could see how the power of God living within us can help us overcome our human desires, like worry, that can get out of control.
They say that a the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Thankfully Jesus proves that this isn’t the case. When the devil showed up, his first appeal was to Jesus’ hunger: “If you’re the Son of God, tell the stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3).
When I read this verse, it’s not hard for me to imagine Satan holding a platter of fresh, hot bread with rich, melted butter slowly rolling down the sides. I can almost taste the yeasty aroma wafting through the air and floating under Jesus’ nose. Did Satan hope that Jesus would rationalize a reason to convert the stones on the ground in the hot, filling meal that would satisfy Jesus’ hunger, but scald his soul?
As a woman who has dealt with emotional eating as away to cope with stress and worry, I find that Jesus’ response in verse 4 ministers to my soul. Here’s what Jesus said: “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Jesus’ response to Satan reveals an essential need in my life: I can’t deal with my worry until I learn how to depend on God. It wasn’t until I fasted that I realized how often I sought comfort and security in other places instead of God.
When we voluntarily abstain from anything in our lives, it doesn’t take long for us to become uncomfortable with its absence as well. We’re upset by the loss of what comforts us and the exposure of that discomfort unsettles us. Richard Foster sums ups it up so well: “More than any other discipline, fasting reveals what controls us.”
When we fast, our thoughts and emotions reveal the rawest parts of us. Friend, when you fast and pray, ugly and very unspiritual thoughts WILL surface. That’s a good thing! This is the place where our most stubborn sin and fear hide away. But, once those places are exposed, God works on clearing them out so that we can experience freedom.
Jesus’ example of fasting isn’t just one that we can read and admire; it points to a pattern of discipleship that should be a part of every believer’s life. In Matthew 6:16, Jesus began his teaching on fasting with the phrase, “When you fast…” If you don’t have a “when” in your life, then perhaps today God’s gentle hand is leading you one step toward beginning that journey.
Do you need to fast?
Sometimes people get confused about whether or not Christians should fast. Jesus teaching on fasting emphasizes what not to do while fasting but it doesn’t discourage fasting itself. Here’s what Jesus says about fasting:
And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so that people will admire them for fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)
Jesus teaches that fasting should be the part of every believer’s life. But, Jesus entrusts us to figure out what kind of fasting we need. How you fast is between you and God. There is no perfect way to fast. If you need to start with just one meal, okay. If you need to start with fasting from one tv show, fine. Give yourself compassion if you halt a fast sooner than planned. Just keep praying and letting God’s Spirit move through you and within you – that’s the ultimate goal!
In my life, fasting happens on a weekly basis. I’m not super-spiritual. It’s actually the opposite. I share this just so you know how real and difficult my worry battle has been. I fast weekly because my faith needs it. It’s hard every time, but my fast day is when I trust God to work out my worry. I write about my personal fasting habits in my Joshua Bible study and Winning the Worry Battle book.
Next steps for you…
If you feel like God might be calling you to fast in order to deal with some stubborn worry in your life, here are a few next steps inspired by Campus Crusade Bill Bright’s classic guide on fasting:
- Identify WHY you need to fast – Do you need spiritual renewal, guidance, healing, resolution, courage or grace to handle a situation?
- Identify TYPE of fast – What do you use to give yourself comfort when you are stressed? Once you identify whether it’s food, social media, Netflix, alcohol, relational distractions, then that’s what you give up.
- Identify how LONG – Pray and ask God to give you insight on how long you should fast. If prayer doesn’t provide clarity, then talk to a friend.
- Pray – Anytime that you fast, prayer should be a part of the experience. Otherwise, you’re just going hungry, right?! You can use the time that you’d normally eat as time to talk to God or in silence.