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The Spiritual Importance of Fasting

The Spiritual Importance of Fasting

This is an extremely tough post to write not only because I do not want to come across as prideful, but this is also a very personal topic for me as I would attribute the most significant factor of personal growth in the last ten years is to this one discipline. In sharing my personal experiences, I hope to encourage others to see the spiritual importance of fasting.

Ten years ago I was on staff of Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of Florida. The campus director at that time, Aaron Read, had became a legend at that time because he did a 40-day fast for the campus ministry. Seriously, just about every staff in our region would tell us this when they found out where we were reporting. When we reported to campus, the rumors were proved true, and we could see the blessings that came from Aaron’s fast.

A little personal note about me… I have this desire to not let anyone love Jesus more than me, but forty days… yikes!

After my first semester on the campus, all of the Crusade staff gathered for the bi-annual staff conference. While there Dr. Bill Bright spoke about his commitment to 40-day fasts for revival and the staff celebrated others who had done them. Also at the conference I talked with a staff couple that joined with my wife and me who had also done a 40-day fast.

God used all of these experiences to push me over the edge and commit to one.

To be perfectly honest, this fast was really a discipline of perseverance. Every day I was amazed I made it that far without eating. Previously my longest fast was 2 days; now I was trying for 40. The hunger pains were strongest on day 3 and 7, but after that it was more that I wanted the taste of food than I was extremely hungry. My body got weaker, but I was able to continue playing sports in the hot Gainesville sun; I just needed water close by at all times.

Dr. Bright had written help on the practical aspects of fasting like what to intake and what to expect. I also had Aaron on staff with me to share what I was experiencing. When it was over, the main thing I remember thinking was that it was interesting. I felt I had some good prayer times, but nothing miraculous.

However, the fast was like a setting a time bomb in my life. Three months after the fast I felt the impact, and it was probably some time afterwards before I made the connection. God radically changed my outlook on ministry, marriage, life, and Him. The impact was so great that six months after finishing the first one, my wife joined me in my second one.

In the past ten years I have now done eight 40-day fasts. I’m a believer in the spiritual importance of fasting. Through these fasts I have done things that I would have never considered or would have been brave enough to do even if I did. I have:

  • Been awarded the opportunity to Crusade’s year-long training for emerging leaders
  • Spent a year overseas in the Middle East
  • Saved my marriage
  • Willingly left Campus Crusade
    • I had thought we would retire there
    • I gave up on our choice placement
    • We left without having a backup plan
  • Joined staff of a church
  • Left full-time ministry to get an MBA
  • Found the current perfect job for me
  • Deepened my relationship with Christ beyond I ever imagined possible

Therefore, what have I learned from fasting?

  1. The discipline by itself is effective.
  2. Other disciplines of prayer, Bible study, become more effective.
  3. It takes faith, which we know it is impossible to please God without.
  4. Since it takes a lot of faith, it leaves a greater reward.
  5. It gives confidence in God’s direction.
  6. It humbles you.
  7. It grows your relationship and trust in God.
  8. The enemy will attack you – press in to God more.
  9. It will change your life and of those around you.
  10. It sets a bomb off the heavenlies that will show up somewhere on earth.

If you have done a 40-day fast, please write a comment of your experiences. To God be the glory.

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7 Responses to “The Spiritual Importance of Fasting”

  1. Heather Jones says:

    I agree! That first fast is part just seeing that it’s possible TO DO a 40 day fast. I’m so grateful that I too have had people in my life that have done these fasts. Then as the Lord clearly called me to do 3 at various times, I’ve had others to either (1)fast alongside me or (2)pray for me while I’ve fasted. Two of my biggest comments on a 40 day fast would be that:

    1. I’ve done all 3 with my husband. It was so encouraging to have someone fasting alongside me and someone to consistently pray with. I realize that that may not always be possible, but for me it was a huge blessing. At least find a couple people to pray for you and encourage you throughout the fast.

    2. It is SO CRUCIAL to truly substitute meal times with time with the Lord, even if that’s only 15 minutes. He has to be your sustinance and "food" during that time. He WILL provide for you.

  2. Allison Shorter says:

    Fasting, especially for 40 days, is my favorite spiritual discipline. If I could fast all the time, I would consider it. I am Kevin’s wife, and I have joined him in five 40 day fasts.

    Jesus is my favorite person, and so spending time with Him is my favorite thing to do. Fasting allows me extra time to spend with Him, to know His heart more, and learn how to abide in His love.

    I believe fasting has brought me more freedom personally than anything else I have done, and when you combine a lengthy fast with the truth of the Word, prayer time alone or with others, and really just rest with the Lord, amazing things happen. You realize that God longs to spend time with you too, and He is more than willing to meet you in that time. He honors the sacrifice so much, and I believe it delights His heart that His children long for Him more than anything else, even food which sustains us.

    Which brings me to another point – fasting allows us to see our idols. For some people food is an idol, for some it’s TV, shopping, gossip, work, kids, whatever. We all have multiple things we put before God, and when we fast we put ourselves in a position to allow God to point out our idols, and show us how bad they are for us. So each fast He shows me something else to give over to Him. Consequently, my life looks very different now than it did a few years ago, and for this I am so grateful! For each idol we hand over, it allows God to give us something of Himself we otherwise may not receive. I would rather hold onto Him than sin.

    Finally I always doubted my ability to hear from the Lord. John 10 says the sheep hear His voice, but I struggled with that. I don’t always get it right now, but I can say that I am much more confident in His leading now than I ever have been. Fasting has taught me how to humble myself and begin learning the language of His heart, not just my view of what I think His heart is. He is so different than what I was always taught, and fasting has allowed me to learn directly from Him, not just other people’s view of Him I held as my own, which was in large part wrong.

    God is so good, so mighty, so loving, so compassionate, and so able to supply all of our needs. Fasting puts us in a position to let Him know we trust Him, no matter what. He loves that and truly honors it!

  3. Jill Hayes says:

    I’ve done two 40 day fasts and have attempted a third (which ended early due to getting very sick).

    My first fast was just being amazed at God that he sustained me for 40 days! He gave me extreme clarity and a breakthrough in my prayers.

    My second fast was more about heart and character issues and deep intimacy with God. It was a supernatural fast that left me wanting to do another one.

    I’ve learned that fasting is all about intimacy with God and not about a checklist of problems to pray about (although God can certainly step in with breakthroughs). God wants all of our hearts and fasting is a great way to dive into intimacy with Him.

    I recommend Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. It has a chapter on fasting. It’s an encouraging read in preparation for a fast and gives practical insight.

    I look forward to my next 40 day fast when the time comes again.

  4. William Hayes says:

    I did a 40-day fast two and a half years ago. One of the biggest things I learned from the experience is that fasting will reveal what controls you. It is amazing how much the activities of preparing, consuming, and cleaning up food fill our days and control us. I agree with an earlier commment that it is important to fill those times as much as possible with focused time with God. He sustains you physically and spiritually when you would normally be focused on food.

    I also agree that the benefits of fasting are not always seen immediately. I believe I am seeing answers to prayers made during my fast only in the past few months.

    Intimacy and time with God was richer in general throughout my fast. I was able to spend longer and more focused time in prayer than I usually do. When I reached the end of my fast I was saddenned and felt like I was saying goodbye to God–that I would no longer be as close and as intimate with him now that my fast was ending. Then I realized that that level of intimacy and communion is what God desires for us and offers us all the time. We don’t have to be fasting to be close to him.

    I would encourage others to explore the discipline of fasting even if you do not attempt an extended fast at first. There are so many things to learn and so many benefits to this neglected discipline. And, ultimately, it is honoring and glorifying to God.

  5. Michael and Sharon Mehaffie says:

    The reason I started my fast was just that I felt I needed to get God’s attention. I really didn’t plan on doing a 40 day fast but as I progressed through the fast and had time with God, I felt that is what I should do. The main thing I came away with was that God certainly is able and powerful to work in my life – I was struggling with that before the fast. – Sharon

    My first introduction to a 40 day fast was hearing about Bill Bright following the Lord in this. My wife and I later read his book – The Coming Revival and I was personally challenged to consider doing a 40 day fast. My wife went first and she was faithful with it. She asked me to join her for the last 10 days and I said "no way!" Later that year, however, I found myself wrestling with God about following Him in fasting for 40 days. After many weeks and understanding my love for food I finally gave in. I timed it so I would end it on Easter of 1998. The main lesson I gained from this was that every breath comes from God. I came away with a real sense of dependence. For me, the most difficult adjustment was coming off the fast with some digestive problems. As to the growth of our movement at N.C. State with Campus Crusade for Christ, I don’t attribute it to our fasting. God has incredibly blessed not because of anything we have done.

  6. Jason Howell says:

    I have done one 40 day fast in my life and it was over 10 years ago. I knew several others who had done one or more and for some it was a normal part of their life. My first assignment with Campus Crusade was as an assistant to Bill Bright. Dr. Bright did a 40 day fast every year for the last several years of his life. I am not sure how many but once his health problems grew he was still committed to it in some capacity.

    I was not sure that I could do it but jumped in. The first seven or so days were tough… mostly mentally. The middle 25 to 30 days were easier but also brought on a bit of complacency for me. It can easily become something that you just get through and not a way to hear from the Lord. Overall I was much more aware and looking for the Lord throughout the day. I think this one aspect of the fast is what I have most carried along into my daily walk with Jesus now.

    I am not sure that I spent significantly more time praying or reading the Word but it was a significant time of growth. I did not go into the fast with anything in mind such as wanting God to speak on a certain subject or matter in my life, or give me specific direction, or work in some specific way. Although now I could very easily do that as my life has taken on many more responsibilities. I would pray more specifically now than I did on my first fast. But at the same time a fast of that length it is important to allow God to speak as he desires and for us to be on his agenda.

  7. Aaron Jones says:

    I have done three 40 day fasts. The first was with my wife while we were raising support to join staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. I did it to grow closer to the Lord and to seek God’s provision for our support.

    My wife and I did the second one with our staff team to trust God for revival on our campus. We saw increased confession and repentance among the students involved in our ministry and more students receive Christ than ever before. It was fun to do it in community with our staff team.

    The third one I did with my wife as well. This one we did to seek clarity for some life things and pray for our campus again. I think I went in to this one expecting to see the same things as we did when we did the second fast. I thought if I did the same thing God would respond the same way. I quickly learned that our relationship with God doesn’t work that way.

    Each time was different. I felt differently each time, and God worked differently each time. I would also say that while at times I saw God respond immediately during my fasts, but lots of his response to my prayers have come at later times.

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