When I was a boy, I was taught that prayer is simply communication with God. It is amazing that God invites us to an intimate, personal relationship whereby He is available to us at any time in any place. We can enter His throne room for a personal conversation just through bowing our hearts in prayer. This sounds quite simple, yet sometimes real prayer can be a challenge. Sometimes the challenge comes from our own making, and at other times, it is the result of spiritual warfare. Satan oftentimes creates hindrances to meaningful prayer in our lives. Overcoming distractions is important as we seek to connect with God, and one discipline to help us deal with these distractions is fasting.
When many people hear the word fasting, images come to their minds of strange people who live weird and extreme lives. Donald Whitney stated, “Fasting is the most feared and misunderstood of all the Spiritual Disciplines…and yet it’s mentioned in Scripture more times than even something as important as baptism” (Spiritual Disciplines). Fasting is typically connected to refraining from eating food, but it can relate to many other things as well. You can fast from food, television, internet, or any other practice that has created interference in your spiritual life. Fasting should not just be refraining from something, but it should also include replacing something. For example, instead of eating a meal, you could spend that time in Bible reading and prayer. Fasting is an intentional clearing away of time in our lives to give focused attention to God.
Jesus seemed to indicate that fasting should be normal for those who follow Him. In Matthew 6:16, Jesus began sharing some thoughts on fasting with these words, “When you fast…” He did not say, “If you fast,” but rather “When…” It seems as if Jesus was saying that fasting should be a part of our spiritual experience, and when we practice fasting, we should do so for the purpose of seeking God and not seeking attention from others. If you have never fasted from eating before, here are a few suggestions that will help your experience to be meaningful:
Calendar your fast so that you can make sure your experience will provide the meaningful spiritual encounter with God you desire. This means you choose a time when you have the most opportunity for focused prayer and Bible reading.
If you have never fasted before, start small. You could begin by just skipping one meal and using the meal time for prayer. You can slowly move to skipping additional meals.
During your time of fasting, increase your Bible reading and prayer time.
Gather additional resources that will help your fasting time be meaningful such as devotional books and worship music.
Keep a pad or computer available where you can write/type your thoughts during your time of focused prayer. As you sense God leading and speaking to you through His Word, make some notes of things you might do to follow up on these spiritual insights. You can use this as a spiritual journal of your experience so that you will have your thoughts on paper and be able to go back and prayerfully review your time with God.
You can also use this pad to make notes of other things that come to your mind that otherwise might be distracting to your prayer time. I find that my mind races with things that are distracting, and I have discovered that if I write these ideas down, I can free my mind of the thought knowing that I have made a note to which I will return at the conclusion of my fast. Satan will inundate your mind with distractions, so this method has helped me to free my mind of these interruptions.
While you should not publicize your plans for fasting, involve someone who is close to you for the purpose of encouragement and support. This could be a family member. If you have children, use this as a teaching opportunity to help your children see the value of planning times of focused prayer in their lives.
Drink plenty of liquids. Fasting is a time of physical cleansing as well, so water will be a valuable resource.
Establish goals for your fast before you begin. Write your goals down and plan things you will do during your fast to accomplish your goals.
Consider reading some resources on fasting and prayer, like The Power of Prayer and Fasting by Ronnie Floyd or The Transforming Power of Prayer and Fasting by Bill Bright.
Share your experience with some close, Christian friends afterward as a testimony of God working in your life and to encourage others to practice this life-changing discipline.
Prayer and fasting is life-changing, and I believe you will find your personal relationship with Christ deepens as you seek Him during this focused experience. Do you know of any additional thoughts that will help us practice this discipline? Share them below. Tomorrow, I will write about one of the least practiced prayers in the church: the prayer of praise.