January is the time that a lot of us set aside time for fasting and prayer. It works for a lot of reasons: the indulgences of the Christmas season are behind us; it’s the beginning of a new year and a good time to review and re-set goals; January is normally not too busy on our calendars ; and so on. We’ve done it for many years – sometimes for a week, sometimes for ten days, sometimes for twenty-one days – sometimes a total fast, other times some other variation. In all cases it has been spiritually profitable. Sometimes attended by dramatic breakthroughs even during the fast, other times we only see the results unfold over the course of the months that follow.
Over the years I’ve learned a thing a two about fasting and prayer. For instance, I’ve learned not to obsess about the fast itself. The whole point of such a time is to set aside ordinary concerns and focus ourselves on seeking God. But if we’re not careful, it becomes all about the fast – what we are eating/not eating, how we are feeling, etc. We can get so focussed on the physical aspects that we fail to tune in on the spiritual much at all. It’s easy to think about all the food you’re NOT eating! And of the food you are eating – what kinds? How much? How often? How much is too much? Sheeesh!
So my point here is that fasting is not about food. Not about food at all. It’s about self-disciplne.
You see, perhaps the most un-utilized and under-developed muscle in your body isn’t your biceps, triceps, or abs – it’s your will-power. Few people really grasp just how significant their will is. When God created us in his image we can assume (or at least hope!) that doesn’t mean PHYSICAL image! What sets us apart from the rest of creation is our moral sovereignty – free will. God is sovereign – we are sovereign. Everything else is more or less programmed and subject to the laws of nature. (Just read Job 38-41 again.) That is why God won’t just “make” us do things. To do so would violate the very basis upon which he created us. For without free will (really free, not just Calvinistically free) true love is not possible. Neither is faith. Or hope for that matter. When we begin to understand this we begin to grasp just what an awesome thing God did in creating us. We start to understand just how powerful we truly are! God created this world according to his will and gave us the power to create our own world according to our will.
The problem is, until we grasp this AND learn to utilize this God-given super-power in a godly way – we tend to misuse it, abuse it, or at best under-use it. Most people only work on the negative side of it: “won’t-power”. But get this: the true secret of spiritual power is not measured in the hours we pray or the scriptures we memorize – it is in how well we harness those things to train and develop our will power. Without a strong, well-developed, and disciplined will we cannot exercise much faith, cannot live with hope, or ever truly love like God does. Think of it this way: if you can`t really master your own will, then you can`t really fully submit it to God either.
So back to fasting. This year as you set aside time to fast and pray, instead of pining away the hours thinking of all the food you’re missing, spend your time relishing the thought that you are building spiritual muscle. Revel in the knowledge that every meal skipped is a 60 minute will-power workout! Every foregone snack-attack is a gut-crunching ab session in the spirit! And wresting your thoughts away from the Food Channel to meditate on the presence of God is the supreme spiritual aerobic. Make no mistake – this is truly some of the hardest work you will ever do! Your head will hurt. Your eyes will strain. Your whole body will ache. And your level of exhaustion from exerting this new muscle will reflect how spiritually “flabby” you actually are. Just keep at it. Nothing worth having comes overnight and if this was easy everybody would be doing it. Trust me, they’re not. But just like physical exercise, the results are well worth it. Will it till you sweat, baby! This year you will end your fast with a whole new awareness of new-found faith, spiritual discernment, and power in your life.
Remember, I`m pulling for you. We`re all in this together!