Lessons from my year-long fast
Since I was young, I don’t remember ever saying “no” to ice-cream, and especially not chocolate-flavoured ice-cream. Ice-cream was often just the sugar rush I needed and never failed to provide comfort. Each time I walked past a McDonald’s outlet, I would often exit it with a hot fudge sundae in hand.
This personal streak was challenged in January 2017…right after fasting from buying new clothes for an entire year. Weeks following the end of this difficult fast from consumerism, God was not done with me. He showed me an image that stirred an instantaneous response within me: “No, God. Not that. Anything but that.” It was a tub of chocolate-flavoured Häagen Dazs. I instantly knew what He was asking me to fast from for the next year.
In the following weeks, I bargained and wrestled with the Lord about not giving up ice-cream because I simply needed it. I was also unwilling because God had not yet showed me why He was asking me to commit to yet another year-long fast. In the midst of the jostling, the Lord continued prompting and encouraging me to say “yes” to Him in obedience. So, on 20 February 2017, after finishing the last of six tubs of Häagen Dazs I had kept in the freezer, I embarked on my second year-long fast.
Feasting vs. Fasting
To say the least, this fast really pained me — much more than what a usual fast from food (a meal a day or a Daniel fast) would cost me. Merely three days into the fast, I held up a white flag up to the Lord after walking past five different ice-cream parlours one day. Without knowing what or who I was fasting for, I was ready to give up and abandon the fast because I could not do it; I didn’t want to push through. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was stuck in an unhealthy rut of feasting on ice-cream.
We all have guilty pleasures and things we indulge in, but the undeniable fact remains that we would rather feast than fast. We choose to feed our bodies with junk than to be spiritually healthy and strong in the Lord. It took me two year-long fasts to truly taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), and to conclude that He is better than any earthly possession I could feast on.
Personally, this year-long fast taught me two key lessons that I will continue holding on to for the rest of my fasting journey:
1. Fasting isn’t just about dying to self, but also coming alive to what is on God’s heart
Whenever I read about characters in the Bible who had humbled themselves and turned to the Lord in prayer and fasting – Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, David and more – I cannot help but remember that I, too, am called to be in the place of prayer and fasting. This also brings to mind my favourite, sobering verse on fasting in Mark 9:29 (NKJV) where Jesus said, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”
Mark 9:14-29 tells the story of a young boy who was possessed with “a mute spirit… that threw him down and caused foaming at the mouth and gnashing of teeth (v18).” Jesus’ disciples could not cast the oppressive spirit out, and when they asked why, Jesus points out that prayer and fasting were missing. Through this story, I am reminded about how impossibilities become possible when we dare to persevere in prayer unto the Lord, and are willing to give up the necessities of life by fasting.
On 24 February 2017, God revealed the purpose of my year-long ice-cream fast, breaking my heart and leaving me in tears. Faces of people I knew who had left the church and the faith flashed in my mind and the Lord put a cry in my heart: “Help them to remember why they loved You over the reasons why they left You!” Knowing clearly that these precious ones were on God’s heart, this became my cry as I interceded for the faces and names I’ve not seen in years.
Hearing what is on God’s heart is often accompanied with fresh anointing and grace for the fast that He commands you to take. I know this because I would not have managed to flee temptation and successfully completed this year-long fast. Don’t be afraid to come alive to what is on God’s heart, because it keeps you on your knees. In this manner, you’re never on your own two feet long enough for you to go your own way.
2. The work God does in and through fasting sometimes outlasts the fast itself
As of 20 February 2018, my year-long ice-cream fast came to an end. My friends were excited about the thought of me being able to eat ice-cream again, but I ended the fast on a slightly melancholic note, knowing that the purpose of my fast had not yet been accomplished or completed. God made it clear to me last December that I am to continue praying for these individuals even after my fast ended. At first, I was slightly disappointed as it seemed that my prayers did not come to much even after a year. Then I quickly realised that this was my own human measurement of success and not God’s!
My fasting mentalities of old held to the fact that breakthroughs would come as soon as it ended. However, today, I understand that some breakthroughs are not contingent on the duration or period of fasting. My year-long fast might be over, but God’s work in the lives of my friends who have left the faith has yet to come to fruition. The human part of me considers that I can now go back to my days of ice-cream feasting, but having fasted, the spirit man in me now desires to delve deeper into intercession for these precious lives.
What are some specific things that you are feasting freely on today? Chances are, these are the things you might want to consider fasting from. While the rewards of fasting differ for each individual, our hearts must stay focused on pursuing the Lord and desiring to be obedient to everything He asks. Dan B. Allender said aptly, “Fasting from any nourishment, activity, involvement or pursuit — for any season — sets the stage for God to appear.” As you allow God to speak to your heart regarding fasting, I pray that your life will be such a stage for the Lord’s work to be done on earth as it is in heaven!