“I’ll take that bet.”
It was a sentence I uttered all too casually while pouring my coffee one Monday morning, and a sentence that I would live to regret. My colleague and self-confessed Coke-aholic (as in Coca-Cola) Jacob laid down a challenge that he would go an entire month without sugar if I promised to go a month without coffee if he succeeded.
I thought it was a pretty safe bet as I didn’t think he’d last a week before sneaking in a sugary snack. I was wrong. Hence began my unintentional one month fast from a caffeinated liquid that I thought I needed to survive. For a while, I could certainly feel the withdrawal effects like headaches, drowsiness, and mood swings. But I had given my word and kept it, and that long month finally did come to an end.
This episode went through my mind when a friend told me about the fantastic Aussie initiative FebFast, a month-long challenge to give up some vice like sugar, alcohol, or even coffee with the option to fundraise to support disadvantaged youth across Australia. I was so inspired by the initiative that I decided to join in. In the spirit of that unintentional one month coffee fast that my friend Jacob fooled me into, this February I will do it again.
While I was initially inspired to sign up for FebFast to do good, it also started me thinking about the different contexts where fasting is done today and the benefits it can have for Christians.
1. Fasting for Physical Health
Fasting can be beneficial for one’s physical health, and one popular form of it in recent times is intermittent fasting. It’s the one I’m trying out as I attempt to shed some of 2020’s added weight. The idea is that you “fast” for at least 16 hours of a day, reducing the amount of food intake while also affecting the way the body stores fat. I’m not a medical expert so don’t take this as any kind of medical advice, but I’ve certainly noticed a reduction in the amount of food I intake while doing this.
Another popular fast is the “Daniel Fast”, inspired by the prophet Daniel’s experience in the Old Testament book. In Daniel chapter 1, we read how Daniel and three of his fellow countrymen showed their faithfulness to God by not eating food or wine from the King of Babylon’s table. They instead only consumed vegetables and water for 10 days. At the end of the fast, the chief eunuch marvelled that Daniel and his mates were looking healthier than the other blokes who were chowing down on the king’s meat and wine. Although Daniel and co’s main reason for this diet was to stay pure to God’s law regarding food, it looks like this also came away with great physical health benefits. A win-win!
For me, giving up coffee served as a good discipline to wean my body off something that it had gotten used to having every day, as I experienced less withdrawal symptoms over time.
2. Fasting for Mental Health
Fasting can also be beneficial for our mental health. We are creatures of habit and sometimes our habits are detrimental not only to our bodies but to our minds as well. I have had a few friends who have observed the harmful effects of social media and have “fasted” by cutting off usage for a certain amount of time. I’ve heard of others who have had incredible improvements to their mental wellbeing by simply unplugging and “fasting” from technology for some time, freeing them to reflect on themselves and commune with God with less distractions. To me, this type of fasting is increasingly important for our always-connected world.
3. Fasting for Spiritual Health
The Bible is clear about the connection between fasting and spiritual well-being. There are numerous examples of this, from Queen Esther fasting over the safety of her people (Esther 4:15-17), to the elders of Antioch church fasting before sending out missionaries (Acts 13:1-3), to Jesus himself fasting in the wilderness before beginning the bulk of His ministry (Matthew 4:1-2). All of these examples are very closely linked with prayer over a specific situation. If all these great men and women of the Bible decided to fast during important seasons of their lives, it’s probably a good idea for us to do the same!
I can’t say I have fasted for spiritual reasons many times in my life but there are two times that I remember clearly. The first was when I wanted to confirm that my wife-to-be was indeed the one God had for me to marry before I proposed. The second was after learning that I was going to be a father, as I asked God’s guidance and strength to raise this new life. Both times, God responded by giving me a wonderful, calming feeling that He was indeed with me and guiding me.
As Christians, fasting serves as a means to intentionally set aside distractions and focus on God, particularly when we’re seeking after God for something specific. If medically going without food isn’t an option, how about going out with social media or your smartphone for a dedicated time period?
Fasting can be one of those practices that may feel outdated or underutilised in the modern world and today’s church, but it is certainly one that has many benefits: physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Hopefully, I can hit all those three areas when I attempt my very own FebFast.
If you’ve never given fasting a go, why not give a try? Keep in mind too that fasting food or drink is not the only option out there. Fasting from technology may even be harder than going without food! Whatever you decide to fast with, may it ultimately mean your relationship with God becomes stronger like Daniel did.