Although men tend to feel as if they can save themselves, there are times when it’s very clear that we cannot. These times often come when you’re facing overwhelming pressures with your wife or kids, your job, or your finances. So what is a man to do?
Let’s consider a man who went before you and I: King Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was once under attack by three armies. Do you ever feel like you’re being attacked from all sides? You may be tempted to give in and surrender or to muster every human resource you can find. Neither of these reactions, however, is pleasing to God. Instead, God desires to use these situations to remind you that you are sustained not by your own cleverness but by his power. You are delivered not by your ability but by his mercy.
King Jehoshaphat understood this truth. His reaction to the threatening armies was to call everyone in Judah to fast. Instead of merely calling his people to military exercises and preparation, King Jehoshaphat called them to spiritual exercises. Instead of fattening their bodies, he called them to nourish their souls. Instead of looking to their own defenses, he called them to trust in God’s protection.
Because we must have food to live, physical hunger is one of the most powerful drives of life. When you fast, however, you begin to realize that all the food in the world can never satisfy the hunger of your soul. Only God himself can satisfy this longing.
Do you feel like your being swallowed up by life? Fasting can be an effective means of keeping you from being consumed by your surroundings. Daniel’one of the leading Jewish young men taken into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar’undertook several disciplines in order to maintain his faith and identity. His decision to fast was one of the most visible ways by which he avoided being fully absorbed into that culture.
Daniel did something in particular that you might find helpful. He frequently practiced partial fasts in which he abstained from certain items but not from food altogether. A partial fast is a limitation of food or drink but not a complete abstention from them. A good way to develop the discipline of partial fasting is to begin with a fast from lunch one day to lunch the next. You can choose to give up soda or certain types of food you’d normally eat during this time. Instead of eating, take time to pray and read your Bible.
A normal fast can often be more disruptive to daily life’and that’s a good thing at times. But at other times you may sense the need to support your prayers or spiritual activities with fasting, but feel the need to sustain your food intake. In such times, you may give up certain items’and these don’t have to be limited to food. How about fasting from video games, Internet surfing, or television?
At times in our lives we all have wilderness experiences’times when we face despair and feel alone in the world. Elijah was a prophet in the Bible who had a literal wilderness experience. His time in the wilderness forced him to practice three spiritual disciplines that freed him from his dependence on the world and encouraged him instead to depend on God. We might learn from his example.
The first discipline Elijah practiced was solitude: and it served at least two purposes. It protected him from King Ahab who wanted to kill him. And it provided an opportunity for him to deepen his faith, to draw closer to God. Next, Elijah’s wilderness experience gave him a time to practice silence, which allowed him to listen for God’s voice. And finally, Elijah practiced a form of fasting. Strictly speaking he didn’t abstain from food, but his food was controlled by God’s special provision. Periodically, God would send ravens carrying food for Elijah to eat. In this way, Elijah learned to trust God to provide for his daily needs.
A wilderness experience can play an important role in our spiritual growth. Are you going through one now? Don’t miss what it might be offering you. Like Elijah, withdrawing from your normal routine will remove you from distraction and lead to an intimacy with God. Silence allows you to listen to God. And fasting teaches you to depend on God to provide for you.