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-- © GodSpeak International 2002 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from <copyright@godspeak.org> --

Author: Teresa Seputis <ts@godspeak.net>
Editor: Bob Hawley

Prayer-School Course #20

A Prayer Sampler

Lesson 16

Prayer and Fasting

By Teresa Seputis

There are a lot of views on fasting. Some people feel it's not really a fast unless you take only water. Others feel it's OK to take in any non-nutritive foods (such as sugar-free soda, tea and/or decaf coffee (so long as you use only artificial sweetener and fake cream in it). Others feel it's fine to include juices. Others find it OK to have a glass of non-fat milk per day on long fasts, so long as you stick strictly to liquids. Pretty much everyone agrees that things like milkshakes and other liquid desserts aren't valid for a fast.

But the opinion that should really count is the Lord's opinion. I recommend not doing a long fast unless the Lord has called you to one. And if the Lord does call you to one, then ask Him which type of fast He's calling you to. My first fast was a 10-day fast (I don't recommend that you fast that long for your first fast unless God expressly calls you to.) I took nothing but water on that fast. I had no clue about guidelines for breaking long fasts and broke it with two doughnuts and a cup of coffee. It was only by the grace of God that I didn't get extremely sick. Sometimes God protects us from stupid mistakes when our heart is in the right place. But I wouldn't presume on His grace by fasting (or breaking the fast) unwisely.

Remember that the point of the fast is to obey and honor the Lord and to draw close to Him. I find that on long fasts, I'm able to discern His voice more clearly than when I'm not fasting. Not everyone has that experience. Some feel only tired and irritable and even farther from God on a fast, but find that place of intimacy after they've completed the fast. It's important to have the right motives when fasting. Please don't view fasting as somehow spiritually twisting God's arm and obligating Him to answer your prayer. It doesn't work that way. God isn't very prone to being manipulated. Instead, view the fast as a time to separate yourself unto the Lord, to put seeking Him above satisfying your bodily needs, with the intent of allowing Him to touch and change you. Look at the fast as getting yourself more in tune with Him rather than as getting Him to do something for you.

However, there are times when God will call you to a fast because He wants to work a change in your attitudes followed by a change in your circumstances. This doesn't have to be a long fast. Recently I had been invited to go on an overseas ministry trip as part of a "big-name" person's ministry team. I prayed about it and felt God wanted me to go, so I said yes. Then later, the other woman minister they invited cancelled, so they called me. They said they were uncomfortable with the idea of having only one woman on a small team where all the other members were men. So they asked me to stay home for this trip and wait for some future one. I was shocked and devastated, because I knew I'd heard God clearly on it. So I spent the next few days praying to find out why I had "heard wrong" regarding this trip. All I kept hearing was that I was supposed to go on this trip. I called the leadership back and shared what I heard God say to me. They said they'd pray about it and get back to me in a few days. Now there's where a misunderstanding came in. They thought they told me they'd get back to me only if they changed their minds and I thought they were going to get back to let me know whether or not they changed their minds.

Three weeks went by and I heard nothing from them. I pretty much resigned myself that I wasn't going on this trip, even though I believed God wanted me to go. But I became increasingly frustrated that they didn't get back to me as I believed they promised to. I began to have a bit of an attitude about the leadership and how I perceived they were treating me. I knew that attitude wouldn't please God and could interfere in my ability to minister in general. So I sought Him to help me have a godly attitude. He told me to fast and pray for 48 hours.

About eight hours into the fast, God told me to write a polite email inquiring why they didn't get back to me. So I did. They wrote back that they thought the agreement was that they were to get back to me only if there was a change, and they still believed God didn't want them to send out any teams that were all male except for one female.

I have to admit, I felt truly embarrassed before God. I'd struggled with an attitude for more than a week about them not getting back to me when they didn't think they were supposed to. I spent several hours in prayer repenting of any attitudes that came up during that three-week period. God did a serious attitude adjustment in me. I do remember praying, "Lord, if it turns out you still want me to go on this, please speak to their hearts." I assumed I would not be going, but had managed to get a good attitude in the situation anyhow.

The next day, day two of my 48-hour fast, I got a telephone call from them. They had prayerfully reconsidered and decided that I could still come be a member of the team if I still felt God wanted me to. God used the prayer and fasting time to first work on my own attitude and heart. Then He changed circumstances and caused a "closed door" to fling open. Don't be surprised if a big part of God's agenda for you during a fast is to work on your own heart and attitude.

It's very important that we don't get our focus on the fast as through the act of fasting is of merit in and of itself. Rather, try to keep our focus on God and drawing more into intimacy with Him, of being able to hear His heart on a matter. But you'll be aware that you're not eating; your flesh will start to cry out for food. It will try to consume your attention. On my first 40-day fast, I dreamed I was eating and it was a very realistic dream. When I woke up, I thought I'd broken the fast and started repenting to God for doing so. He told me it was just a dream and I hadn't really eaten anything.

Your mind and body may crave food. It might even play weird tricks on you. You might find it advisable/necessary to take this to the Lord to ask Him to help you with it. He's usually willing to help you (give you strength and will power to fast) if He has called you to do so. As in all spiritual things, "without Christ we can do nothing" (John 15:5b).

The physiology of a fast goes something like this: The first three to five days you get really "hungry" and start feeling weak. If you're doing a short fast (e.g., fewer than five days), you usually stay hungry the entire time. But if you're doing a longer fast, your body begins to switch over to consuming energy from stored fats and you stop being hungry. (Unfortunately, your body also breaks down non-fat tissue. So this is a terrible and unhealthful way to diet. Don't fast to lose weight. You'll probably gain it all back and a bit more when you start eating again.)

After a while your body stabilizes and you feel more energy and also don't feel hungry.

A rather unpleasant side effect is that you will usually have diarrhea for several days as your digestive system shuts itself down and then you won't have any type of bowel activity. Note that what I described is for the total types of fast -- water only or water and non-nutritive liquids. If you take juice or skim milk, you'll find the first few days easier, but will tend to stay hungry longer. Your body will probably switch over to burning stored fat (as in the water fast), but it may take longer to do so. In one sense you stay stronger by putting the sugar from the juices into your system, but in another sense you get weak because you don't switch over to the burning-fat-store type of energy as fast. The tradeoff on this affects people differently, depending on their metabolism.

It's not uncommon to get dizzy or light-headed on a long fast, especially if you end up getting up rapidly from a sitting or lying position, or if you're exerting yourself physically too much. You'll find that you get cold easier. In fact, sometimes I can't stay warm on a long fast, even if I turn the thermostat up to 80 degrees (where my non-fasting husband is literally melting). I find that it's unwise to consume cold things while fasting, especially things like chewing on ice cubes. If you do that, you do get a bit of a sensation of eating, but you also end up getting so cold that you can't get warm again for a long time. Drinking hot liquids seems to help, even if it's just hot water.

It's very unwise to exercise strenuously while on a long fast. Many people find they can continue working the duration of the fast if they're careful to curtail most physical activity. When I'm on a long fast, I cut back my walking as much as possible and drive more. By all means don't do any exercise type of activity like jogging, playing volleyball or going skating during a fast unless the Lord has explicitly spoken to you to do so. Some people wisely curtail their activity and still find they need to take some "sick days" off of work to just rest in bed during a long fast. Again, people seem to handle this differently, based on their constitution and such. I can usually work the entire time I'm doing a long fast if I'm very careful to curtail all other physical activity, but I usually get very tired. (I also usually take juices or a glass of non-fat milk on a long fast, which helps me with the physical endurance.) I will often go to bed very early when I'm fasting.

Sometimes I get into a phase where God will wake me up in the middle of the night to pray. Usually I don't feel much like praying when He wakes me up. I feel more like I have insomnia. I'm often groggy when this happens and it takes a while to figure out what I'm supposed to be praying. After I pray on whatever topic(s) He has on His agenda, it becomes easy to get back to sleep again. But if I don't pray through His agenda, I usually have a great deal of difficulty getting back to sleep.

Sometimes the level of enemy attack and spiritual warfare goes way up on a long fast. In fact, on two of my 40-day fasts, I came under a much greater degree of spiritual warfare than I usually experience. It was almost as though the enemy was trying to wear me down and get me to give up on the fast.

Another common thing that happens when we fast is that we subconsciously expect God to give us special privileges because we're fasting -- things He doesn't necessarily plan to do. For example, one time when I was on a long fast, I was trying to park somewhere it was very difficult to find a spot. Since I was weak from my fast, I expected God to give me a close parking spot and was miffed with Him when He didn't do so. I complained to Him and He set me straight by asking me why I thought I merited special privileges just because I was fasting.

Also, I expected Him to protect me from enemy attack. It was a real eye opener to me on my first 40-day fast when I had bad things more severe than usual happen to me, such as my car being broken into and my favorite coat being stolen, the diamond being stolen out of my wedding ring by a dishonest jeweler, and on and on. I was so overcome that I started to have attitude problems and God had to give me a little lecture on having a pure heart. Trust me, you don't want to get that type of lecture from Him! It's not fun, especially when He's right and you know you're in the wrong.

So, watch your expectations during a fast and guard your heart and your attitude. Expect that spiritual warfare and enemy attacks will be higher than usual when you fast. After all, when Jesus did His 40 day fast, the devil came and tempted him. Don't be disappointed if the fast is not the ultimate spiritual experience where you're walking on cloud nine and on the mountain top. There will be times like that, but there will be lots of times that aren't like that. In fact, during some parts of a long fast, you may feel "father away" from God than when you're not fasting. This isn't unusual.

Finally, be careful on breaking a fast. Many find the breaking of a fast harder than the fast itself, because your digestive system turns back on and you start getting really hungry. You have to eat wisely and in small quantities. This is hard to do -- you want to stuff yourself. But if you do that, you'll probably get very sick. I usually break fast with plain bread types of food, gradually adding back in fruits and vegetables and eventually regular food. Personally, I do very well with milk or cheese in breaking a fast, but many people get sick from that. Also, be advised that you may experience some diarrhea as your digestive system begins to turn itself back on. This is fairly normal and shouldn't be cause for alarm.

There's a weird spiritual dynamic that seems to happen around breaking a fast. Lots of times you feel so close to God by the end of the fast that you don't want to come off of it. There's sometimes a bit of a fear that you might lose the spiritual ground you gained or lose that ability to discern His voice. Remember that God created us to eat, that's part of how He made us. Even Jesus broke His 40-day fast and went back to eating. God doesn't expect us to fast indefinitely. He wants to be Lord of our fast, including Lord of breaking our fast after the prescribed time period has ended. Be sure to invite Him back into your eating just as you invited Him into your fasting.

Finally, don't assume that 40 is the magic number. The Lord has called me to a lot of two- and three-week fasts. Be sure not to set a goal of fasting longer than the Lord has called you to. It's much better to check in with Him and set a 14-day fast as per His calling than to assume you'll fast 40 days when He has graced you only for 14.

As with any other area of your life, be sure to invite Him into the fast. Ask Him to lead and guide you, empower and teach you and speak to you on the fast.

-- © GodSpeak International 2002 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from copyright@godspeak.org --

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