Fasting and "The Response"
Governor Perry has caught a lot of heat over his proclamation calling people to fast and pray this Saturday at Reliant Stadium in Houston. It is unfortunate, but it seems because he is the governor, he can’t encourage people to pray. Others have commented more fully on this in various blogs and op-eds. I guess my thoughts are summed up by the cliché, “It’s a free country. If you don’t want to do it, then don’t.” However, I might add for the practical agnostic that we are in such desperate need of rain, that it certainly can’t hurt to pray about it, unless you are afraid He might answer.
The truly disappointing thing is that the 71,000 seat Reliant Stadium apparently will only be hosting about 8000. So, either, 1) there are a whole lot of Christians doing things at home or with their home church, 2) there are a bunch of last minute attendees, or 3) it seems that most of the Christians in this part of the Bible belt are too busy or too apathetic to come together to worship and ask God for rain, or 4) they like drought. There may be other options, but those are what come to mind as I try to think of others. If you do not currently plan to recognize the proclamation in some way, I encourage you to reconsider.
I will not be going to Houston as I will be in San Antonio for family gatherings. However, we will be observing it in some ways as a family. Some of us have committed to fasting for the day and spending more time in prayer individually and as a family.
Fasting seems like a weird thing in today’s culture. I get that. It certainly isn’t fun. Most of us are used to eating well, often and at our discretion. Denying ourselves that can be a little difficult, especially with the mild unsettling discomfort that stomach rumblings bring. So why do it?
I’ll be honest—I’m not entirely sure. Scripture repeatedly says that it is an activity that people of God should do and that somehow it renders our prayers more effective, yet not in a manipulative way that seeks to control God, but more in an, “OK, we’re serious about this God; so much so that we are forgoing food for a period of time and spending that time before you without even some normal biological needs being met. So let’s talk and hash this out.”
There are several good books on fasting. One I read in college was “God’s Chosen Fast,” by Arthur Wallis. It explains why and how to fast in a healthy way. Back in college, for several years I had a habit of fasting two days a week (not consecutively) as a way of building spiritual discipline, and trying to honor God as I felt led. I’m not sure when or why I stopped, but I can tell you that it was a special time, yet it would be a struggle for me to do it again today—mostly I fear out of laziness.
However, I will do it Saturday. One of the suggestions I got from Wallis is that when I feel those pangs, they are reminders to pray, like a timer to check on food in the oven (ok, bad analogy). The important thing is to focus on doing business with God. Christ warns that when we fast, particularly individually, not to make a big deal of it, complaining, letting ourselves look haggard, and so on. We are to look and function normally, just pray more and not eat.
It should also be noted that there are different types/levels of fasting. Some fasts are complete—nothing enters the mouth, not even water. The most common limits you to water only for the period of fasting. Another type is to drink fruit juice so there is some energy intake (I’m not a doctor, so this isn’t medical advice, however, this may be an option for those with blood sugar concerns. Check with your doctor before attempting any major fast, and check before any fast if you have health issues.) Other fasting options include fasting from certain foods (sweets/sodas, personal favorites, meat, whatever would be a type of sacrifice for you for that time period). Some people may not be able to fast for an entire day for various reasons, so perhaps it is just for a meal or two, or no snacks in between. Pray for His instructions for you. During Ramadan, Moslems fast from sunup to sundown and eat after dark. I tend to do it from bedtime the night before to breakfast the day after.
Breaking a short fast like a day is usually not a big deal. If you choose to go longer, ease into it. A sudden rush of food after time without is stress on your system and can cause discomfort or even a stomachache. One of the practical benefits to fasting is it can help reboot your gut. You give it a break, a chance to clear out and rest, and to eliminate toxins. This is NOT a diet regimen—it is a spiritual discipline with some physical benefits. Weight loss is minor and temporary and using fasting as a diet is counter productive and potentially unhealthy. Like most things in life, motivation is a key factor, so check yours before beginning.
I know I’ve made it sound oh-so-appealing, but I do encourage you to consider some kind of fast along with prayer on Saturday for an end to the drought and other issues facing us here in Texas. Don’t let the negative hype in the media dissuade you from going before God. My reasons for recommending participating in The Response is not because of the 2 Chronicles verse associated with it (I addressed that last week in the series “If My People…”), but because regardless of any promise or not in Scripture, it is good and appropriate to worship God corporately, to humble ourselves as people and ask for His intervention. We can certainly worship individually, but individually we are not the Bride of Christ, only the Church as a whole is, so why not from time to time gather to reveal ourselves as such?
There is zero chance of rain around me for Saturday. What a witness that will be if we have statewide rain that day or evening!! I want to be a part of that. How about you?
By the way, Elijah was just one man and he held the rain back and let it loose by his individual prayers. What can happen if thousands, hundreds of thousands of us pray in unity?