Fasting seems like a byword in this day and age. It is neither embraced nor loved as we do with praise & worship. It just doesn’t appear to be a cool option that everyone is eager to join in!
My love for fasting started in childhood. Mum cultivated a culture of fasting in her life that eventually rubbed off on me. While growing up, I watched as she spent time fasting and praying on Saturdays which meant we weren't allowed to disturb her in those times and watched as she devoted time to fasting during the Lent period, and gradually encouraged us to join her as she fasted and prayed through that period. As children, we were encouraged during Lent to fast till noon a couple of days a week, which meant simply missing breakfast. In the process of time, as we entered our teenage years we were encouraged to extend our fasting to 3 p.m. While reminding us to set time apart to pray as we fasted, helping us to embrace the culture fasting & praying.
Upon my return to the UK, this culture of fasting during Lent took a back seat as I enjoyed all that my new environment had to offer as well as the immediate challenge with my health at the time. Once I’d recovered enough to resume a normal life, I started making time to fast again, which was probably stirred on by the shock of the health challenges I’d encountered, which pushed me into returning to the two to three days a week fasting during the period of Lent and this pattern became part of my life in the years that followed.
The truth is that, whilst growing up in Nigeria, I noticed that fasting was common amongst the Christian as well as the Muslim community which is contrary to the experience in the UK and therefore found it to be a lone experience that required greater discipline on my part as there was no one to encourage me to fast like when I was at home. Also, I quickly realised that it is not common in the UK to go on a full fast as people preferred to give up specific things e.g. cakes, coffee or social media etc.
Over time, I realised that my mother’s passion for fasting had become part of my life and one which I’m gradually passing on to my children. As we have to pass the baton on!
“Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly, Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God & cry out to the Lord” - Joel 1:4
However, in 2007 following a traumatic miscarriage, I felt compelled to go on a long fast to seek God for clarity and direction, but by the end of this particular fast, I realised my perspective and understanding of fasting had drastically changed during the forty days fast. While before this period, I used a time of fasting as a means to answered prayers & breakthroughs, which is biblically right, but following this fast, it became a vehicle to draw closer to God and build greater fellowship. It was no longer a time to cry out to the Lord but rather a time I drop every luggage at the door and enter his throne room in fellowship with the Lord. It became a time I looked forward to with earnest expectation to draw closer to the Lord, just like setting time apart with the one that you love.
Following this first long fast, the Lord impressed on my heart to make it an annual event during Lent, and I found that my third fast preceded my first encounter with the Lord. This year is the tenth year since my first long fast during Lent, and I’ve come to love this beautiful gift that the Lord has given me; even though many will not perceive this self-denial for weeks on-end a wonderful gift. I can testify that it opened a door of fellowship with the Lord that I would have never discovered any other way.
As I came to appreciate the fact that we are first spirit beings in a physical body and while we can be extremely religious in keeping our shapes and body in top condition, be it in going to the gym, eating well, drink water, exercising, etc. As we seek to achieve a greater level of physical fitness while completely ignoring our spirit man out of lack of understanding that it requires the same care and attention as our physical body. Therefore, I embraced a lifestyle of reading to exercise my mind and taking long walks to exercise my body, and fasting & praying to exercise my spirit man so that my spirit, soul and body are in excellent condition.
I’ve learnt over the years that fasting & praying as well as study the word of God are the spiritual exercise that keeps my spirit man healthy. I also realised that just as it is impossible to acquire a fully toned and fit body without some level of physical exercise, it is impossible to have a fully functional spirit man without fasting, praying and nurturing your spirit man.
While fasting is both physically & spiritually beneficial, at its core, it helps only the person doing it, just like one committed to physical exercise. While I would love Serena Williams fitness, I recognise that would mean hours and years of a disciplined regime to maintain that level of fitness, and it is the same with our spirit man. Therefore I’m always amazed when I come across people who desperately desire all the benefits of a lifestyle of fasting and praying but unwilling to pay the price; it’s like wanting a toned body without wanting to exercise! If you ever find the secret to doing that, kindly let me in on the secret!
The Bible says “ While they were worshipping the Lord & fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “set apart for me Barnabas & Saul for the work to which I have called them” - Act. 13:2
Over the decade-long, I’ve learnt that as I cultivate this culture of fasting and praying, that my ability to hear the Lord increases, and so did my ability to see in the spirit. Therefore, setting any extending time apart to fast and pray stretches your spirit man just like a marathon does to your physical body. But this also comes with the added benefit of creating the space for the Lord to invade and share His heart with us.
With all the benefits associated with fasting, it is important to note that fasting is only glorified dieting if not accompanied by studying the Word of God and intentionally creating space to fellowship with the Lord. While it is costly and an inconvenience, it is an investment that yields many benefits above and beyond having our needs met.
So as we begin the Lent period, I want to encourage you to join me in fasting and praying during this time, regardless of how little you can do. It is the heart and intentions that the Lord looks upon. Having had the opportunity recently to study the life of Apostle Paul again and felt hugely inspired by his passion to encourage the church across the regions through writing letters whilst in prison himself. I’ve therefore chosen to explore all of Paul’s letters starting from the Book of Romans to Philemon and encourage you to join me on as many of the Books as you can manage during this Lent period. Praying that the Lord will open new doors of fellowship with Himself and draw you into greater depth in your walk with Him.