Some followers of Jesus like to start the New Year with an intentional time of prayer and fasting, a practice that I’ve found helps me grow like Jesus.
The church my wife and I attend (Cross Church in Fayetteville, Ark.) is among those that promotes this spiritual discipline. We’re blessed to have leaders who value the things Jesus values and who challenge us to live like Jesus. And it’s encouraging to know we’re going on this journey as a collective body.
We know that Jesus went through an intentional Spirit-led fast as he launched his earthly ministry (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-4). We know He was tempted during this time. We know it prepared Him for what was to come. We know He gave us instructions on how (not if) to fast (Matthew 6:16-18). And we know there are many other examples in scripture of people fasting to strengthen their walk with God.
There are many ways to fast. Our church asks us to sacrifice something for 21 days. Some people give up food and live on juice and water. Some give up television. Some stay off of social media. The point is to give up something (or some things) so that you can focus more intently on your relationship with God. My wife and I adjust our diet and scale back our television hours.
Here are some benefits I’ve experienced:
- Hunger pains (or the “off” button on the TV remote) become a reminder to have a conversation with God.
- We start the fast by updating our prayer journal, which lists 63 things we regularly pray about throughout the year. This is an amazing opportunity to re-focus our prayer life.
- We eat a pretty healthy diet to begin with, but the fast helps cleanse us physically and that makes us feel better in every aspect of life. (The Daniel Plan is an excellent resource for a healthy approach to food and exercise.)
- Some of our most transforming spiritual disciplines began with a fast. God has used it to help us create good habits.
A fast isn’t something you only do at the start of the year or only in one prescribed way. I’ve fasted to help me make what I saw as life-altering decisions, to seek God more desperately during times of trouble, and to support a friend who was going through the ringer.
I’m no expert, but God has always connected me when I’ve sought Him in this way. As you continue to grow like Jesus, ask God how He wants to use this discipline to help you on the journey.