Sometimes it takes some serious seeking

They fasted that day until evening… and inquired of the Lord… They asked, “Shall we go up to battle with our brother Benjamin or not?” The Lord responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.” Judges 20:26-28

One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” Acts 13:2 

guidanceSince it’s the beginning of a new year, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about how to know and do God’s will. It only makes sense that when we’re looking for God’s will about serious life situations that we’d take extraordinary measures to seek him. I’m not saying that in those circumstances that he always requires such seeking, because sometimes he just drops the clear picture on us without us making any effort at all. But I’ve found that he does sometimes require some more serious seeking than usual in order to dispense his guidance. It’s certainly not because he needs me to pray harder or longer or at an earlier hour in order to be able to give me his leading. It’s most likely because I’m supposed to get closer to him, and he’s using my crossroads to pull me in. So for me, in times of significant transition, in addition to praying about it, asking my friends to pray and advise me, being particularly attentive to anything God might want to speak to me in the Word – I’ll often spend an unusual amount of time conversing with him and might do some fasting, which is often part of serious seeking.

When I was beginning to feel a stirring in my heart while serving as a Youth Pastor about planting a church I went to a campground in the foothills on Deer Creek called, “Potato Patch.” (I don’t know where they came up with that name since I didn’t see any patches of potatoes there.) One benefit of fasting during such a retreat is that you don’t have to pack any food! Camping is a lot easier if you eliminate the food planning, preparing, and cleaning up after. For several days I took prayer walks and spent lots of time by the campfire at night worshipping and conversing with the Lord (during which time I did my best to be quiet in order to listen). It was the first time I’d done something of this sort, and found it sublimely pleasant as well as effective. I went home, spoke with my wife about what I was feeling, and we began to make plans to make a move of faith.

At another time of transition for us I went to a Christian conference grounds for a few days of fasting and prayer. We’d planted churches in three communities by that time and it seemed that God had something for us to do elsewhere, so I reserved a cabin and spent time seeking his face for many hours during those days. Tis time he used a series of dreams to point me in the right direction.

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek. Psalm 27:8

Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. Psalm 105:4

My most recent significant move that required this kind serious seeking was the preparation to move to San Francisco to live a simple single life of service. It was about a two-year process, which included several forms of divine guidance and required a number of actions on my part in order to make the transition with the confidence that I was launching out in God’s will. Part of the process included going to a cabin in the Sierras for several weeks. These temporary withdrawals from the normal course of life have been invaluable for me over the years, as I’ve sought marching orders from the General.

Though fasting is not at all the only way to make our seeking serious, it is an important one. Let me propose a teensy primer on the practice of fasting and its particular application to tuning our spiritual receivers toward heaven for leading. Fasting is where we forego eating food* for some period of time in order to focus on the Lord and on his purposes in prayer. It’s one way to renounce the natural in order to invoke the spiritual.

The Bible is full of references to this spiritual discipline of fasting:

  • All Israel fasted as a sign of repentance in the days of the Judges...
  • David fasted before being crowned king, when his child was sick, when his people sinned …
  • Nineveh fasted when turning to God...
  • Esther called a fast when the Jews where facing extinction in Persia…
  • Daniel fasted 3 weeks (with what we might call a “Partial Fast,” Elijah fasted 40 days, Jesus fasted 40 days, Moses fasted 80 days...
  • Paul was “in fastings often”…
  • The early Christians fasted as part of their worship and when they ordained and sent out leaders 
  • To his followers, Jesus said, “When you fast…”

Here are a few thoughts on why we should fast:

We fast NOT to get God’s attention, but to give him ours…

When I fast I’m not trying to twist God’s arm until he does something for me. It’s not like a “hunger strike” until God speaks to me. I’m just trying to set myself apart from earthly distractions in order to give God my undivided attention.

We fast NOT to make him more apt to act, but make us more receptive to being acted upon…

I think of myself as a vessel into which God aspires to pour his riches so that he can pour them through me into others. Fasting (as well as all of the other disciplines like prayer, reading the Bible, fellowshipping, etc.) widens the mouth of the vessel so that he can invest more of his treasures into me and through me.

We fast NOT to remind God of our seriousness, but to remind ourselves that we are praying …

When you’re fasting it’s pretty hard to forget that you’re praying. If you do forget, your empty stomach will remind you! I’m especially inclined to fast when I have serious things to pray for. Fasting helps me to stay serious while I pray seriously for serious things at serious crossroads!

We fast and pray if we want an answer or direction from God bad enough…

David wrote, “I afflicted my soul with fasting … ” Fasting has the tendency of getting the soul in gear. It helps us put things in perspective and to hear from God more readily – to tune into his frequency. When I’m stuck in a spiritual rut, and my reception is fuzzy, it’s probably time to fast in order to clean out the lines of communication. If I want this greater receptivity I might have to be willing to pay the price to achieve it!

*I’m noticing a recent trend in “fasts” where people forego things other than food. I don’t object to the concept and have practiced it myself at times, but I don’t see anything about this form of fasting in Scripture. When the Bible refers to a fast it’s always talking about suspending food consumption. Nevertheless, some people either suffer from a medical condition or a physically demanding job and choose to “fast” a habit (TV, internet, bowling, knitting) or do what some call a “Daniel Fast” of particular foods like meats and sweets. There’s no such thing as a “bad fast,” so let the Spirit lead you. But remember, Jesus said, “When” not “if” you fast (Matthew 6).

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