Let’s face it, none of us like trials - whether they are the product of circumstance, poor choices, or God’s action to refine us further for our good. Yet how many of us can look back at a difficult period in our lives and not see God working and blessing through it?
I recently attended a church service where the sermon was all about fasting. I had heard this particular presenter on the topic before and had been convicted back then—with some reluctance—on the importance of fasting. But I had pushed the thought from my mind. After all, I’m a young associate pastor who usually only eats two, or occasionally three healthy, Adventist-approved, meals a day. That must count for something, right? Most people eat three or more meals, snack throughout the day, and who knows how healthy their food choices actually are‽
Such was my mindset once again as I began to listen to this message. As I listened this time, though, the conviction began to grow that fasting isn’t just about me and the habits I’ve become comfortable with. It’s about learning to deny myself and spend time seeking God with an intentionality matched by practice, rather than my rapidly deflating, unfulfilled intentions.
To be honest though, even as I reflected on the spiritual benefits of fasting, the greater motivation for me was the very clear health benefits. According to at least one study, fasting for three days can regenerate the entire immune system. Now that’s something that I thought might be worthwhile! I decided, on the spot, that I would give it a try… but not before potluck at the end of the service, and certainly not before finishing some leftovers in my fridge on Sunday morning! So I decided to fast from after Sunday breakfast to Wednesday about the same time.
Alas, on reflecting on my experience fasting those three days, I can now make an observation: fasting for health reasons alone may be physically beneficial, but pushing through out of willpower to prove that one can reap a health benefit yields only a partial gain, at best.
The Desire of Ages adds a lesson from Christ’s fast that sheds light on how to maximize the benefit of fasting. She writes, “Christ declares that the condition of the world will be as in the days before the Flood, and as in Sodom and Gomorrah. Every imagination of the thoughts of the heart will be evil continually. Upon the very verge of that fearful time we are now living, and to us should come home the lesson of the Saviour’s fast. Only by the inexpressible anguish which Christ endured can we estimate the evil of unrestrained indulgence. His example declares that our only hope of eternal life is through bringing the appetites and passions into subjection to the will of God.”
Translation: It is difficult to make God first in our lives; so overcoming appetite through fasting is a powerful way to ensure He is where He should be—before everything else. Coming to a decided point where we would rather deprive ourselves of physical food so that we can draw closer to God, provides us with an invaluable experience whereby we learn to put Him first. This should not be confused with the idea of trying to get God to conform to us through methodology, as though fasting could hold any inherent merit to twist His arm. Instead it should be understood as us seeking Him in humility and searching ourselves to see if there is anything in our lives that we have placed ahead of Him. He is not the variable! We are our own greatest obstacles.
The persistent widow of Luke 18 received her request not because there was merit to be gained from her persistence, but because she recognized her need and maintained her plea. She refused to be satisfied with how things were. The question that comes home to us then is: are we satisfied with how and where we are? Furthermore, as Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32, he knew what was on the line: he would perish without God’s intervention to bless and save him from Esau and his soldiers. Only as Jacob surrendered all and clung to God in dependence upon Him, was his petition for blessing finally granted.
So coming back to fasting…Why bother? Should we see it as a self-harm program to persuade God to act? Certainly not! Instead, we should ask ourselves: Are we satisfied with where we are? And are we willing to come to the point where we are willing to give up whatever it takes, including appetite, to search our own hearts and ensure that we are in line with God’s will for our lives? When we come with that mindset and with our willing hearts, then, and only then, God can work, without us obstructing the way.
 Ellen Gould White, The Desire of Ages (vol. 3; Conflict of the Ages Series; Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1898), 122.