Fasting: A Few Things I’ve Learned



     So a bit about me: I’m a physical therapist by trade. I got my doctorate from Emory University back in 2012. Before undergrad, I worked as a personal trainer; after grad school, I completed a residency and became a board-certified specialist in orthopedics. I’ve always been interested in the limits of the human body and in extending them. I believe each person has an individualized “ceiling” of limitations that caps their potential. But I also believe that none of us ever actually reaches their “ceiling,” and that ultimately, we’re capable of more than we’d expect. I believe this applies even more to spiritual things than physical ones, which are easier to objectively quantify through standardized measurements. You’ve got strength, balance, mobility etc… and you’ve also got a relatively fixed standard for what the human form can accomplish.

     There is a concept in physical therapy where you improve a weakness by intentionally limiting the body’s ability to support it. Stay with me here… If you identify that something is weak and want to get better, what do you do? It’s weak, so just strengthen it, right? “Do the exercises!” “Just put in the time and fix it!” Well, sometimes it’s more complicated than that. Things get weak for a reason. Most movements are executed by many different muscles working together. That means it can be hard to isolate the weakness. Shoot. It might be hard to identify it to begin with. Some movements are still “strong” even when they are done with the muscles working together in the wrong way. We call this a “bad movement pattern.” This limits your ability to reach toward your “ceiling” even if it masquerades as strength. Sometimes it leads to pain and injury. “Do the exercises!” and “Just put in the time and fix it!” won’t address the underlying issue. In this case, it’ll only make things worse.

    So what do you do? You intentionally take away the other muscles’ ability to step in and help. You isolate the weakness and force the body to relearn the movement. This takes great intentionality and wisdom to do. And it is embarrassing. Most of the time, you’ll find yourself failing at a movement that was previously “easy,” or “strong.” The stronger you appeared, and the more fundamental the movement is, the more humiliating it is to suddenly fail. But this humiliating state causes fresh adaptation. And the body actually learns fastest in this vulnerable situation, because it’s a familiar one.

     When we are babies, this is how we learn. It’s not about willpower or even training, although these things can play a role. We try to do something like, rolling over for example. We fail, because everything is weak. Undeterred, unlimited by ego, we accept that fact and try again, but with a slightly altered movement pattern. Eventually, we succeed. Eventually, only months after lying on our backs–completely immobile–we take our first steps. It’s incredible if you stop and think about it.

     I think in a purely analytical sense, fasting is like this technique I just described. Only, it occurs at the intersection of the physical and spiritual worlds (funny how God addresses spiritual things through physical situations). In one sense, fasting is a chance to take away something we’ve been leaning on, something we’ve been compensating with. These are often physical things. Food. Alcohol. Television. Our phones. Sleeping in. Our favorite video game or book. Caffeine. We see the weakness. We choose to isolate it by removing support–even good things–if we must. We intentionally make things hard again. We become helpless like babies.

     When we are weak and rely on God, He gives us strength. He meets us in that moment. This is a spiritual principle. Sometimes we’re not seeing improvement in our walk with God because we’re inconsistently applying the unsustainable “Do the exercises!” and “Just put in the time and fix it!” approach. In sprint-and-then-stop spurts. Over and over. We’re trying to use strength to fix weakness by brute force, and it isn’t working. Sometimes, it just isn’t that simple. Sometimes, God uses fasting to do a new work in us. He wants to renew our youth, to regenerate those who wait on Him. He wants to renew you. That all sounds amazing, right? It is. But it does involve some things we tend to avoid–weakness and maybe even humiliation. If renewal requires you to become like a little baby again, will you do it?

     Most of what I’ve learned about fasting, I learned here at Renovation. As just a dude trying it out. Trying to fix weaknesses. Trying to get a bit closer to my “ceiling.” After a few years of practicing, here’s several nuggets I want to share, in no particular order. I pray they bless you.

·      While I have been speaking in a practical sense, fasting also achieves a spiritual effect through means we do not understand. What we know is that fasting is uniquely powerful. If there is a spiritual tool designed for situational breakthrough, it is fasting. Remember what Jesus said, that some things uniquely happen through the means of fasting. That’s really all we need to know.

·      I have personal experience. At the conclusion of our past corporate fasts, I’ve:

1.    Had a dream the final night of the fast that revealed specific knowledge I had asked for. This information was confirmed via interpretation and then again by real-life events the following day…

2.    Learned that we were pregnant with a child after several years of prayer and a miscarriage. Now we have two kids.

3.    Had an offer accepted on our first home after years of desiring a house.

·       Beware. Remember Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness after his 40 day fast?  One of Satan’s tricks was to entice Jesus to “put the Lord God to the test.” Do not use a fast as a sort of scientific experiment to see if God is who He says He is. He does not have to prove Himself to you, nor participate in your experimentation. He is holy. To be worshipped. Rather, start like a child. Start with belief and a desire to see for yourself. Belief and humility move God’s heart to act. Cold, prideful quantification provokes Him not to (although He remains merciful and gracious). Start with a foundation of deep reverence for God. Not one of disbelief.

·       Another warning: Beware attempting some sort of epic fast if you are not strong and practiced in the discipline. This may actually come from a place of pride. And it will likely not be effective, even if you achieve “success.” The physical therapist in me is wary of the injury that could result from unwisely attempting something that you’re simply not ready to do yet.

·       Suggestion: Do a targeted fast! The simplest way is to ask God what you should give up for these three weeks. He knows what weakness He wants to target. He knows what new strength He wants to produce in you. If He reveals something, obey! It will be worth it.

·       If you have not received a specific word on what to fast, try the approach I described above! What is a weakness you want to address? Remove the things that help you compensate. What is a strength you want to develop in yourself? Remove the things that assist you in that area. The goal is to isolate the element you want to improve. Here are a few examples/suggestions from my physical therapist’s notepad:

1.     Are you in a place of doubting God’s ability or desire to provide for you? Is there a specific need you have? Fast a meal each day. As you grow hungry, remind yourself that God is your sustenance. “You shall not live by bread alone,” right? Ask Him to meet that specific need from a place of belief and reverence. Ask Him for provision. Ask Him to meet you in your moments of physical deprivation and hunger.

2.     Does God feel boring to you, or do you find yourself lacking the attention span to focus your thoughts on Him? Fast television and other forms of entertainment. Replace with intentional time set aside to seek God, directly if possible (For example, if you watch Netflix from 9:00p to 10:00p, try using that time to focus on Him in some way instead). In the pain of mental deprivation, ask God to fill the void, to cut through the noise and speak clearly. Seek His voice. Pair this with silent meditation.

3.     Are you struggling to find high levels of joy and satisfaction in God? Are you in the habit of abusing things (good, innocuous, sinful alike) in order to find peak enjoyment in life and “get through the week?” Fast those good or otherwise innocuous things (You don’t fast sinful things; you fight them). Fast alcohol. Fast dessert or treats. Fast that favorite, fun thing you do to “recharge.” Ask God to be your delight. Ask Him what you can have from His throne room instead. Pair with worship.

     You get the idea! I pray these thoughts and points would be beneficial for you as we step into this season together. Finally, while these thoughts and examples are personalized, remember that this is a corporate fast. As you go through the process for yourself, go through the process for your church. The church is a body with strengths and weaknesses, so this all applies beautifully. I can’t wait to see how the Lord moves in your lives and in the life of Renovation through this season.

-Pastor Sam (PT, DPT, OCS)