“Why do they call it a fast when it goes so slooooow?” —Gallagher
This was the longest I’d ever gone without sugar, coffee, meat, tortilla chips, snacks, ice cream and Chinese food. In fact, this was the longest I’d gone without food. Period.
Also, I missed the Superbowl and haven’t seen Parks and Recreation for six weeks.
I never wanted to do this. Ever. Would you?
But I had to.
Things got so tough in my neck of the woods in Central Texas that I was desperate.
Some of you may know that I moved from California to Texas at God’s call to plant a church in Dripping Springs, Texas. It failed after a year and a half. Then I was hired as a pastor in Johnson City at Community Church of the Hills. A God-send. Wonderful people. Love. A future!
But when we moved onto our cozy little seven acres we did not know that we would be next to a neighbor who would hate the fact that we had to cross his property on what’s known as an easement. Two turns in court and thousands of dollars later, the issue has been resolved—but at a cost.
It took a toll on my family. There were many personal issues we were encountering given all the moving and adjusting to a whole ‘nother culture and having now-teenage daughters. For a year and a half we had to endure many small indignities at the hand of our neighbor. And there was the stress of being the pastor of a new congregation with all the expectations placed on my wife and I.
It got to the place where I felt I could not endure anymore, so I called my former pastor in California and explained to him that I was ready to give up.
He wouldn’t hear of it.
“I want you to fast and pray until you get a clear voice from the Lord to stop. You want to pray until you are weak. Because when you are weak, you are strong and God’s strength is perfected in weakness.” Then he gave me a specific Scripture verse.
I have tried to do everything my pastor has told me in the past. He has never led me astray. But fast with an unknown end date?
During 2015, I felt the Lord was leading me to a 40 day fast two times but I “conveniently” didn’t hear him. Now he spoke through my pastor. This was the third time. I had better do it.
It was right before Christmas when I talked with him, and I thought best to wait until after the holidays so I would not offend my family by not eating the tasty Yuletide offerings my wonderful wife was preparing. A few days after Christmas I weighed myself: 202 pounds. Little did I know how much that figure would change. Drastically.
Fasting? But why fast? What’s the reason for doing so?
Well, it’s Biblical for one thing: In the Old Testament, regular fasters were Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel and Hannah. In the New Testament, Jesus, of course, as well as the Apostles and Anna.
Fasting continued to play a regular part in the early church and the early church Fathers, down through the lives of the Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Different theological schools were also represented like Arminian John Wesley and Calvinist Jonathan Edwards.
Fasting is a way to humble yourself before the Lord and can serve as a prescription against a prideful heart. It disciplines the body and humbles the soul. It’s a way to increase personal holiness, to get God’s attention, if you will, and a way to set the captives free.
“But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting,” said Jesus.
Fasting is not a hunger strike, nor a manipulative device nor a form of dieting. Fasting should be about God, one that is set apart for him to honor and glorify him, designed to accomplish his will.
I wanted to show God that I meant business and was serious enough about needing him to move in my life that I was willing to afflict myself until he did. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel I would not let go until he blessed me.
Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) wrote, “Under special difficulties…in great need…or [if you have a need for] any particular mercy, for yourself or others, set apart a day for secret prayer and fasting by yourself alone; and let the day be spent, not only in petitions for the mercies you desire, but in searching your heart, and in looking over your past life, and confessing your sins before God….”
Matthew Henry (1662–1714) said: “Fasting and prayer are proper means for the bringing down of Satan’s power against us, and the fetching in of divine power to our assistance.”
I started on January 6, 2016. Happy New Year indeed.
There are 4 types of Biblical fasts:
1. Normal (fast from all food, Matthew 4:2)
2. Partial (dietary limitation, Daniel 1:12)
3. Absolute (no food or liquids, Ezra 10:6)
4. Supernatural (Deuteronomy 9:9)
In the Bible there were varying lengths of time one could fast: 1 day, 3 days, 7, 14, 21, and 40 days.
I had to ask the Lord how long I should fast.
I’ve done many, many one day fasts in my life, quite a few three day fasts and two ten day fasts (before I was a Christian). But one with an undetermined end?
How did I prepare? I stopped eating.
The first day I was almost catatonic. Sluggish. Caffeine headache. Irritable. I could barely keep my eyes open. This is how every fast I’ve ever done began. After the second day, hunger pangs diminish, along with the headaches. By the third day, there’s no hunger at all.
Then I waited for a clear word from the Lord to stop on the tenth day. Oh please Lord, please, let it just be a ten day fast! In addition to not eating any food and drinking only water, I also chose not to watch any TV, DVDs or movies. (I did stay on the Internet and read some news, posted on Facebook and viewed a few YouTube videos though.)
The eleventh day came and went. So did the fifteenth, eighteenth and nineteenth.
During this time I prayed, read my Bible and other things. I’d love to say I was this super-spiritual giant but that just wasn’t the case. How long can you pray anyway? Just how much Bible can you read? I’d cry out to God regularly throughout the day, and frankly, after I left my office, I was mostly bored. When I got home, I’d pray some more, read a Jack Reacher novel and also “American Sniper.” Yeah, I know. Real holy, huh? Hey, just telling you the truth here!
But, I really, really looked forward to going to bed which was about 10:00 each evening. I don’t normally dream, but while fasting, I dreamt a lot. (One night I dreamed I was eating a big marshmallow and in the morning my pillow was gone! Only kidding!) I’d get up at 6AM or so, and on most days took a gentle two mile walk. Moderate exercise was perfectly fine. I weighed myself every other day and found that I lost an average of about two pounds a day for the first ten days, then about a pound a day afterward.
The calendar pages turned slowly, ever so slowly. Perhaps God was calling me to a twenty-one day fast? Oh please, Lord, please, let it just be a twenty-one day fast! Like Daniel. Please?
On the twenty-first day I opened to my daily reading in the Bible. There it was, big as day. The exact verse my pastor had given to me which started my fast. Ohhhh, nooooooo! It’s a 40 day fast! Nineteen days to go. Almost three more weeks! Without eating?
Then I looked at my preaching schedule. We were going through the book of Mark verse-by-verse, and it just so happened that my next scheduled teaching was on…wait for it…Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness while he fasted forty days and 40 nights. A clear Word from the Lord…. Ohhhh nooooooo. IT IS a forty day fast! I mean, PRAISE GOD!!! WOO HOOOOOO!
Things got worse. Our neighbors did many more unbelievable things. Family situations became even more challenging; that’s just the way it goes.
When Jesus was in the wilderness for those 40 days did Satan let up? Of course not. He piled on everything he had. I resolved to shut my mouth and trust God. He assured me he was hearing my requests through his word, primarily through the Psalms, saying repeatedly that he heard the prayer of the afflicted. The rest is very personal, so I’m not telling you.
I kept thinking of the dry deer sausage in my work refrigerator. And cheese. And queso with beef in it. Salads. Pizza. I had to shut my mind off to all food, enduring two potlucks where I feasted with my eyes. I had to leave our home regularly or hide in a back room when meals were prepared. I wasn’t hungry, but wanted to eat, thinking of all the restaurants I would visit when this was over.
Go to bed. Wake. Read. Pray. Walk. Go to work. Read. Pray. Go to bed.
After thirty days I wasn’t even weak, but tired easily. Forty minute nap midday. Gallon of water daily. I took no laxatives yet administered an occasional enema. Yuck! Bought new pants. What little muscles I had were disappearing. (No one would notice that but me.)
Quite literally, I was wasting away. Starving. My system was shutting down.
Yet, God sustained me.
I started to see the real me, my own black heart, lack of self-control, defensiveness, prickliness, irritability and murderous, hateful thoughts. I always wanted to be right and didn’t listen to others very well. That Mother of all sins, pride, was all too evident. Oh wretched man that I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Only a few people knew. If someone asked, I would tell them. I wasn’t trying to be coy, but wanted to obey what Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount:
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” —Matthew 6
(Some took issue with me writing about it though, but I wrote about it after the fast was over. So there!)
Then my daughter told a kid in our Youth Group what I was doing; next, the whole Johnson City High School knew. Then the town. Some thought I was crazy. Hey, the religious leaders told Jesus he was demon-possessed, a drunkard and a glutton. I was doing this for God and would not be dissuaded. So there!
My preaching, believe it or not, didn’t suffer. I really felt filled with the Spirit, if not food, though my voice was getting weak.
I still worked, met with people, started a Men’s discipleship group and gave a State-of-the-Church address about the goals I wanted to see accomplished this year in our fellowship.
Our new easement was built and our neighbors stopped hassling us. Other things still loomed—not everything changed—yet I continued to trust God.
I prayed this prayer in my head on the evening of the thirty-fifth night as I drifted off to sleep: “Lord, if you take everything I own, if I lose my home, if I am paralyzed and an invalid for life, I will trust in you. If I am deep in debt, lose an arm, am wheelchair-bound, if my family leaves me, I will believe in you. If I’m scorned and no other prayer is ever answered, I’m yours. I will praise you.” Then I drifted off to sleep.
Five more days. Four, three, two….
The fortieth day was Valentine’s Day. I preached on fasting without letting the congregation know that I was, even though a few did. Some probably thought I had cancer. I was miserable and irritable when I got home and had to leave the house. Self-control was barely there. Leaving the house for the sake of the family, I went back to my office and crashed, not wanting to blow it completely on my last day. Bedtime: 11PM.
I woke up at 5AM with severe cramps in my left leg due to loss of electrolytes: My foot, calf and thigh were twisting. Enduring this for about a half hour, I prayed for a friend who had blood cancer and experienced cramps like these regularly.
Plan for day forty-one: awaken, pray, read my Bible and take a two mile walk so that I could thank God for his sustaining power.
Then eat. Yes, eat!
My wife the nurse prepared my “re-feeding” program, which can take up to ten days. She studied and found that the best course of action would be to adhere to the guidelines from Scarborough Hospital in the U.K. (found in this article on long fasts). It’s important not to eat too much too quickly when breaking a fast because I could have a heart attack, even die. This happened to starving Jews after WWII. It had to be slow.
Fulfilling my morning plan, I then had breakfast: twelve ounces of beef broth. Oh how glorious!
Lunch: one half an avocado. Delicioso!
And dinner? Eight ounces of beef broth. I was restricted to 350 calories the first day, 700 the next, gradually increasing my caloric intake until I could try out the new burger joint in town. And the pizza buffet.
The word that the Lord impressed upon me during my 40 day fast was very anti-climactic, disappointing, even. I wanted a big word from God that promised blessings and wealth and, and…well, it wasn’t to be. Nope.
Here’s what he said: “My grace is sufficient.” That’s it.
In other words, troubles may continue, heartaches, disappointment and trouble, trouble, trouble.
Still, his grace is sufficient.
And it always will be.
What better Word is there?
“Fasting helps to express,
to deepen, and to confirm the resolution
that we are ready to sacrifice anything,
to sacrifice ourselves to attain what
we seek for the kingdom of God.”
—Andrew Murray (1828–1917)
Try water fasting with a twist! It’s an easy way to cut calories! I pretty much do this as a lifestyle now.)
My Re-feeding Program
My plan was to originally work up to 2300-2400 calories a day over about ten days, but you will see that I abbreviated it quite a bit.
Day 1: 350 calories. 2 mile walk
Morning: 1 cup green tea. Electrolyte drink. 1 cup Beef broth. Vitamins
Afternoon: 1/2 avocado, 1 cup green tea
Evening: 1 cup Beef broth, 1 cup veggie soup. Vitamins
Oh no! My appetite is coming back…and quickly!
Day 2: 700 calories. 2 mile walk.
Morning: 1 cup green tea, electrolyte drink. 1 cup kefir. vitamins. (Note: Kefir is used to restore necessary stomach bacteria.)
Afternoon: 1 cup green tea. 1/2 avocodo, 1 cup veggie soup,
Evening: 1 cup veggie soup, vitamins
700 calories is no where near enough but I don’t want to die of a heart attack. If I could go 40 days without food, I certainly can handle a few days with limited food.
Day 3: 1050 calories, 2 mile walk, jog.
Morning: 1 cup green tea. electrolyte drink, 1 cup kefir, 1/2 English muffin, no butter, vitamins
Afternoon: 1 cup beef vegetable soup, 1/2 avocado.
Late afternoon: 1 cup butternut squash soup, 1 oz dry deer sausage
Evening: 1 cup vegetable beef soup, 1 slice of no cheese pizza with nutritional yeast, about 9 of my daughters french fries, vitamins.
I’m dreaming of buffets and pizza and salad and popcorn. Can I last seven more days? AAAARRRGGHHHH!
Day 4: 1400 calories, 3 mile walk, jog
Morning: 1 cup green tea. I cup black coffee. 1 cup kefir, 1/2 English muffin, no butter, 1 oz. fresh blueberries & blackberries, vitamins
Afternoon: 1-1/2 cups beef vegetable soup, 9 tortilla chips w/ guacamole, 1 cup coffee w/2tsp. sugar, 2 teaspoons powder creamer. 1/2 cup black coffee
Late afternoon: 1 cup butternut squash soup, 1-1/2 oz of dry deer sausage, 1 slice of no cheese pizza with nutritional yeast.
Evening: 7 tortilla chips, 1″ sharp cheese, 3 tablespoons of guacamole, 1 cup beef and vegetable soup. 1 oz. of berries w/whip cream. Vitamins. (Approx. 75-125 calories over limit today)
I can’t hold on much longer. I’m really, really hungry. My body, so long in starving mode, wants to eat a lot!!!
Morning: Black coffee, 1 cup yogurt with granola and berries., 1/2 English muffin.
Afternoon: A big old huge salad, deer sausage, bleu cheese dressing. Heck with it all! I’m eating! I feel great!
Dinner: Panda Express, 3 entrees with chow mein (I ate half of it. My stomach has shrunk!)
Evening: Popcorn with some butter and olive oil spray and Parmesan cheese. 1/4 pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!
I feel I can eat now. I get a sense that my body has adapted already. I feel great at my new weight and do not want to gain anything back. I will start weight lifting in about two weeks to try to get back the muscle tissue I lost. I will probably gain 10 pounds just to have my body get the nutrition it needs. Lots of veggies. I love my new 32″ waist. I haven’t had this since high school. God is good! He gave me the strength!
Credits: Cartoon by Peter F. Roy; Photos: vitals.lifehacker.com; revandy.org;niashanks.com; blog.netpharmacy.co.nz