“One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.” ~Acts 13:2-3 NLT.
How do you teach people, in a starving country, about fasting? It sounds very bizarre to a person in a third world country to give up a necessity, one that is so scarce, for something they don’t see as tangible.
This past Saturday, I preached on fasting to several villages in Pakistan. It feels pretty normal to preach about the topic in the United States but this was definitely different. On top of having the language barrier and being from a country that is seen as having everything, I was teaching a principle to them that did not make sense.
When I was younger, I did not understand the concept of fasting. My brain did not grasp why I would give up food, that my body had to have, in order to pray…as though God could not hear me with a full belly. It made no sense to me then. I didn’t actually start fasting, on a regular basis, until about 10 years ago.
I have read a lot about fasting and traditionally you fast from food and drink. During my younger years, I was diagnosed with Hypoglycemia, low blood sugar. If I went even 15 minutes past the time I would usually eat my body would start to shake, I would get weak, and feel as though I was going to pass out. I watched my sugar levels like a hawk and knew just the right snacks to raise it quickly if it ever got too low.
I wasn’t ready to give up food.
The first time I fasted, I was nervous about giving up food so I gave up other things. I really enjoyed secular music and decided to get rid of all of my CD’s. It actually felt a little painful to me, just because of the money I had spent and they were my favorite bands. There were two that I really didn’t want to give up: the entire Journey Collection and the entire Garth Brooks Collection. Thankfully, I found some good owners for them.
That fast was filled with Christian music, instead of secular. I noticed how much more joy I had and that my responses to people were less reactive. I could feel a change that surprised me. There was change that occurred and it was noticeable.
On my next fasting excursion, I fasted things that took up too much time. I asked God for more time with Him and He showed me that I do have time it is just spent on junk. Social media, TV, and movies killed a lot of my day. It was being used as an empty space filler, boredom filler, and something to entertain my tired brain after working… none of which was important enough to take up a third of my day.
With that much time to use, I was learning so much about God. The more I learned, the more I craved. I didn’t even like watching shows because it didn’t quite fill me with pleasure and entertainment the way that Bible Study time did. This was so weird to me and it made absolutely no sense to my brain but it felt good.
From that fasting, I decided to venture out to food. Thinking about God’s verse in Malachi about testing Him with our tithe, I thought why not test Him with my blood sugar. I asked God for His care, since “He cares for me”, and decided to give up food for an entire day. It was sort of tough but each time I thought about food I just prayed and began reading His word.
The next time I fasted, I had a juice fast for a week. That hurt, physically, but spiritually I felt alive.
For the past seven years, I have completed a 21-day fast at least once a year. Each time I give up different things, after asking God what He believes I love more then Him. It is different every time and every time I grow stronger. The concept really doesn’t make sense to any sane person but God does not work the same way the world does. We just need to trust in Him.
So how do you preach to a starving country about fasting?
Well, as stated before, I did. The person that translates for me asked me to preach on that specific topic. At first I was nervous and did not think it would be a good idea. Who was I, an entitled upper class American, to tell a poor village that is starving to give up the one thing they desperately work for? When I say desperate, I mean their entire family works daily for food, even the children.
I sat down in front of my computer and prayed for His words to come to me, that would make sense despite the language barrier. My fingers feverishly typed out what He gave me. It was not how I would have delivered it to a congregation here in the U.S. but somehow it made sense and felt right. I actually had enough content that if I stretched it out it could have been a two week service but I decided against it. There are some topics that can cause a wall between people and God, this is one of them. It should be addressed softly and not in a way that points fingers.
The sermon should make them want to try.
When I was reviewing the sermon, there were things that I wrote out that needed to be taken out because it would not have translated well. This has been a huge learning curve for me, preaching to another country. My western brain writes things out in a way that appeals to our culture and I am learning how to write and teach from an eastern point of view. I am excellent at reading the Bible from eastern eyes and explaining it to a western culture but trying to explain it using eastern understanding is a bit of a challenge.
The sermon was delivered, I am on my fast, and they are learning. They were listening and His Word never comes back void. I am ready for great things to come from the words that were preached. Eating is only a temporary infilling but He is the Bread of Life and Living Water that never runs out.
Fasting does not cause starvation but replenishing!