I know it’s way too early to start thinking about 2013 and the year that is to come. Believe me, I certainly am not in any rush to get through December any faster than anybody else. But, I have been thinking a lot about 2013 and what I want life to look like and how things are going to change, and so I naturally have been thinking a lot about January. I’m not in a rush to get there, but I know it’s coming whether I like it or not and I want to be ready.
Part of that is my New Year’s fast. While I was on staff at LifeChurch.tv, Craig challenged us every year to start the new year with a fast. And the idea of a fast, basically, is just to deny yourself something significant (something you love or like a lot) for a period of time and use that time, money, energy or whatever and redirect it back to getting closer to God. The Daniel fast was always a really popular choice, and it’s based on Daniel 10:2-3 when Daniel has been fasting — “No rich food. And no meat or wine…” — for three weeks because Daniel was grieved by the sin of Israel and was seeking God’s heart. After 3 weeks of this fast, God gives him a message.
Beyond that, I don’t really know why fasting seems to be important to God. All I know is that often times, great men of the Bible would sometimes fast and God would work out of that. For example, Jesus fasted as he started his ministry. (and it was in this weakness that the Holy Spirit lead Jesus away to be tempted by Satan)
I personally don’t think there is anything magical, mystical or overly spiritual to fasting. I do think something special happens to our hearts when we pre-decide we’re going to give up something we love so that we can seek God out more. I think giving gets us closer to God because God is ultimately a giver, and giving keeps our attention and passion from being focused on ourselves.
I say all that as preamble to what I’m about to say about New Years. I know many people do New Years resolutions and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t think they’re effective, at least for me and most of the people I know, so I don’t do it, but there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m planning on fasting instead, but seeing as this is the third year in a row I’ve done this, I need desperately for this to not just be something I do at the beginning of the year. I need it to not be a tradition like setting resolutions. I need to do this fast because I’m seeking God out and I have very specific and precise things I’m praying about, grieving over, and trying to get closer to God.
The first year I did a fast was 2011. Some might say it was a stupid fast. But I prayed about it, I thought about it, and I decided I was going to give up all social media. I deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone. I blocked the sites on my computer. And I randomized my passwords. I decided my heart had gotten too negative, and a big part of that was all the negativity and complaining I was “eating” all day long 2 minutes here, and 4 minutes there, all day long every day. So I decided: no more Facebook and no more Twitter for 40 days.
At first, a week in, I couldn’t help myself and I actually opened Twitter. I broke my fast. I couldn’t login, but I checked a few specific people’s pages, and felt so sick, and so disgusted at the negativity that I had forgotten about in a week’s time, I closed the site and didn’t look back for another month. When I got back on, I did a mass unfollow and unfriend (or hiding / muting) of all the negativity I had let creep into my life.
The point wasn’t to be legalistic and say that Facebook and Twitter are wrong. The point was to change, in a radical way, my habits for a short 40 days and let some of that become permanent, life-long habits. And now I try to be way more discerning about what I let into my heart.
Year number dos. I gave up meat and soda for forty days. The point isn’t that eating meat or drinking soda is wrong. The point is that I had gotten so lazy, so disgusting and so ridiculous that I was eating out, and eating very unhealthily, that I needed a reboot. I needed to rethink what I eat and eat with more intentionality.
Perhaps it’s because I live in Boulder County, but that fast was easy. Way too easy. It was not that hard to find plenty of places where I could eat out, and I still could have many things I enjoy. (though I realized after eating a Caesar salad that I had broken my fast because the dressing is made with anchovies. Oops.)
It was still a great fast and I got a lot out of it, but even though I felt more like I was doing a “real” fast because I was fasting from food this time, it wasn’t as challenging.
This is year three. I don’t work for LifeChurch any more so I wasn’t even thinking about fasting at all, but as I was driving down the road two weeks ago, a thought popped into my head: how about I do another fast. And since I don’t have a bunch of coworkers to do this with, how about I do it with my friends? We can build each other up, encourage each other, and use this as a real powerful time to grow stronger together spiritually. It’s a challenge. But great things are forged through difficult circumstances.
So this year I decided to do another fast. I don’t want it to become a meaningless tradition like resolutions, but I feel psyched for this. There may not be a 4th New Years Fast, because I want to be very careful about maintaining that integrity and hunger for God, and not making it another meaningless Churchy routine.
So I’m still working out the details, but like Daniel, I’m going to do a radical 21 day food fast. I’m calling it the Musana fast, based on the meals that we shared with the kids at Musana in Uganda when I went in October. We had rice and beans, posho (cooked corn meal) and beans, and porridge or oatmeal for breakfast, and fruits and veggies (aka greens). It’s a lot like the so called commercial “Daniel Fast” that many people do, except I’m not going to be as legalistic about some of the rules. For example, the pinto beans at Chipotle are cooked with bacon. I won’t eat meat or drink soda, but I am ok with those pinto beans.
The goal of a fast isn’t to be legalistic and beat yourself up when you break your fast or have an exhaustive list of rules about what’s acceptable or not. The goal is that I want to give up something, something significant, put it up as a sacrifice and put it to death if I need to. Or, to give up something I love (a particular food) for something I love more (being closer to God).
I’m also toying with the idea of doing a 2nd 21 day fast right after the first (so altogether a 42 day fast for you math nerds out there) of a vegetarian fast, or something along those lines.
I’m also toying with adding on some physical fitness/gym thing. Not sure about that yet.
I really would encourage you to think about joining me. If you know me, maybe we could partner together, pray for each other, and use this as a time to grow stronger and closer together as we grow closer to God. You don’t and shouldn’t do the same fast I’m doing. And we shouldn’t and won’t compare and contrast our fasts to see who’s more spiritual. As if God cares. You love different things than I do. You need to sacrifice something else. This isn’t a pissing contest. This is about growing up and growing stronger.
Secondly, I would say that where a fast differs from a resolution is this: the fast ends and it’s not a goal. A resolution is a hope and a prayer that maybe it might be nice if you might do something.
A fast is this: I’m pre-deciding I’m going to do something (or not do something) for a pre-determined amount of time, for a specific purpose.
Do you see the big difference? With fasting, I’m pre-deciding I’m going to do something. I’m going to pre-decide that I’m going to read a devotional when I wake up every morning. I’m pre-deciding what my lunch options are. I’m pre-deciding that I’m going to go to the gym on these specific dates. And not indefinitely, but for a defined set time period. If I hate it, after 40ish days, I’m done. I never have to do it again, and I don’t have to feel guilty about it. And finally, I’m doing it for a reason. I’m doing it because I want to get closer to God. I want to know Him better. I want my heart to turn outward. All of those things will continue even when the fast ends. The fast is just a high intensity time where I can foster them.
Speaking of purpose, this is something I didn’t do a great job last year that I want to do better this year. Last year I did a fast just kind of to do a fast. I had goals, sure, but I didn’t replace the time I spent eating/cooking/buying meat with something better. I will this year. So in all of the time I spend eating out, instead I’m going to pray for some very specific things:
- Prayer for BOCO, our middle school winter camp. Praying for our leaders, praying for our teachers and most of all praying for our students. That we can bring tons and tons and tons of kids. That they will be moved. That they will feel God’s presence in their lives. That — decades from now — these 11, 12, and 13 year old kids will still look back at that weekend as a time when something changed inside of them.
- Prayer for specific people. I have a long list of a few dozen kids and other leaders, friends and people I know. People I have in my sphere of influence. People I will be praying for every day that God will move in their lives. Unapologetic prayer that God will widen my circle of influence, that he will deepen it with each person, and that he will give me the words to say and the how to say what God wants me to say. These are people I care about tremendously, and God cares about even more. And I want to pray for them.
- Prayer for me. Because God has given me a responsibility to speak His truth and love into some people’s lives. And, in some people’s lives, I may be the only one that can or will. And that leads me very vulnerable. Vulnerable to pride and ego. Vulnerable to attacks from the enemy. Vulnerable that I could blow this whole thing up, and the shrapnel could lodge into people’s hearts for the rest of their lives. The people I would hurt the most are also the people I love and care about the most. This haunts me. I know on my own it’s a lost cause. I so identify with Paul when he asks: “Why do I do the things I don’t want to do? And not do the things I want to do?” So I need more prayer for myself than maybe anybody.
I didn’t intend for this to get this long. :) But I am eager to do this, I am dreading the food choices and how much I’m going to give up, but I am eagerly looking forward to deepening my relationship with God. And I would love it if any of my friends would join me, we can keep each other accountable and help each other grow. If you want to be in, get in touch with me, and let’s do it!
2013 is going to be a great year. Because we get to start it on the right note.