There are such things as “secrets of life.”  Treasures of knowledge and wisdom that are simple to understand, simple to apply, and absolutely life-changing, to the point where even the word “life-changing” seems cheap and meaningless. I’ve discovered several such secrets in my lifetime, and aside from salvation in Jesus Christ, the most life-altering, life-saving, life-giving, life-transforming secret I have discovered has been that of fasting.

In my early 20’s, I noticed an ominous decline in my health. My gut began to stick out. I felt irritable more often, especially when having to perform arduous (or even non-arduous)  physical tasks. My energy levels were impoverished. I just didn’t feel good a lot of the time. I had headaches. I knew I should be eating healthier, but how could that be possible in a society like ours, where unhealthy food is the normative diet? There were lots of resources and healthy eating books out there, but where to start? Who to listen to? They all seemed to contradict each other in many ways. So, I went to someone I trusted with my questions.

Richard Nelson, an elder at my church, gave me a simple answer: “The key to health is keeping your body internally clean.” In other words, evacuated. Clean out the toxins. That was it. Then, he mentioned a name that would change my physical health (and my walk with Christ) forever: Paul Bragg.

Paul Bragg was a natural health pioneer in the early part of the century, preaching natural health, exercise, and fasting while mainstream culture called him a quack. However, he achieved amazing results. He became a lifestyle consultant to Hollywood stars to help them stay healthy and look youthful well into their middle-aged years. He also became the impetus for the health transformation of a much more famous American health pioneer – Jack LaLanne.

Here’s how effective Paul Bragg’s teaching was to Jack LaLanne’s health: he went from a sugar-addicted, sickly teen (by his own testimony) to a man who set a world record by doing 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes on a television show – when he was 42 years old! I’m a pretty healthy, in-shape guy, but I can only do about 40 consecutive push-ups on a good day. He did 1,033. That’s mind-boggling. But this is even more mind-boggling: to celebrate his 70th birthday (Jack loved to show how age doesn’t matter when you take care of your body) he swam one mile while towing 70 rowboats behind him, while he was handcuffed, shackled, and fighting strong winds and currents. One of the boats was even carrying several guests. Most people can’t swim a mile, period. Again, he accomplished that to celebrate his 70th birthday.

Okay, so what’s the point? The point is that Paul Bragg knew what he was talking about, and he wrote a book with his daughter, Patricia, called The Miracle of Fasting. (Writer’s note: Buy this book right now. Go to bragg.com or amazon.com and buy it right this very minute.) It was this book that changed my lifestyle completely, forever. In the book he details the health benefits of fasting, how it has been used for physical, mental, and spiritual healing and rejuvenation throughout history, and how it gives our body a rest from food so that it can internally cleanse, heal, and restore. I devoured the book in several days and immediately began fasting regularly, with one 24-hour water fast a week, and noticed immediate physical changes.

Number one, my gut was gone quickly and I returned to a normal, healthy weight within weeks. I also found myself eating less unnecessary food because I was beginning to master my appetite and gain control over what I ate and why. My energy levels began to soar. I felt lighter, my head felt clearer, and I felt more optimistic, hopeful, and inspired than I had in years. It was as if I had been cleansed of toxins that burdened and weighed down my body and mind (imagine that!).

So what does all this have to do with spiritual discipline and transformation? A lot! But I’m only scratching the surface with this entry, the first in my series on fasting. I believe the reason that most spiritual, God-fearing people do not fast is because they are ignorant of its benefits, even to the point that they believe that fasting is unhealthy. Before I discovered the truth about fasting, I remember fasting only once or twice in my entire life for no more than a day – I’m not a person of heavy build, so I was always concerned that depriving myself of food would have harmful effects. I was like the typical American – thinking that missing even one meal meant starving myself! I believed all the nonsense.

In fact, our society is so ignorant of fasting that even many doctors don’t recommend it. I’ve talked to several doctors who will admit that fasting is beneficial for the cleansing of toxins if done for 24 hours or so, but beyond that point, the health benefits begin to even out or even backfire. I (and many, many other health professionals) obviously disagree strongly with this view! First of all, fasting does more good for the body than can be clearly, objectively measured (a lot more!). Secondly, every doctor I talked to who denied the health benefits of long-term fasting all admitted that they had never fasted themselves. Those who have taken the time and effort to to perform much more in-depth self-experiments with long-term fasting (like Paul Bragg, Jack LaLanne, myself, and millions of others throughout history) have more proof than they’ll ever need that fasting miraculously cleanses, rejuvenates, and heals the body. Of course, there are limits to how long the body can or should fast. But experienced fasters will testify that they have experienced amazing health benefits from fasting because their fasts have lasted longer than 24 hours!

I don’t want to make this post about a debate, but about a reawakening for those reading who have been deceived by our culture’s ignorance of this precious gift. Don’t let fears that fasting is unhealthy keep you from this most important of spiritual disciplines. Instead, let its miraculous health benefits, and most importantly a desire to follow Jesus, drive you toward it! In subsequent lessons, I’ll be going into much greater detail on the how-to’s and spiritual benefits of fasting, but I feel that this “fasting is unhealthy” or “fasting is starving yourself” roadblock usually needs to be removed first for many people. I hope it has been removed for you. If not, read the subsequent entries in the series, take the red pill, and see how deep the rabbit hole really goes.