I was four days into my fast. On the night before I was to share the gospel and my testimony before a large crowd, I lay in bed, soaking in the manifest presence of God. It was like I could hear Him breathing. The veil between heaven and earth was wide open on this night, and I found myself able to neither speak nor move, but simply lay there in pure ecstasy and holy dread. God was speaking, but I didn’t know exactly what He was saying – the words were purely spiritual and not of this world. I felt warmed and sustained by a power far beyond anything I’ve experienced from any food or controlled substance. I was in the presence of God, and filled with God, and I knew He was going to speak powerfully the next morning.
That he did. I have never spoken like that before or since. I spoke with a power and an authority that in no way could come from me. Each word I spoke seemed to fill the air more and more with the presence of God, although I know for certain that it was not my own power that was filling the air, but the Fountain of All Joy. It was an indescribable spiritual experience. After that day, I felt I understood for the first time how the apostles in Acts could walk with such authority and power from place to place and assert the will of God in every situation. It suddenly made perfect sense. Without having been on a five-day fast, I don’t think I or the others who heard me that day would have experienced anything remotely similar to what we did.
So far in this series, we have examined the miraculous physical benefits of fasting (to push aside cultural fear and ignorance), helpful tips on how to fast successfully, and the fact that fasting from food is not optional to the genuine follower of Christ. Today, we turn our attention to the spiritual benefits of fasting. Besides physical cleansing and restoration, what does fasting do for us spiritually? Why is it so transformative?
Fasting Kills Off Evil Desires
Romans 8:13 says “if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The Holy Spirit and our flesh are in an epic conflict with one another (see Galatians 5). The Holy Spirit that dwells inside believers wants to live for God, but for most of our lives we have trained ourselves to obey our natural “flesh,” which is against God and even hostile to God (Romans 8:7). The flesh wants to live for and please ourselves. The Spirit wants to live for and please God. There’s a war going on inside us.
The good news is that our flesh can be re-trained to more naturally obey the Holy Spirit. How do we re-train our flesh? By “putting to death the deeds of the body.” The verb for “put to death” in Romans 8:13 is thanatoo, which literally means “to kill, to mortify, to make dead.” So what are we supposed to do with our fleshly desires? Kill them off. Cut off their supply of nourishment until they wither. MAKE THEM DEAD so that the Spirit can reign and have total control. Paul even puts it like this is 1 Corinthians 9:27: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection.” The Greek literally means “I pummel my body and make it my slave.” Hey, it’s WAR! Why show the opponent any mercy, especially when that opponent is the evil inside of us?
Does this sound extreme? Does this sound over-the-top? A little morbid? No, my friends, this is the Bible. What’s more morbid is letting our fleshly desires rule and reign in our lives: “Now, the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of rage, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those that do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
How Does Fasting Kill Off Evil Desires?
Okay, back to fasting. When we fast, we learn to say “no” to the body’s most basic and powerful desire: for food. Simply put, if you can gain control over your body’s basic desire for food, you can learn to control your body’s desire for anything. I often put it this way: once you learn to say “no” to food, lust is no problem. Mastering the highest level of spiritual discipline gains you instant mastery over the lower ones. Nothing teaches our flesh to submit to the Spirit more powerfully than fasting. Fasting breaks spiritual bondages! It is a bitter death-blow to the flesh, and once the flesh is mastered by fasting, it no longer has control over us. It stops being our “default” reaction. We are free to live unto God.
Fasting Brings Spiritual Clarity
Fasting humiliates our tendency to rely on the natural world and forces us to live from the spiritual. As a result, God’s voice becomes clearer. Fasting is a great way to gain clarity for an important decision.
When I read Scripture on a fast, the Word speaks to me with so much more power, urgency and, again, clarity. It’s like a veil is lifted and I can see the mysteries of Scripture more clearly than before. As I noted in part two of this series, I learn to “feed” on the Scriptures (see Matthew 4:4) and gain real nourishment from the Word. I learn to crave the Living Food rather than the dead food of this world (have you ever noticed that everything you eat is a dead carcass? How morbid!).
It’s easier to see where and how God is working when fasting. It becomes more natural to live, move, and perceive in the spiritual realm when we are actually living a spiritual lifestyle. Our fleshly nature is bridled and no longer “clouds” our spiritual perception.
I’ve probably spent less than 10% of my total lifetime fasting, yet I’ve probably received over 80% of my visions and direct words from God during or as a result of a fast. I don’t want to create unrealistic expectations of supernatural phenomena, but there is no question fasting causes one’s spiritual senstivity and submission to skyrocket. Ask anyone who has fasted unto the Lord for a length of time, and they’ll tell you the same thing.
Fasting Reveals The Things That Control Us
When we fast, some of our nastiest character traits are brought to the surface during the difficult portions. Fleshly lusts, anger, irritability, jealousy, and fear are just some of the things that come to the forefront. These revelations are good and healthy, however, because we are forced to deal with them directly. People will often say to me something like, “Fasting makes me irritable.” No, fasting doesn’t make you irritable. YOU are irritable. If you can learn to not be irritable while on a fast, imagine how much easier it will be on a full stomach! If you can avoid feeling jealous on a fast, imagine how much easier will it be on a full stomach!
Fasting Unlocks Spiritual Power
When we stop relying on inferior sources of power, the power of God is able to more fully envelop and fill us. I find I speak with more authority and power on a fast, like in the story I shared at the beginning of this article. I find I do EVERYTHING with more spiritual power and authority.
In part three of this series, I already touched on the relationship of spiritual power to fasting in the Bible and in the great heroes of church history. Be sure to check that out if you haven’t already.
Building Trust, Falling in Love
Fasting teaches us to trust God at the deepest level. It forces us to depend on Him. That trust builds relationship, and relationship fosters love. Need I say more?
My next article in this series will deal specifically with how fasting affects prayer – power in prayer, success in prayer, and even miracles through prayer. Should be awesome!