I know what Jesus says about talking with other people about fasting.
Matthew 6:16-18: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
On the other hand, Scripture freely reports that Jesus fasted (Matt 4.2), Moses fasted (Exodus 34.28), Israel fasted (Judges 20.26), the early Christians fasted (Acts 13.2) and Paul fasted (2 Corinthians 11.27). (Plus many others). If the fact of it is reported so freely in scripture, then probably I am OK in reporting the fact of it and some of the reasons behind it.
And so, if in writing this I forfeit the benefits of fasting, I guess so be it. But I don’t think that is the case & I believe some observations are warranted and might be helpful to others.
For the past twenty seven days I have been on a coffee fast. When I have fasted before it has been from all solid food and usually for a day or two. In our American culture of entitlement, I actually l felt more noble than humble when I fasted from food (humility, not pride is supposed to be part of the purpose of a fast).
But on May 6, the idea came to fast from coffee for 30 days. It was suggested by someone else in a very round about way: “You can ask me to fast from anything but coffee!” But whose words struck my heart and I decided to fast from coffee for thirty days. I don’t think I have fasted from one specific item for any length of time. I have recommended it, but when I have fasted it has always been a total solid food fast.
The plan was this: whenever I thought of coffee, I would stop and pray for two things: the first is the finances of a Christian ministry I am involved with and that they will have wisdom on how to use the finances at their disposal, and the second is a personal matter. I knew I would certainly think of coffee if I couldn’t have any!
That (according to my understanding) is the purpose of a fast: It is not to earn brownie points with God for denying yourself. It is to take that time that you might spend doing something (like eating) and instead use it for prayer and Bible reading. It is NOT simply denying yourself something. When I have preached on fasting, numerous people have said,”Oh yeah…I fasted when I wanted to lose weight fast. It was a great way to lose weight.” (BTW: it is NOT “a great way to lose weight.”) Fasting is replacing that thing (eating, coffee) with something that can better attune you to God’s heart and will. It is not bending God to your will. It is bending yourself to God’s will, believing that he will act when our will is aligned with his.
I don’t have a lot of memories of my dad…he died when I was a kid, but one memory I have is of him fasting. He was in the living room reading his Bible while the rest of the family ate in the dining room. I thought it was kind of weird at the time (like most kids do), but it made an impression.
Those of you who know me well know that this coffee fast is kind of a big deal. Coffee is an important part of my life. I really like coffee. That is in part because I live in the Pacific Northwest and there is a huge coffee culture here. (It has something to do with staying warm in the rainy bone-penetrating damp-cold winters). But l also like the taste. I like tasting the differences in coffees grown in different parts of the world, or in different climates or roasted and blended in different ways. But I also realize that there is some either physical or psychological addiction to coffee within me. I didn’t do it to be especially spiritual. I did it because I knew I would miss coffee and so that would be a great prompt to pray.
Now let me make one thing clear…this was not a caffeine fast. It was a coffee fast. I still drank my fair share of caffeinated hot tea, cold Coke Zeros and chocolate! I knew that if it was caffeine fast that this would be an entirely different matter, involving some physical withdrawal that I thought would distract me from my purpose. That may have been rationalization, but so be it. I wasn’t even sure I could do a thirty day coffee fast…going without coffee for thirty days seemed almost undoable. But I really wanted something that would remind me to pray.
1. My plan worked…for the first couple of weeks. The first couple of weeks I thought of coffee a lot…many times a day. And I always (as far as I can remember) turned to prayer when I thought of coffee. I don’t know if it jazzed the effectiveness of my prayers with the Lord, but it did serve the purpose of reminding me to pray more regularly.
It did NOT work so well, however in Weeks 3 & (so far) 4. But the reason may not be what you think. I just don’t think of coffee that much anymore. It simply didn’t come up. Oh when I would meet someone for a meeting at a coffee shop & smell the coffee it would bring back those longings, but generally (since I was getting my caffeine fix from other sources) I came to not miss it so much.
2. I actually felt estranged from many parts of my life. As I have said, coffee culture is very big around here. And to not be participating in that felt like I was isolating myself a bit. And that didn’t feel great. I spend a lot of time working in coffee shops. And I reduced that a lot this past month. And I missed it. I’m not sure where that sense of estrangement came, but that is an interesting observation about me.
3. It was surprising how many people automatically felt that the only reason to go off of coffee was for health reasons. Whenever someone offered me coffee and I declined and said I was “laying off coffee for a while” everyone just assumed it was for health reasons. “Oh I need to cut back on my coffee consumption as well. It’s not good for you.” “Yes coffee raises my blood pressure too. I really should cut back.” Not one person asked “Why are you laying off coffee?” They just presumed it was for physical health reasons. Interesting that we don’t think there can be any other reason.
4.This whole thing that I began this article with—not telling anyone that you are fasting—has been a growth area for me as well. I didn’t tell my wife. I genuinely thought it was best not to even share that you are fasting. But it came up in conversation with someone else and my wife was “concerned” that I had not shared this with her. That scripture from Matthew does not say we can’t tell anyone we are fasting. It says, don’t make a show of it and try to impress people with how “spiritual” you are. Just do it and otherwise go on with life normally. But (as I also have noted above) the scriptures are pretty open about Bible people fasting. It isn’t some deep dark secret.
So…three days to go. This has been a good experience. We’ll see what happens with the finances of the ministry I am involved in and in the issue in my (Loretta’s and my) personal life. I will say, however, that I am really looking forward to having a cup of coffee on Saturday. Please excuse me…I have a couple of things I need to go pray about….