As Synod 2023 came to its rather unceremonious end last summer, one of my friends, a fellow delegate, said to me as we were packing up to leave, “We need to spend the next year in prayer and fasting for our denomination. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to find a way forward—if we’re willing to seek God’s face in prayer and fasting.” He then invited me to start fasting with him, once a week, for a year, until Synod 2024 to try to listen to and discern God’s leading for us and our denomination.
Now, I’ll be honest; I haven’t historically liked fasting. While I dabbled a bit with it in seminary when a group of us tried a number of different spiritual disciplines for different reasons, I didn’t find it very helpful, and so, in the time since, I haven’t fasted much.
But recently I’ve found myself exploring it as a discipline again. Put simply, we’ve been talking about the spiritual disciplines a lot recently at the church I serve, and so, sort of against my will, I’ve found myself reading and learning about fasting for the first time in over a decade. And one of the things I’m (re)learning is that fasting is one of the most helpful disciplines for listening to God and discerning his will during difficult or divided times.
Put simply (and this is something we see repeatedly in Scripture), fasting is a discipline that, in its very nature, is designed to help us empty ourselves out, so we can be filled with God instead. It’s a discipline that opens us up, hollows us out (literally), and makes us more receptive to hearing God’s voice. That’s how Scripture regularly talks about fasting, and that’s how Christians have used it over the centuries too. And so, in the midst of our current denominational disagreements and division, fasting seems a more than appropriate discipline to engage in.
As a result, and somewhat against my will, I decided to join my friend in his offer to fast and pray. Despite my dislike of fasting, I’ve been consistently doing it now for six months, ever since synod. It’s normally just once a week, often Mondays, for about 24 hours, but I’m trying to fast and pray to seek God’s face, hear from him, and discern where he’s leading me, our congregation, and our broader denomination as whole (in fact, I’m fasting right now, as I write this).
And I’ll be honest: Sometimes I feel like I “get something” from fasting. I feel like it helps me discern clear leading, guiding, or a word from God that he wants me to hear. Other times, though, I just feel hungry. And yet, on the whole, I’m finding it a helpful discipline for tuning into God, hearing from him, and discerning his will. And I do feel like part of what he’s helped me discern are some things about our denomination, the biggest of which is that God’s still God, he’s still in control, and I can rest assured that, no matter what Synod 2024 or the future of our denomination might hold, that will still be true.
And I would like to invite you, all of you reading who are willing, to fast too. I would like to invite you to join my friend and I (and others too, I’m sure) in fasting ahead of Synod 2024. Like my friend said as we packed up at the end of Synod 2023, we need to seek God’s face and listen to him right now in our denomination. We always need to do that. But it seems we especially need to do it now.
I need to be clear, though: This is an invitation. Fasting is not a requirement of the Christian life. It’s never commanded in Scripture. And it’s not, like the spiritual disciplines can all too often become, a pious imperative for the “truly holy.” That’s when the spiritual disciplines tend to run aground and become more harmful than helpful for the Christian life.
But if you’re willing, I would like to invite you to join in practicing this discipline. And I invite you in the hope that you, too, will find it enriching to your individual relationship with God, empowering for your prayers, and, ahead of what likely will be some major decisions and potential changes in our denomination, comforting in the reminder that God is Lord, he’s in control, and nothing can change that. If nothing else, at least we’ll find ourselves less filled with ourselves and other things and more filled with God. And that’s always a good thing.
If you’d like additional resources on fasting, Richard Foster’s book The Celebration of Discipline has an especially helpful chapter on how to approach this. I’d also recommend Lauren Winner’s chapter on fasting in her book Mudhouse Sabbath and Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s chapter in the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.
About the Author
Brandon Haan serves as the senior pastor at Ivanrest Church in Grandville, Mich. He lives in Grandville with his wife, Sarah, and their three children, Levi, Titus, and Audrey.