For me, January often feels like a big exhale.
(Ok, all together, breathe in… and let out that big exhale.)
End-of-the-year tasks and obligations are complete. Christmas celebrations have come and passed. New presents and suitcases have been unpacked (and slowly finding their way back to their places in the house!)
As the dust settles and we catch up on sleep again, there is finally this ability to look ahead to what’s next. Whether it’s simply returning to normal routines, rekindling healthy eating habits, or school and work starting back up, there’s this simultaneous sense of completion and turning our gaze forward.
We can exhale. And then begin to inhale what’s fresh and new.
Since 2011, the single most impactful thing that Jay and I have done in January is this: we fast. It’s looked different almost every year, but in some fashion, we fast from specific foods and we remove ourselves from things that are distracting to our minds and spirits.
The key is that we don’t just delete things. It’s not just a diet (although I’m not going to lie, it does help to jumpstart new year healthy habits). What we add is the most critical part to the fast.
You see, we fast… and we pray.
As our bodies remind us that we are depriving of it of certain foods, we use those moments to pray to God. Either for Him to help sustain us through our cravings (which causes us to depend on Him in new ways) or letting those tummy rumbles remind us that we can come to Him throughout the day and pray about other things on our minds. The conversation between us and Abba Father becomes more alive and intimate. We come to Him more often, and we are more tuned in to hear back from Him, too.
We use the time that we might have spent on social media or watching Netflix, to instead spend more time reading His Word. Listening to a podcast during lunch. Worshipping Him on our living room couches. Praying and talking as a family about the things that He is showing us.
Every year has been different… with regards to how we choose to fast and for how long. We never know what to expect that God will do in our lives, but without fail, He does something new. And usually (in His amazing goodness and intimate understanding of our inner workings), He gives us exactly what we need (without us having a real clue what our truest need is!)
For example, in January 2012, we did a 21-day Daniel fast and, as a couple, we committed to watching a sermon series together that focused on strengthening marriages. Y’all… that fast ushered in a new, even deeper level of connection in our marriage that was this totally beautiful and unexpected thing. I will always look back on that season as a landmark moment in our own journey.
This year, we did a 10-day fast. We decided to only eat simple, home-prepared meals, and to remove ourselves from social media and TV. This year didn’t have a huge breakthrough like 2012, but it did plant some seeds of things that I believe God will continue to grow in the coming weeks and months.
For me personally, the biggest thing God impressed upon me this year, was to focus on obedience to Him. Within the contexts of John 14 and 15 (which speaks much of the intertwining of both love and obedience), the verse I cannot get out of my head is John 15:5. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” I believe God has given me these verses for a purpose and I look forward to walking with Him as a branch, dependent on Him.
So, why do I share all of this?
Because I believe seasons of prayer and fasting can be powerful for your life, too. I want to encourage you to try it for yourself. You could even start one this week or on February 1st. Or maybe, if you typically sacrifice something in the weeks leading up to Easter, you could try fasting in a different way this year (Ash Wednesday is on February 14th). And, just to be clear, you can fast any time of the year! But knowing that many of you may also be ready to inhale for 2018, I love the focus and clarity that a fast brings in the beginning of the year.
Finally, I am by no means an expert on fasting, but Jay and I have learned a few things over the years. One of the best resources we’ve used is Stovall Weems’ book Awakening: A New Approach to Faith, Fasting, and Spiritual Freedom. It does a really good job of explaining the heart behind fasting, shares very helpful, practical information about it, and even includes personal fast planning materials and 21 daily devotionals. I highly recommend it.
If you have any questions about what it looks like to fast and pray on your own, feel free to ask in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to pray for you and encourage you as you fast, inhale, and press into His presence.