Fasting for Life: Medical Proof Fasting Reduces Risk of Heart Disease, Cancer, and Diabetes - Francis E. Umesiri (2016)
Part 2. Fasting for the Whole Person
Chapter 15. DIVINE GUIDANCE
So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.
David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.”
—1 SAMUEL 30:8, NIV
THE CONSECRATION AND PRAYERFUL MODE PROVIDED by fasting is a good opportunity to seek divine guidance. From personal to corporate matters God wants to share His wisdom with us. Each new day in this land of the living is like arriving in a new territory. Each day brings fresh opportunities—and fresh trials. We never quite know which step will bring us to a turn in which blessings await us, or when a fresh misunderstanding or pain may be lurking. To survive and thrive, you have to watch your step, use your head, and make the most of every opportunity.
But this watchfulness is not a result of fear of being swallowed up by the “giants” in the land that struck fear in the hearts of most of the Israeli spies (Num. 13–14), it is born out of a desire to understand what the Lord wants. We shouldn’t live in this territory of faith shriveled up in fear and debilitating passions of worry and anxiety, walking about ever cautious and timid. Instead, we can live freely and fully—as we understand God’s will. Understanding the will of the Lord frees us to pursue life in that direction, freely and joyfully maximizing every opportunity.
As author Eugene Peterson puts in his popular paraphrase of Scripture that I quoted at the start of this chapter: “Make sure you understand what the Master wants.” Do you know what God wants in your current situation? To be sure, this doesn’t mean being rock-solid certain about everything that is going to happen to you, or a certainty regarding that grand plan God has for you for the next fifty years. This kind of knowing what God wants means taking each step prayerfully and listening for His guidance.
We live in an age that believes that we basically know almost everything there is to know. We live in a drive-through culture that features drive-through pharmacies, drive-through restaurants, drive-through grocery stores, and drive-through gas stations—even drive-through medical clinics. Given the convenience-oriented culture in which Westerners live, we can fall prey to the idea that God should communicate His divine guidance in the same method while we drive through life’s busy terrain. Too many people lack the patience and training to seek God’s wisdom and guidance through prayer and fasting.
Some may even mock the idea of withdrawing from this busy life for the sole purpose of praying and seeking God’s face. Yet there comes a time in every person’s walk when life places a demand on them to make crucial, sometimes life-altering decisions. At such times we need the input of friends, pastors, professionals, or loved ones—input often shaped by the limited wisdom of this world. Our human advisors mean well and may be very knowledgeable, but they cannot tell us what tomorrow brings.
Only God knows the future. He knows where we are headed, the path we will follow, and our final destination. He knows the hearts of the people with whom we deal. He even knows our hearts better than we do. Sometimes we lie to ourselves so much that we begin to believe those lies. God knows the true condition of our hearts, and still loves us. He is committed to us because of His immense love. He is truth. In times of decisions, big or small, He wants us to consult with Him. In those life-defining decisions, we need to consult Him. Times of fasting are wonderful opportunities to ask for God’s direction and guidance on specific issues.
Waiting on God
The leaders of the church at Antioch took God’s guidance seriously in their work as ministers. All gathered to fast and pray for God’s guidance to lead the people and serve as God wanted them to serve. They expected God to lead them: “One day as they were worshiping God—they were also fasting as they waited for guidance—the Holy Spirit spoke: ‘Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do’” (Acts 13:2).
The act of fasting as these early church fathers waited for guidance is highly significant.
I get a mental picture of a group of leaders who gave up all other important assignments, just to wait for God’s guidance. They prayed, sang songs, and listened. All the while, they fasted.
I wonder what will happen if this kind of image is duplicated among church leaders in congregations across the United States. Imagine the pastor and church leaders fasting and waiting on God—not to endorse a decision the pastor has already made, or to provide money to fund the next building project, but to hear what the Lord has to say. Not that there is anything wrong with making quick decisions (God gave us a capable mind for that reason) or carrying out a new project. But what if the Lord directed those decisions? Or gave His specific word regarding those projects?
Those leaders from Antioch were prophets and teachers. They could hear from God, and they knew the Scriptures inside and out. And still they waited and fasted until they heard from the Lord, corporately. I don’t know about you, but I find something incredibly moving about that picture. After all, any one of those men could have presumptuously claimed to know God’s will, either because of title, position, or past accomplishments. But none of them did. Instead, together, as brothers in Christ, they fasted, prayed, and sought God’s guidance until He spoke.
When God spoke, He asked them to release Paul and Barnabas unto the work He had called them to do. So, in obedience, these leaders blessed Paul and Barnabas and sent them out. Today Christendom is the better for it, since Paul and Barnabas went on to reach many unreached peoples. Later, Paul wrote the epistles that continue to be a blessing to Christians of all generations. Yet I ask: What if these leaders had not been attentive to the will of the Lord? What if they did not understand His will? Or what if they insisted that these two talented men might as well serve out whatever calling they had in the local church at Antioch—loyal, submissive, and supportive of their pastor while they waited for their “time”? Would we still have had the kind of Paul who emerged? What if they had felt threatened by Paul’s revelation from Christ and tried to put him under?
We don’t know what would have happened if those men had not responded to the will of the Lord, but today we are glad that they did. Fasting and worshipful prayer helped them discern God’s will. While seeking God’s guidance, they realized now was the time to let go of these two men to serve God as He had called them—not grudgingly, but joyfully.
David seeks God
If the church leaders at Antioch provided a good example of seeking guidance from God as a group, David provides an example of an individual intent on celebrating God’s guidance at every turn. David was not a perfect man by any standard. Still, one of the things that ultimately made David successful was his choice to constantly seek God’s guidance throughout his life.
In one of those seasons David was in transition. You have likely experienced the same kind of “in-between” moments, when you have started on a journey but not quite reached your destination. Life is filled with such transitions. David was there, already ordained to be king of Israel, yet fleeing from his predecessor, Saul, who felt threatened by the young warrior. An anointed king forced to live as a fugitive. Blessed with a great future, but currently living in trials and difficulty. Destined for the palace, but making the desert his home. David’s wanderings had finally brought him to Ziklag, where he settled down a bit.
A group of men had followed him around faithfully. They believed in him. As they settled down, this group started families. While David was away, trying to help the president of the region in which he and his supporters were settling, some Amalekites raided his city and took away all their families and belongings, including David’s wives. When David returned with his men and saw what had happened, brokenness swept over them. The men who had bonded with David through all the years of pain and trials had suddenly had enough. They whispered to each other about stoning David to death.
In the midst of this crisis David did something that is as important as it is revealing about his character. He went in to seek the Lord’s face. He wanted to get a word from God about what he should do: Should he pursue the raiders? Would he be able to recover their family members alive? Or would pursuing these Amalekites only embolden them to kill their wives and children? Was it better to leave them as servants to those infidel Amalekites rather than risk getting them all killed? In the same way as the leaders of the church at Antioch David waited for God to speak. Finally God spoke: “Pursue them. You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue” (1 Sam. 30:8, NIV).
Now, since David knows God’s will, in pursuing after the raiders he would not be acting recklessly or thoughtlessly. He would succeed in rescuing his supporters’ families and their possessions. Oh the joy of understanding the will of the Lord and receiving His clear guidance! Now, David knew the assurance of God’s encouragement. When he spoke, his followers knew there was hope too. They quickly dropped the thought of killing David and marched with him as they pursued the band of raiders. And yes, they recovered all their family members and their belongings, as well as extra bounty.
God’s guidance helps us recover the fullness of life. It helps us recover hope and joy in believing. God’s direction helps us avoid needless heartaches. And fasting provides the intensity and focus to seek God and wait until we hear His voice. We wait and wait, no matter how long it takes. We listen, intently and expectantly, until He offers His guidance.
Here is the thing that never ceases to amaze me: whenever we eagerly seek Him, in His mercy God tends to reveal His will. He spoke to the leadership at Antioch. He spoke to David. Through Eli the prophet He spoke to Hannah as she prayed (1 Sam. 2). Each of these examples demonstrates how God longs to guide us and direct our paths, no matter what our church background. When you fast, ask Him specifically to lead you to make the right decisions. Life is a series of choices and decisions; one bad choice often leads to another. However, when we engage God through prayer and fasting, we surrender long enough to hear His direction.
Making time for God
How do I receive guidance from the Lord? It may sound simplistic, but it is a matter of making time to be alone with God. This is where fasting may be helpful. You dedicate a time frame to be alone, where you can confess your sins and pride to the Lord. Often a prideful heart is difficult to lead. Discuss whatever issue concerns you with the Lord as you would with a close friend. I often keep a piece of paper on which I write down the pros and cons, or the reasons for or against, a particular decision or idea. I directly ask the Lord for His wisdom and guidance.
Like the leaders at Antioch, each of us is to pray but also worship. We give God glory. We bless and extol His name as we revel in His wonders and gaze into His face. We study the Scriptures and let His Word speak to us privately. This allows Him to reveal hidden motives or arrogance or false assumptions we are harboring. We may get up from our knees without a clear word, but we are sure that, somehow, He will lead the way. This helps us to step out with more confidence, assured that He will guide us.
The only easy-to-follow guide to hearing from the Lord is to give ourselves completely to Him, then listen and obey. In that regard, I like how The Message Bible puts it: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Rom. 12:1–2).
The very first step to being readily led by God is a decision to take our everyday, ordinary lives and place them before God as an offering. Our waking, our going to school, our marriage, our work, nursing a baby—whatever the task, dedicate it to Him. Giving every aspect of life to God marks the start of receiving divine guidance. Letting God into the “daily-ness” of our journey is a pleasing offering. Why? Because He loves us so much He wants to be a part of our daily lives. He wants to participate and take an active lead in them. When God becomes the center around which we carry out the routines of life, it is much easier for us to receive His guidance during life-defining moments.
As Peterson renders it: “Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” Understanding and following the will of the Lord involves embracing what God is doing for you and in you—right now, in this very place. What is God doing? Not what do we want to do, but what is God working out for us and through us? We may become so adjusted to our own way of doing things that we are not really paying attention to what God is doing. We may become so consumed by what culture says is the right way that we do not pay attention to God’s way. We may become so consumed in our “rightness” that we stop listening for God’s wisdom.
Understanding the will of the Lord requires paying attention to God and to His works and His ways. He is working in us so that we both desire His will and do it. When we look up and away from our wants and desires, we may be fortunate enough to recognize what He wants from us. Sometimes we fight with the idea of where we are located, or the people we are associated with, so much that we don’t recognize what God is doing or saying through them. During fasting, as I discussed earlier, we wait on God long enough to see clearly what God is doing and fully embrace it. Saying yes to God is the beginning of finding the freedom to follow in His steps. Fasting, with the conditions of humility and surrender that it engenders, fosters listening and responding to God’s will.