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 18. PRAYER WALKS

If thou wouldst preserve a sound body, use fasting and walking; if a healthful soul, fasting and praying; walking exercises the body, praying exercises the soul, fasting cleanses both.

—ENGLISH POET FRANCIS QUARLES (1592–1644)1

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.

—GERMAN PHILOSOPHER AND ATHEIST FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE2

FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE MAY BE WRONG ABOUT GOD —dead wrong, if you ask me—but he was certainly onto something when he said that great thoughts are conceived through walking. There is something about walking that refreshes, renews, and allows the spirit within to find expression. When we combine prayer and walking with fasting, it can offer unexpected benefits. For some people, fasting that involves waiting on God in prayers indoors—all day—may be less than attractive. Especially those with an active nature who want to be outside to walk in the park, meditate, or pray. What a holistic blessing we enjoy when we walk and pray during fasting. Such activity renews and refreshes our spirits, souls, and bodies. Many Christians have yet to enjoy this kind of blessing. I know that some with health problems are hard-pressed to walk, and others can cite reasons to avoid it. Yet there are compelling reasons to include walking in our praying and fasting life.

I have always been intrigued by the way Jesus did most of His intense, life-shaping prayers in wide-open fields, on mountainsides, or in a garden. I believe that was for a good reason. There is something about being out in nature that draws us closer to God. It helps displace distractions and our often mind-numbing busyness. Out in the woods or other outdoors settings we can slow down, reflect, grow introspective, and look at the big picture.

When we pray in nature, our prayers are often more sincere, unforced, heartfelt, and relaxed. If we are already in fasting mode, we are all the more eager to listen to God and His wisdom. Creative thoughts flow more easily. Thoughts of forgiveness flash more readily through our minds as we watch the beauty of a sunset. Thoughts of hope fill our minds as we watch the grandeur of a sunrise. All the while, we are praying, listening, and looking up to the God who is Alpha and Omega. No wonder Jesus often prayed outside, especially when He had an important decision to make.

One of those looming decisions early in Jesus’s ministry was choosing twelve close followers to whom He would commit the responsibility of continuing His mission on Earth. He had to choose just twelve out of thousands of followers. If He chose wrongly, God’s plan might be jeopardized. If they were all saints, then a “Judas” would be missing. Then who would betray Him so as to fulfill His Father’s plan? But if He chose more than one Judas, then there might be a big crack in the plan. It had to be eleven saints and only one betrayer. (And who would knowingly choose someone for your inner circle fully aware that they would betray you unto death?)

These were difficult, perplexing choices and decisions. Jesus needed fresh air to clear His head. He needed to be away, alone in nature, so He could pray this through. He could have gone to the temple and shut Himself in, or He could have gone to the house of a close friend. Instead, He took a long walk to the mountainside, and there He prayed. There is nothing doctrinal about this; it is just an observation the gospel writers made about Christ’s preference. In fact, He often chose to preach to crowds at a beachside or on a mountaintop.

On this occasion He had a lot on His mind, so He prayed all night. That strikes me as a description of someone who is serious about fasting. He was committed to this time of prayer and was going to stay at it until He had an answer and more clarity about what to do. There is something about taking a walk at the park, on a walking trail, or out in the woods that is both healing and helps us to listen. Jesus walked and prayed. He prayed and walked. He probably stopped, knelt, and prayed. He probably sang songs while out in the open. He probably had some moments of just listening and meditating on the Father. By the time morning came, He had his answer. He knew exactly whom He would choose. He selected His twelve apostles, one of whom was Judas.

Taking a long prayer walk to the mountainside helped Jesus follow His Father’s will in making this choice. It seems to me that if praying and walking helped Jesus, it could be beneficial to us too. While we ought to pray at home and at church, we should also consider praying while walking along quiet streets and trails.

Praying in natural settings

In another life-defining moment Jesus needed to have enough time to talk to God about the issue of salvation and His impending death on the cross. After all, this was the primary reason He came to Earth. Now the time was drawing near and the reality of His death coming ever clearer. He knew it was going to be brutal. “Isn’t there another way to save the earth without drinking the cup of the shame of the Cross?” Although He knew the mind of the Father, His humanity struggled with the idea. So it was time to pray and settle this with God before it interfered with the Father’s divine plan.

With His heart heavy and sorrowful, it was time to engage the Father and settle things in the Spirit: “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray’” (Matt. 26:36, NIV). Jesus took three of His closest friends to a garden, of all places. Why not the temple? His choice shows the value of walking outside as He prayed and spoke with God on matters that would affect the world’s eternal destiny. Even after that He took a longer walk and prayed. I know that at some point in that walk He stopped, knelt down, and prayed intensely.

After a while He came back to check on His disciples and found them sleeping. He urged them to stay awake and pray. I wonder, if they had been walking, would they have been able to stay awake? Perhaps if they understood the benefits of walking while fasting and praying they may have been more alert. I don’t know, but when Jesus came back to check on them after another hour or so, they had fallen asleep again. This time Jesus left them alone. Then He went off again, walking, praying, and pouring His soul out to God. He prayed until He had a breakthrough. He prayed and surrendered all until He could say, freely and joyfully, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42, NIV)! And yet He still knew turmoil. Luke 22:44 says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (NIV).

I know we are all different people with different inclinations. Still, I believe that everyone can benefit from prayer walks, at least occasionally. Fortunately most cities in this country have parks and recreation centers where people can walk. In every city where my family and I have lived, I have experienced the joy of hours of walking and praying in parks. The mode of my prayer depends on the time of day or the nature of my spiritual need. When the park is busy, I just walk or sit still beside a stream (such as at Island Park in Mount Pleasant, Michigan). Sometimes I head to the park early in the morning or late in the evening, when it is quiet, and pray out my burdens. I walk and pray until I sense a lightening in my spirit or sense God’s guidance. When it might be too late for the park, I just walk the streets of our neighborhood.

It doesn’t matter what time of year it is either. I like the burst of cold air that fills my lungs in winter, the cool, gentle breezes of spring, the warmth of summer, and the crisp autumn atmosphere. I am especially thankful for a pair of Arkansas attractions: the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art walking trails in Bentonville and the James Butts Baseball Complex in Siloam Springs. I have walked their trails so often that I thank God for the workers that built them.

Some days my walk is leisurely and meditative. I observe the flowers and walk down to a creek and watch small fish as they swim. I stop to watch kids learning to play baseball or running around the Crystal Bridges trail with their parents scampering after them. On other days I might feel burdened and especially want to take my concerns to the Lord. As I walk, I pray out loud. When overcome by emotion, I let tears fall down my cheeks. Sometimes I veer off into the woods at the Crystal Bridges/Bentonville trails and cry out to God. All the while I inhale the dampness of the air after a fall rain, the scent of budding flowers, or the glory of a sunset. There is something about such scenes that helps clear your head and allows you to listen to God speak to your heart.

The health benefits

I heartily recommend that you consider combining prayer walks and fasting, especially during partial or fruit fasts, when you are more likely to have enough strength. The spiritual and emotional benefits alone are well worth it. For some, it may add additional motivation to know that walking at least thirty minutes a day offers immense benefits in improving several of the conditions discussed earlier in this book. Imagine combining the added benefit of fasting with the benefits of physical activity. According to the American Heart Association, which actively promotes walking, there are eight scientifically documented health benefits of walking.3

An example: walking at least thirty minutes a day reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. In fact, in some studies, the risk of heart attack was reduced by about 35 percent in those who walk compared to those who were not engaged in similar activity.4 Walking has also been shown to improve blood pressure.

Several studies have also shown a correlation between walking and type 2 diabetes prevention rates. A major national clinical trial undertaken to study the impact of weight and physical activity on diabetes, among others, published its results in 2002.5 Called the Diabetes Prevention Program, the study found that walking only about twenty-one or twenty-two minutes each day (or 150 minutes a week) and losing about 7 percent of one’s body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes by 58 percent.6

Here is another disease that many people don’t know that walking can address: cancer. Walking or other forms of moderate physical activity help reduce the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer. In fact, in one study women who walked briskly for ninety to one hundred twenty minutes each week reduced their risk for breast cancer by 18 percent.7 Ever experienced the refreshment of a good, long walk? One where your mood improved and you seemed to have a fresh perspective? Well, you are not alone. In one study, people who walked for thirty minutes a day, three to five times a week, reduced the symptoms of depression and enhanced mental well-being by as much as 47 percent.8

Other benefits of walking listed on the American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites include improved blood lipid profile, reduced risk of osteoporosis, and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Remember, though, that even though physical health is important, your total well-being—spirit, soul, and body—is even more important. When we fast, we reap immense physical and spiritual benefits. When we include prayer in our fasting, we engage with the almighty God. When we include prayer walk in our fasting, we accelerate both the spiritual and physical benefits derived from fasting and prayer.

Remember, too, that you can fast. As I mentioned earlier, there are a variety of plans to choose from. I know that some persons have some limitations that affect whether or not they can walk, or how often. However, the majority of persons reading this material can probably walk at least several minutes a day—if you choose to do that. Do it. Walk and pray. Pray and walk as you seek the God of glory. Talk a walk, breathe in fresh air, and let the God of grace give you a new song as you journey through life.