FASTING FOR CLARITY
Do you need to make a decision? If so, do you ever feel unclear about what you should do? You’re not alone. Today we often suffer from choice fatigue and decision overload. We have so many options, narrowing down the best path can open us up to less clarity and more confusion. What should you do when you need a clear direction but you’re faced with fog?
In addition to asking for advice, making lists of pros and cons, and praying about it, have you ever considered the role that fasting could play in helping you find clarity?
I was a college student the first time I attempted to fast. I did a water fast for 2 days. It was exhilarating. I felt hungry but I also experienced the mild euphoria and spiritual boost associated with fasting and prayer. It’s counterintuitive but fasting makes us feel better (even though we’re aware of our hunger).
It’s not unusual to experience clarity and sharper focus during a day or more of fasting and prayer. One of the first books I ever read on prayer mentioned fasting. The author had fasted 17 days and received a fresh vision for his ministry. As a new follower of Christ, I was shocked when I read that because I had never known anyone who had ever fasted (except biblical characters and at that time I hadn’t read much of the Bible). I was, however, intrigued by the possibility of connecting with God in a more “tuned in” way.
The next book I read that mentioned fasting was a biography. The author mentioned an even longer fast than the previous author. He claimed at about two weeks into his prolonged fast he was able to easily concentrate on anything for long periods of time. It wasn’t long before I tried fasting and experienced the focus and mental clarity others had described. Why does this happen?
Let’s ask someone who may know. Mark Mattson is a professor of neuroscience in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. His research these days is in the science of fasting. The motivation for Dr Mattson does not appear to be spiritual. He’s interested in the neurological effects and the physical benefits of fasting. As it turns out, there are many.
THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON FASTING
Dr Mattison believes the evidence demonstrates “fasting several days a week might help your brain ward off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s while at the same time improving memory and mood.” (https://www.johnshopkinshealthreview.com/issues/spring-summer-2016/articles/are-there-any-proven-benefits-to-fasting) When you eat normally, glucose is stored in the liver and converts to a substance called glycogen which serves as the nutrient that feeds your brain. After about 14 hours without food, the body depletes the glycogen and starts feeding instead on fats which fuel the brain with ketones.
The difference between glucose and ketones is the basis for the popular “keto diet.” The ketones fuel the brain in a different way. You feel “sharper” and more focused. Unfortunately, most Americans never allow their bodies a break from 3 big carb and sugar rich meals a day, supplemented with more sugar, carbohydrate snacks, and soft drinks. As a result, our brains are fueled with glycogen rather than ketones. Think about how you feel after a big Thanksgiving meal. Do you feel sharp and focused or are you ready for a nap because you’re in a “food coma”? It’s a fact, too much food makes us drowsy and fasting sharpens our focus.
When we fast, therefore, in addition to spending more time in Bible reading, worship, and prayer we’re also flooding our brain with a nutrient that leads to more energy, focus, and an overall sense of well being. Why is this important?
CLARITY TO KNOW GOD’S WILL
Suppose you have a big decision to make and you want to know God’s will. Or, imagine you’re at a crossroad in life and you need God’s guidance. Is fasting helpful? Ask Nehemiah who fasted for days before he decided to leave the security of his life to go rebuild a wall around Jerusalem. “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4)
Ask Paul. It was while he was fasting and praying with leaders in Antioch that he received the calling to minister to gentiles which defined his life. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’
Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2-3)
Ask Jesus. After being anointed by the Holy Spirit for public ministry He disappeared into the desert to fast and confront the temptations of the enemy. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” (Matthew 4:1-2)
Fasting helps clear our minds so we can focus on God’s voice, His call, and His purposes for us. Believers have known about this for centuries. Now neuroscience is helping us understand why and how decisions seem clearer when we fast.
Do you need to get a fresh word from God about your life? Fast and pray. Expect clarity, but more importantly, expect God to speak!