21-Day Fast by Karen

When a great idea pops into my mind it's exciting. I start imaging the hows, whats, whens, wheres and whos as I allow my mind to entertain and blend a milieu of possibilities into one seemingly perfect scenario.

As I've matured spiritually I've come to understand that there is a time and place for everything... most things.  Good ideas are fun to entertain, but ultimately we need to rely on the Lord to provide the answers to those questions.  
In May 2020, when we were in Nairobi, my family and I did a 3-day fast for our mission partners.  In preparation, I did some research to ensure our plan was both safe and spiritually sound.  While looking online I found a plethora of information on the 21-Day Daniel Fast, which piqued my interest.  At that time I wrote a blog about fasting.  If you have any interest in reading it, click on the following link:

Perhaps after my family and I finished our 3-day fast I could just continue for another 18, I thought.  When I prayed about this "great idea" the Lord affirmed my desire to fast for a long period of time, but made it clear that it wasn't the time.  In July, when we were trying to figure out how to get out of Kenya, I approached the Lord again to see if it was time to put my great idea into action - after all, wouldn't fasting help in the discernment process?  As I sat quietly I could tell that the idea had come from my own mind and not the Lord; it still wasn't the right time.  I remember ending my prayers that day by kind of throwing my hands up and saying something to the effect of, "Alright, Lord, well you'll just have to tell me when it's time.

This past Advent was a bit challenging for me because I didn't know how to draw closer to Jesus.  As Advent was approaching I reflected back on 2020 and realized that through the many hardships I had clung to Jesus as my lifeline.  What prayers or meditations, songs or movies could possibly help me feel closer to The One who had been right by my side through it all?  During Advent I was faithful to my prayer time but never really had any noteworthy spiritual moments.  Christmas passed rather uneventfully.  The day after Christmas, during my prayer time, I remember reflecting on the idea of spiritual tenacity inside of tranquility.  It seems common for people to seek the Lord in times of crisis, but when everything is going well there are no feelings of desperation to fuel that fire, so to speak.  I remember asking the Lord to help me learn how to love Him more... inside the normalcy of day-to-day life.  As I was sitting quietly a soft little voice whispered, "It's time....it's time for the 21-day fast."  I prayed for confirmation that this little voice inside my head was in fact the Lord's.  Immediately my mind was taken back in time.  It seems as though Jesus revealed to me that when we were fasting for our friends, last May, I was supposed to be focusing 100% on them - not me; as such it wasn't appropriate to try to combine these two things.  Jesus then brought my attention to last July, when I considered the 21-day fast again, and He helped me to see that life was already very difficult at that time.  Doing an intensive fast would have only made a difficult situation even more challenging.  However, now that we've gotten comfortable here in Puerto Rico and life is relatively normal, the Lord helped me to see that the circumstances were favorable and that I would be able to receive all that He wanted to give me during such a time of dedicated prayer.                 

I set to the task of planning, which included learning more about the 21-day fasts that others have done.  It seems that there are two different driving forces behind people's decision to fast for 21 days.  One is the belief that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, which comes from a book that Dr. Maxwell Maltz wrote in 1960.  The other is biblical in nature.  In Daniel, chapter 10, we read that Daniel deprived himself of choice foods, all meat, and wine for three full weeks as he sought the Lord in prayer.  Based on the account given in chapter 1, we can assume that Daniel ate only vegetables and drank only water during this time of fasting.  The result was answered prayers and spiritual insight.  As I continued my research I found many variations of what people refer to as "The Daniel Fast", but they all seem to have one thing in common - the avoidance of all animal products, preservatives and processed foods.  Some include strict regiments of prayer and extensive dietary restrictions, which seem well aligned with the fasting described in the book of Daniel, while others seem to include a wide assortment of succulent vegan dishes as a way to entice people to participate.  I took a little bit from here and a little bit from there to create a program that seemed best for me at this time.  More than anything, I wanted to stay focused on the fact that the goal of spiritual fasting is to draw closer to Jesus.  By depriving myself of my fleshly desires I would be able to attend more closely to my spiritual needs.  By committing to prayer multiple times each day I would be intentionally shifting my priorities; by putting the Lord first I'm more properly disposed to hear His voice, receive His blessings, and discern His will.

After considering all the options, I decided to avoid all animal products (meat/poultry/fish/seafood, milk, yogurt, cheese) as well as grains (bread, pasta, rice) and sugar.  My goal was to drink only water and eat only raw vegetables and fruit, as well as some plant based proteins such as garbanzo beans, nuts and seeds.  I'm excited to say that I did really well.  One day, about half way through, I had some brown rice and cooked veggies for lunch (because I felt like I was going crazy just eating carrots, peanuts and apples).  Another day I had quinoa; other than that I stuck to my plan.  One of my goals was to joyfully eat my predetermined items complaint-free, which I succeeded at most days, but not all.  Katelyn made a chart on the wall for me to record my progress.  I was ecstatic to be able to color in the very last square to indicate that I was done!   

On the prayer homefront I decided to dedicate at least 30 minutes to prayer each morning, 10 minutes around mid-day, and at least 15 minutes in the evening before bed.  During my research I found several resources which provide prayer schedules for a 21-day fast.  There are recommended scripture passages and corresponding meditations for each day.  As part of my preparation I chose 63 praise and worship songs which related to the theme for each day, as well as guidelines for how to pray for loved ones' intentions through the lens of those themes.  For example, one of themes was "surrender".  So, I listened to three different praise songs about surrendering to the Lord on that particular day and did my best to receive anything the Lord wanted to reveal to me about how I might surrender more completely.  As I prayed for each person's intentions I asked the Lord to help him/her surrender more fully as well... which obviously means something different in each unique situation, but it was a new way to prayer for others which I'll definitely continue in the future.  Some of the other themes included: wisdom, humility, patience, and acceptance (to name just a few).  As Dr. Maltz claimed, back in 1960, new habits take time to develop.  It was easy for me to fulfill my commitment to morning prayer because I'm already accustomed to waking up early to watch the sun rise and pray.  Although my goal was 30 minutes, I found myself wanting to get up early enough to spend at least an hour of quiet time with the Lord each morning.  I thought that I would feel really tired, and I was some days, but overall I found myself energized by this new routine.  Intentionally interrupting whatever was happening in the middle of the day for prayer was more difficult.  In hindsight, I think my mistake was not setting a time for this mid-day prayer.  Each day I assumed that there would be a natural "break in the action" which would allow me to slip away for 10 minutes; some days there was, but many days there wasn't.  A long time ago Chris and I were advised, by an amazing priest friend of ours, that if we "fail to plan than we're planning to fail".  I think that I successfully completed my afternoon prayers about 60% of the time, which isn't so great.  The days that I did sneak away for prayer were significantly more peaceful and I continued to feel close to the Lord all throughout the day.  I was joyful, patient and calm.  It's no coincidence that the days I wasn't able to make time for those extra afternoon prayers are the days when I needed it the most.  When it came time for my evening prayers I was thankful for the structure of the schedule I was following because it gave me direction.  I was able to reflect on the scripture verses I had read in the morning, think about the songs I had listened to and consider the day's theme once again.  It was a beautiful way to end each day.

Although I've tried my hand at journaling at various times in my life, I've concluded that it's just not in my personality to spend time writing down my thoughts on a regular basis for some unspecified purpose.  Despite this conclusion, during my 21-day fast I committed to keeping a spiritual journal, which I wrote in most days.  As I reflect back on this aspect of the program it seems that the benefit came in trying to capture my thoughts in a concise summary each day.  This is definitely an area of discipline that I have lots of room to grow in.      

Almost every day the Lord revealed at least one thing which has allowed me to see and think and feel differently.  Some days I was able to see my own deficiencies more clearly; other days I seemed to understand Jesus' teachings in a more profound way.  I had two significant spiritual revelations during my fast.  The first is a deeper understanding of the idea that "Jesus" is the answer to every one of life's problems.  Although this claim has an appealing ring some dismiss it as being trite; personally, I've struggled a bit with its practical application.  The second is an increased awareness of the correlation between my own interior peace and the probability that I'm properly aligned with the Lord's will for me inside of any particular moment.   

The first big idea came to me in the form of a math equation... probably because I love math and it's a language that I understand.   If A=B and B=C, then we know that A and C must be equal.
The bible tells us that
love = patience; love = kindness; love = forgiveness; love = mercy; love = honesty.


So... if Jesus = Love and Love = forgiveness, then it follows logically that if the answer to some life's difficult problems is Jesus, then practically speaking the answer to those problems is "forgiveness".  

Jesus = compassion and mercy, so it follows logically that if the answer to some of life's other difficult problems is Jesus that practically speaking the answer is "compassion" and/or "mercy".  

Jesus = generosity.  I can think of a whole lot of problems in the world that would be solved if people realized that Jesus (aka "generosity") is the solution.  By the design of God, there is enough of everything... if people were just more willing to share there would be a whole lot less suffering in the world. 
The second big idea came to me a bit more piecemeal.... perhaps a bunch of little ideas that connected themselves together to make one big idea.  The big idea is that I should always be striving for interior peace.  Theoretically speaking this concept is quite simple.  However, it's the practical application that has tripped me up... surprise, surprise.  Interior peace is completely intangible, and yet easily detectible when I'm tuned in to the Lord's frequency.  When I have peace in my heart I know that my thoughts, actions, decisions and everything else are as they should be.  On the contrary, when I'm feeling restless, preoccupied, afraid, agitated or discouraged I can tell that my interior peace has been lost.  In those moments, my focus is not on the Lord, but on the things of this world.  This whole notion of interior peace is of great significance.  At the Last Supper Jesus said to his disciples, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." (John 14:27)  He taught the disciples that the Holy Spirit, who is often represented as a dove - which is the symbol of peace, would be with them.  In Philippians, chapter 4, St. Paul teaches us about peace, which is God's presence within us: "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all.  The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, but prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.  Then the God of peace will be with you."   I'm am incredibly thankful for all the work the Lord has been doing to help me get back to the basics.  

There is so much more swirling around in my mind that I wish I could share, but blogs can only be so long.  I'll end with some short words of encouragement....

Jesus is the answer to every one of life's problems.  To better understand the practical application of that in your life, I encourage you to read your bible and set aside time for personal prayer every single day.  If and when you need a spiritual boost, consider doing a fast...not so that you can lose five pounds, but to help you draw closer to Jesus.  While researching this time treasured discipline I stumbled across the following list which is meant to help people recognize the benefits of fasting.  Perhaps one of the items will jump out at you:
  • Are you in need of healing or a miracle?
  • Do you need the tender touch of God in your life?
  • Is there a dream inside you that only He can make possible?
  • Are you in need of a fresh encounter?
  • Do you desire a deeper, more intimate and powerful relationship with the Lord?
  • Are you ready to have heightened sensitivity to the desires of God?
  • Do you need to break away from bondages that have been holding you hostage?
  • Is there a friend or loved one that needs intense intercessory prayer?
  • Do you desire to know God's will for your life?
  • Is God preparing your church/family/team/community for a "God-sized" vision?

Towards the end of my fast I felt the Lord calling me to lead a 21-day fast in the future.  I intend to use all the notes I took while researching, as well as the lessons learned from my own experience, to put together a schedule that will serve as a framework for all those interested in joining me. 

I am eternally grateful for all those who prayed for me during my fast. Although I had difficult moments, I never felt alone. As a community of believers we're able to support one another and help to build each other up for the greater glory of God. I pray that the peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your heart and mind this day!

Love in and through HIM, Karen

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