Supernatural Encouragement is Available
Yesterday was a fast day. It was very unusual, so I thought I’d write about it.
Fasting is very important. In the tug of war between your flesh and spirit, your flesh has the flashy, explosive tools. It’s like the dark side of the force. Your flesh responds to base temptations that work quickly and powerfully. In order for you to win, you have to break your flesh as though it were a horse or a mule. You need to make your flesh understand that it’s defeated. Fasting helps you do that. It punishes and subdues your flesh. It discourages it. This makes your flesh less inclined to resist you in the future.
I believe I’m gaining new understanding of scriptural passages about the human spirit. The Bible asks, “but a crushed spirit, who can bear?” I think I know what that means.
Most of us try to do the right thing, especially when we’re young. We try to spend time on work instead of play. We try to diet and work out. Generally, by the time we’re middle-aged, we’ve given up on many goals that involve self-control. Almost invariably, we quit dieting and exercising. We stop trying to change ourselves, because we believe we will always fail. We’re like horses that have been ridden to a standstill. We quit fighting the bit, and we do what the flesh tells us. This, I believe, is what “crushed spirit” refers to, when the Bible uses the term in a negative way.
The Bible sometimes says a crushed spirit is a good thing. I believe that refers to people who are fundamentally in rebellion. If you’re trying to please God, a crushed spirit is bad, because your spirit is on God’s side. If you’re in rebellion, it’s a good thing, because it means you’ve lost confidence in your ability to continue as a backslider.
Some people think crushing of the spirit refers to depression. I don’t think that’s quite right. That’s a modern idea which isn’t premised on the notion of the spirit as a supernatural entity separate from the mind. In the Bible, “spirit” means “spirit,” not your emotional state. The spirit and emotions are connected, but the spirit is not emotions. I think the spirit manifests itself in things like confidence and enthusiasm. When the spirit is defeated, it doesn’t necessarily mean you feel bad, although you may. It means your spirit no longer believes it can succeed, so it doesn’t try. It means you have acquired what psychologists call “learned helplessness.”
I found out about learned helplessness while taking a psychology course in college. A professor who was clearly a closet Republican said welfare was a bad thing, because it taught people they couldn’t make a difference in their lives.
He cited an experiment involving rats. You stick rats in a tub of water. If you let them find their way to safety on their own, they become good at saving themselves. If you rescue them from the water over and over, they reach a point where they’ll let themselves drown if you don’t take them out. They get the idea that their efforts don’t make any difference, so they quit trying. If you give poor people welfare checks so big they do as well on welfare as they would in low-paying jobs, they realize working doesn’t change their lives, so they lose the will to try. They learn to be helpless. That’s how I remember it, anyway.
When your spirit becomes sufficiently defeated, you can become completely depraved. You don’t try, and you don’t think about trying. Drug addicts get this way. An addict will reach a point where stealing a parent’s jewelry and selling it for ten cents on the dollar doesn’t even register in his mind as sinful. The flesh is in complete control, and the spirit might as well be dead.
The flesh is really, really stupid. The flesh has no problem pushing you to do something that will land you on death row. The flesh doesn’t think at all about the future. It’s a little bit like a Democrat President. Borrow and spend now; let someone else clean up the mess.
What the flesh needs are regular beatings. It’s like a child on the verge of delinquency. You have to put it in its place, early and forcefully. Otherwise, it gains strength, and the job gets harder. Fasting is a Biblical way of punishing your flesh.
When your flesh becomes discouraged, it stops pushing you. Ignorant people and hostile spirits will still talk to it, trying to get it to rise up against you, but it won’t listen as much. The voices of evil will be quieter, and you’ll be better able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. You will have swept and cleaned the house and bound the strong man, so the Holy Spirit will be able to take over more space and exert greater authority. You will have confidence (in God), enthusiasm, peace, and joy, so you will be better able to achieve and succeed in God’s kingdom.
I have always hated fasting. I don’t lie about it. It gave me terrible headaches. I got almost nothing done on fasting days. I just waited for them to pass. I didn’t even do a good job of prayer, because I was dying to find ways to kill time and make the days end.
I also felt isolated from God during fasts. I couldn’t feel his presence. My faith was reduced. I felt that God’s presence came sweeping back over me right after I ended my fasts.
Yesterday was different. I felt good all day. I wasn’t vexed constantly by hunger. I didn’t feel depressed. I didn’t get a headache. I didn’t long for the second the fast would end, so I could get some decent food. I got things done. My mood was great. When I prayed, I felt tremendous faith and power. I actually felt strange pains, as though the Holy Spirit was doing things inside me.
The Bible asks us who can bear a crushed spirit. The other side of that coin is that you can’t do well without crushed flesh. This is why Jesus went into the desert and refused food for forty days. He was silencing the hostile, hindering voice of the flesh. Once the flesh was essentially comatose, Satan knew he had very little hope of using it to control Jesus, so he came to him in desperation and offered him the world, which was his to give. After Jesus refused, unlimited power and authority came into him, and he was able to embark on his ministry of miracles and perfect teaching.
When the Apostles talk about crucifying the flesh and so on, they don’t mean we should wear hair shirts and beat ourselves with cudgels, as some ascetics have done. They don’t mean we should be ascetics at all. They mean that we should utterly destroy the confidence and assertiveness of the flesh, so that our minds, guided by our submitted spirits, get to make all our decisions. We don’t have to give up the pleasures of the flesh. We have to put them in their proper place. Once you get control of your flesh, life’s earthly pleasures actually become more satisfying, because they don’t carry guilt, and you don’t become too sated to enjoy things.
If you’re going to fast, I’d recommend going entire days without food, on most occasions. You can do yourself some good by fasting one or two meals, but sometimes you really need to take away the flesh’s hope of receiving food during a day. It’s like refusing to set a withdrawal date in a war. If you set a date that’s too early, your enemy will grit his teeth and hold on until you leave. If your enemy knows you’ll be around until he loses, he’s more likely to quit.
I’d also recommend spending a great deal of time in prayer. Without prayer, fasting doesn’t do a whole lot of good.
I think “Daniel fasts” are fairly useless. A Daniel fast means a partial fast. People will say things like, “For the next 21 days, I’m giving up Three Musketeers bars between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15.” Or they’ll go all-liquid, so they’ll have ten milkshakes instead of three normal meals. Can you really call that fasting? It’s your flesh, telling you it’s okay to pretend to fast, as long as you let your flesh run the show. If you want to do it right, take no calories in, and do not use any sweeteners.
In summary, God uses your spirit to influence you, and Satan uses your flesh. You need to strengthen one and knock the wind out of the other. Fasting will help, and it will greatly increase the power, freedom, and success you experience in life.Stumble it! Save This Page