To be honest, I don’t say “no” to myself very often. I don’t mean the stupid or harmful or overtly sinful things–I say “no” to those as often as I can! But I rarely say “no” to my common desires, my everyday loves, the things that I simply must have and cannot do without: food, sleep, coffee, snacks, me-time.
Enter: fasting. Which is all about saying “no” to some very basic loves.
Fasting–abstaining from food for a prescribed period of time–is an ancient spiritual practice that crosses religion, time and tradition. Fasting has formed an essential practice for those who long to discipline themselves, become more aware of God’s presence in their lives, attend to certain issues, as well as express sorrow and deep penitence. It has also been used as a practice of preparation and discernment. And there are those who say fasting has a component of breakthrough, enabling a person or a church to move through some barrier previously unbroken.
While fasting is not an end-all or be-all practice, nor is it commanded in the Bible, it has been helpful to many.
Last week, I fasted for seven days, specifically for the church I pastor. I was praying for our heart, that we would be aligned with God’s heart for our Valley and our world. And I waited upon God for myself, that I would be ready and available to the Father for all he needs me to be.
And in the process, I learned a few things, much of it about myself. One of them was key: It is good to say “no” to yourself sometimes so you can say “yes” to God all the time. And while that may seem pretty basic, I’m telling you, it was very illuminating for me.
It is currently vogue to learn to say “no” to others, to competing voices, to those who would draw us away from our main priority. Much of that is good, and I’m learning that graceful art in my own life. Learning to say “no” to some things, even good things, so you can say “yes” to the right things and the best things is wisdom.
But perhaps we don’t go deep enough with that, if we only focus on saying “no” to exterior distractions or opportunities. What I realized last week was that I need to be able to say “no” to myself, to my wants, to my needs, to my desires–so that I can really say “yes” to what God really wants for me. And fasting, well, that brings it all up really clearly and poignantly. Every day, every meal time, snack time, coffee time. Which for me is a lot of times during the day! Saying “no” to myself is a healthy discipline.
Am I saying everyone should fast like I did? Not at all. However, anyone could employ some form of fasting with good benefit (skip a meal, say “no” to coffee for a month, etc). But what I am saying is that saying “no” to ourselves is an important part of our spiritual and personal growth, as well as critical to our larger leadership, but something that we often overlook.
With Lent coming into view, the season traditionally used to say “no” to ourselves, perhaps you want to consider some kind of fast or discipline, denying yourself something good so that you can avail yourself to Someone greater. Or maybe it isn’t about Lent or fasting at all–maybe it’s just about that daily choice to place God’s best before my good, knowing that his best for me will always be better than any good I can imagine.
At the end of it all, it’s not about saying “no”–not really. It’s actually all about saying “yes”. Yes to the Father, Yes to the Best. Yes.