It has now come to the issue of fasting food. During the fast, we will suggest various kinds of fasts, but what we suggest today will be foundational to the overall success of this or any fast. Distinct from other discussions on fasting, we are hoping you would consider enjoying the fast we present today for the rest of the twenty-one days.
Sadly, we are driven to eat in our culture on impulse. Food addictions humorously work something like this: I eat to overstimulate the reward center of my brain to release dopamine, which means I become an impulsive eater, OR I don't eat to over-stimulate the reward center of my brain to release dopamine and thereby become obsessed with physique.
The over-eater and the under-eater can suffer from the same craving to have the pleasure centers of their brains rewarded. Both seeking pleasure from what we consume and from how we look are no small obsession. Anytime how we feel becomes our primary aim, an obsession or impulse has the potential to lay hold of our souls. In the same way, when the primary use of food is aimed at pleasure, we can easily tiptoe into eating disorders or impulses.
Sometimes people find themselves unable to keep commitment to the smallest spiritual activity because they are unable to deny their impulses.
Years ago, as we were planting a church, a young husband and father told me he knew he should establish attending Sunday worship as part of his family's worship habit. He confessed he was struggling with being consistent. His marriage seemed strong and their child-raising skills well above average. He told me he was concerned that if he didn't make worship attendance more of a consistent habit in his life, he could be putting the future of his family in jeopardy.
I thought his concerns over the effect of his missing worship service once or twice a month might be a bit inflated, but I began to help him all the same with the discipline he sought to strengthen.
I became surprised—he never could develop the habit he wished for. Oddly, some impulse to do something would come up every couple of weeks; they would cancel their responsibilities and off they would go. At the time, while his canceling of responsibilities was always an inconvenience, I never realized then how serious his problem was. As a young pastor, I had no idea how well he knew his own heart. He knew down deep within himself that his weakness to please the pleasure centers of his brain was stronger than his love and commitment to Christ.
Oddly enough, some forty years later, his family has fared poorly, he is estranged from his wife, and none of his children is doing well, certainly not walking with Christ. Impulse-living became habit-living. When impulse-living becomes our habit, then Christ becomes a distant thought rather than a close companion.
My entire life I have witnessed the impact of not being able to control one’s impulses— it is disastrous. Oddly, those who live impulsively are not even aware they are doing so. Here is what most people don't realize: impulse-living is really just living a life devoted to feeling good or the best one can in the moment.
Taking time periodically to give Jesus rule of our impulses might be one of the most important activities in which we ever engage. Fasting the activity or activities that have a hold on us can be a means to bring our impulses to Jesus and submit them to His rule and reign.
Fasting is a tool Jesus uses in our lives to reveal our impulses and then reset our habits and routines to embrace His power and love.
The Most Common Impulse
If one of the gifts of fasting is to reveal to us what impulse or impulses have a hold on our lives, then we might be wise to consider some impulse-friendly foods we commonly eat.
Ask yourself about two kinds of food in particular:
b) junk food
Many know sugar is deadly on bellies and heart health, but lesser known is the detrimental effect on our brains, which could be even more acute.
Consider some of the following material I have drawn from several articles I recently read.
Seventy-five percent of all packaged food has some form of sugar. Only five percent of our daily food intake should be sugar-related. On average, Americans take in more like thirteen percent. Many Americans eat as much as five times the sugar they should. (Carolyn Gregoire, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/06/sugar-brain-mental-health_n_6904778.html).
Here is what we know about sugar: it activates the tongue's taste receptors. It then signals the brain to light up the reward center, releasing the feel-good hormones like dopamine. In effect, it takes over control of the brain's reward center.
Too much sugar begins to train our bodies to resist insulin, which causes brain cells to function. Insulin is needed for the synaptic connections in the brain to communicate, resulting in better memory and cognitive sharpness. When sugar resists the proper function of insulin, it attacks thinking.
Sugar-hefty foods also attack the neurotransmitters, which destabilizes our moods and promotes anxiety and depression.
We haven't even mentioned diabetes or the heightened susceptibility to afflictions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Some have concluded that the brain is the target organ for damage when sugar levels are too high. I could go on and on, but the research on this subject is consistent and well-documented in books, papers, and articles all across the internet.
Fasting is about restoring thinking and contemplation to a place where we can once again hear God's voice in our minds. Considering fasting sugar and junk food over the next nineteen days might be the most essential thing you do to get the most out of your fast. To reset habits in your life, you might best start with the sugar habit.
A Companion Impulse
Some have their diet dialed in, so you might want to consider another kind of fasting.
If you tend toward physique impulses, consider fasting your regular workout regime. Yes, continue to eat healthy but perhaps do more low-impact exercise, making sure how you look or how others think you look has not become some kind of center to your existence.
By the way, going back to the story I told, I am not saying my friend's life and family would have been spared had he gone off of sugar and junk food. What I am saying is: had he been able to let Jesus be Lord of His life instead of his impulses, he might have enjoyed a much more celebrated outcome.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does the will of God remains forever. 1 John 2:15-17 CSB
The word "world" is used some twenty-three times in 1 John. John uses the word to mean the natural world and also a place where people live. Here in John, when he refers to not loving the “world," he means the entire place where things exist.
John calls upon us to not “love" the “world," using the same word when he calls upon the church to “love" one another. To love one another is a calling to give up one's life in order to discover the great pleasure, delight, and joy in making another person more important than self. Here, John calls followers not to love the "world," or literally never to make the world a place of focus for pleasure, gratification, or delight.
When one loves things and seeks to make the serving of things and the place where things exist an object of pleasure and gratification, then the love of the Father cannot abide simultaneously in that heart.
John then defines what is in the “world”: things to lust for to make the flesh feel good, things the eyes can lust for to make one look good, and finally, the things one can use to give someone the advantage over another. John is clear: those three impulses do not come from the Father.
The "world" of impulse-living— finding gratification in possessing or experiencing a thing— is being destroyed little by little. The only thing that will remain of this impulse-driven world is the people who have determined to live under Christ's rule and thus God's will.
John is clearly letting us know that possessing and experiencing things can only pleasure for the moment. Feel-good experiences, celebrity, and the pride of being and having better are short-lived. The "world" of seizing what we lust for is doomed. We have a chance here and now to live in a new Kingdom, where pleasure and gratification are not outlawed but neither are they the driving and controlling force of our existence.
Enjoying a chocolate or latte now and again is completely different from being completely dominated by the impulse of must-having. Being in good physical shape is completely different from being obsessed with how you look. Living to amuse the soul is quite different from living amazed by God.
The daily decision is simple. What do you think about going on a nineteen-day fast of sugars and junk food? Concentrating on resetting your body and especially your brain to function at peak performance.
If you are one of those enviable people who already abstains from sugar and junk food, but may have a workout fetish and might tend to be physique-obsessed, how about trimming back the workout just a touch and let Jesus rewire how you view yourself?
Daily Journal Thoughts
Under your "Prayer and Fasting Commitments” page, write down the date.
Then write out the commitment you sense the Holy Spirit leading you to make regarding sugar and junk food or exercise.
Do not underestimate your need for help from the Holy Spirit in this or any other area.
Your commitment might read something like this: “Jesus, by Your grace, I commit to abstain from sugar and junk food for the remainder of this fast.”
If you are physique-obsessed, you might want to write something like, “Jesus, during the remainder of this fast, I commit to walking briskly and allowing you to show me how to work out when I restart my discipline.”
Go now to the journal portion of your notebook. Write the date.
Then begin to write your prayer, asking Jesus to heal your brain and mind, enabling it to function at its peak so you can more fully learn to listen to Him. Consider requesting His empowerment to abstain from sugar and junk food during the rest of this fast. Ask Jesus to little-by-little reduce your addiction to food and increase your interest in Him.
If you are one who is going to change your exercise regime, then ask the Holy Spirit to help you with those changes. Ask Him to meet you on your walks, to fill you with what He really thinks of you, and to release you from any compulsion to appear a certain way for others.