Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gluttony and Fasting

Yesterday I finally completed The Lord's Table, Phase I. It took me five months to complete this 60 day course, but I did it, with God's help. I learned a great deal about the sin of gluttony during this time. Then wouldn't you know it, this morning I woke to find an article featured on Yahoo! titled, "When unhealthy foods hijack overeaters' brains," and I had to marvel at how good God is. Six months ago I would have truly believed that food had hijacked my brain. But the truth, God has shown me, is in the Bible:

Do not mix with winebibbers,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags. (Proverbs 23:20-21)

I've learned that gluttony is the equivalent of drunkenness, only instead of indulging oneself on alcohol, the substance of choice is solid food. You don't have to be fat to be a glutton, either. All you need to do is give in to temptation and eat uncontrollably, whether you are hungry or not. We call this overeating. The Bible calls it sin.

Ever notice how people who quit smoking or drinking will tend to put on weight? This is because people often will satisfy their cravings for nicotine and alcohol with sugar, and vice versa. We replace one substance with another. When I worked for a while at an eating disorder clinic, many of the girls we saw did not just suffer from eating disorders. They also had problems with drugs, alcohol, and sex. All of these behaviors are common in that they are vices to indulge the flesh. There is nothing wrong with food, sex, or even having a glass of wine (in my culture, having a glass of wine with dinner is akin to having a dinner roll). The problem comes when we abuse these things and attempt to get our comfort from them, instead of God.

The Bible says we cannot conquer these issues on our own strength. We must abide in Christ, or we will find ourselves right back where we started - perhaps even worse than where we were before. Here's a similar scenario: have you ever lost a great deal of weight, only to gain it back, plus a few more pounds? Of course, we all have. In fact, this phenomenon reminds me of a certain scripture:
“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. 26 Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)

We may enjoy success on our own strength temporarily, but if we do not surrender to Christ, our old behaviors will return. We will either return to this sin as a dog returns to its vomit (Proverbs 26:11), or we will fill the void with something equally as sinful (such as drinking, drugs, or illicit sex). So it is not enough to simply repent from gluttony. We must turn from sin and turn toward God. One of the ways we can do this is through fasting.

A Modern Gospel View of Fasting

Fasting is not something that is practiced much these days. I believe we have really adopted a "modern gospel" view of fasting. We may possess an intellectual understanding that Christ came for the salvation from our sins and not to give us temporal prosperity, yet our lives do not reflect this. We will whine about fasting, claiming all sorts of medical conditions* and other reasons why we cannot partake in this spiritual discipline. Instead, we happily volunteer to participate in less painful forms of self-denial. This "alternative fasting" often presents itself in the form of abstinence from TV, internet, or other "busy" activities. But this is not really fasting, according to the Bible. Nowhere in scripture do we see someone fasting from anything other than food. While it is good to shut off the TV or computer from time to time for the sake of holiness, it is not the same as fasting the way scripture intends.

As a single person, I abstain from sexual activity. No one would consider this fasting, and neither should we equate abstinence from other activities to be fasting either. Through true fasting, our bodies have time to rest. The digestive system shuts down and the body begins to detoxify and purge itself of impurities. During this time, we are to look to Christ for our strength, as He purifies our souls. We do not get these benefits of fasting when we decide to go without TV for a month. In order to truly claim that one is fasting, one must abstain from food.

The Lord's Table - Phase II

For this reason, I have decided to take on The Lord's Table, Phase II, also known as "Feasting and Fasting." (Click here to read about my experiences with Phase I). Starting today, I will take 2 days to transfer into a 16-day fast, when I will drink nothing but liquids. After this, I will take two days to transfer out of the fast. The entire program is accompanied by a daily Bible-study with Setting Captives Free, the same ministry that brings us The Lord's Table, Phase I. There is a suggested donation of $50 for this program, but Phase I is free. If you have not yet participated in Phase I, I cheerfully encourage you to give it a try.

I do not look forward to the suffering that I will experience. But I do look forward to the spiritual changes that I expect to take place during this time. I may or may not be posting much during the fast, but I imagine I will respond to this post with updates via the comment feature to report how I'm doing. I would also like to invite you to prayerfully consider fasting with me - not necessarily for the whole 20 days, but for a portion of the time. Even if it is one day, we can claim victory over the lies that say we can not fast when we realize that a greater likelihood is that we will not fast. Will you consider joining me in this battle against the flesh? If so, I'd love to hear from you. Please use the comment feature to let me know how you are doing, and God bless!

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Please Note: The Lord's Table, Phase II is no longer available through Setting Captives Free, however, Phase I is still available.

* A word about medical conditions: I once suffered from severe hypoglycemia, but now my condition is virtually non-existent. I have not had a problem with hypoglycemia for several years, yet all of a sudden it emerges when the word "fasting" is brought up. This is because I do not want to fast. I convince myself that a headache is a sign of danger. Yet I realize now that my body is detoxifying itself, and that's why I have a headache. I acknowledge that some medical conditions are real and prevent one from fasting, however, it may behoove some of us to reconsider our reasons for not fasting. We may discover that the enemy wants to convince us that we cannot fast when the Lord says we can.

8 comments:

Bobby Mosteller said...

Jennifer,

This is a great post and something I needed to read. Before I was saved I had a strong addictive nature, after conversion many things fell off but it is still a struggle. It is very easy to trade one indulgence for another. Even with things that the culture would deem "not too bad", they are a problem because our standard is the Bible not what is around us.

You also nailed the root of the problem. We should seek to replace these things with the Lord. They are sin because Christ should be our all in all. It is definitely a spiritual problem and we have to be careful not to excuse it because, along with this type of problem, rationalization is very easy.

Thanks again and may the Lord bless you.

BM

Jennifer said...

Bobby, thanks so much for the encouragement! I must give a great deal of credit to the Setting Captives Free ministry. They have free courses (Bible Studies) for all sorts of these issues, including gambling, overeating, sexual sin/pornography, smoking, and substance abuse. I placed a link in my sidebar toward the top in case anyone is interested in visiting their site.

One of the reasons it took me five months to do a 60-day Bible study is because I replaced my eating with internet use. I had to go back and start all over again until I made sure I filled that void with Christ. It is so easy to get distracted and take our eyes off Him! We'd be in big trouble if it weren't for His preserving hand.

Jennifer said...

Hi, Everyone. Just an update. So far I've lost 9 pounds on Phase II. Coupled with Phase I, that makes a total of 13.5 pounds lost. I feel amazing and have tons of energy. Yesterday I actually went running twice - once in the afternoon and once in the evening. My stomach growls here and there, but nothing major. I have no withdrawal symptoms. Because I am getting my nutrients from liquids, I am so alert and not weak at all. I am just bypassing my stomach in the digestive process, the most demanding part of my flesh!

I have only committed to the 20 days but I'd like to see if I can go a full 40-day fast. I know I can do it. The only thing stopping me is the incredible boredom. I am so sick of liquids already and I'm only 1/3 of the way through this fast. Pray that I will derive my joy from God instead of food, and that He will bring me delight in the midst of that boredom. Thanks!

Lisa Strand said...

Jennifer, thanks so much for this post, it's a confirmation of what the Lord has been dealing with in my heart - gluttony. I even had a dream about it 3 nights ago - so clear that my heart is enamored with food and God wants His rightful place there.I've repented and now must take up my cross daily and follow Him! God bless you, Lisa Strand

Jennifer said...

Update: I broke the fast. The reason I did this is because it suddenly hit me that the only reason I am fasting for 20 days is not because God instructed me to, but because Setting Captives Free instructed me to. While I was thoroughly enjoying the study up to this point, I think people need to take into account why they are attempting to fast for 20 days. If the Lord requires someone to fast for 20 days, that's one thing, but when I am doing this because a ministry has set the terms of my fast, this is not aiming to please God at all. It is aiming to please man. I broke the fast immediately upon realizing this. (I had two strawberries and juice for breakfast.)

I wasn't hungry, I wasn't going bezerk without food. I simply realized the length of the fast was set by man. I paid for the course and I intend to pick up lessons 10-20 another time when the Lord calls me to fast again. But for now, I need to obey rather than sacrifice. I consider my 10-day fast a victory.

TLT is still a great ministry and I highly recommend it to anyone. Some people find they are commanded to continue the fast for a full 40 days. This simply wasn't the case with me. I would like to thank everyone for their support during my fast!

Daughter, Arise! said...

Jen,
Thanks for sharing about your fast. I used to attend a New Apostolic Reformation type church, and I could never commit to a fast because I did not sense the Lord's leading. I used to feel very guilty and less "anointed" because I just could not commit.

However, the times that He did lead me were apart from anything that man had prescribed and were some of the most powerful and liberating times I've shared with the Lord. I hope this post accomplishes two things: open people's eyes about the fast that God has chosen (Isa. 58) and to deliver people from any guilt associated with not being able to follow a fast that God has not called.

Anonymous said...

You know, I am having a very hard time with my sin of gluttony. I decided to fast for two days, and at times, I day dream about food for about 5 minutes straight. But I know prayer helps. I will continue to do my fast, with God helping me. I pray that you will overcome this sin as well. Peace. May God be with you.

Jennifer said...

Hi, Anonymous. Thanks so much for your humility! Let me encourage you with Philippians 1:6. God promises He will complete the work He began in you. I would like to say I have overcome the sin of gluttony. I am no longer overeating, praise God! But even so, I am still satisfying my flesh every time my stomach growls.

The key to overcoming this sin is self-denial. With overeating, I learned pretty quickly to simply eat an appropriate portion and deny any wishes for more than I needed. The reason fasting is much more difficult is because you are denying your stomach any food at all (at least when you are eating, you're still satisfying the physical hunger).

I encourage you to try Setting Captives Free - Lord's Table Course. I had to go through it twice, but it was worth it. I repented and I have kept off all the weight I've lost! God bless you and do keep us posted on how you're doing!