How A Prophet Innovated Fasting

In the third year of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, Daniel had another vision. He understood that the vision concerned events certain to happen in the future—times of war and great hardship. When this vision came to me, I, Daniel, had been in mourning for three whole weeks.  All that time I had eaten no rich food. No meat or wine crossed my lips, and I used no fragrant lotions until those three weeks had passed.
— Daniel 10:1-3

Healing Our Fasting

Discipline brings freedom. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. ‘We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.’ ...It is time to awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick. More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.
— Richard Foster

One of my early mentors was a jolly and rather large missionary.   Frequently he would rib me with, "You fast and pray and I will feast and believe."  This comment was followed-up with a large loud belly laugh.   He said this as a means of playfully pushing back at some of the rigidity with which I engaged the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, and solitude.  I had a reputation during my undergrad years of escaping each summer for three to six weeks to pray and fast in the high Sierra's.   

About nine years ago I had this sense that I should pull back from my fasting and learn to trust God's work, trust in Jesus' fast.   Somewhere along the way, I had put too much faith in my effort.  I also began to wonder, due to little things people would say, if I had damaged my body, and decided I would stop all forms of absolute fasting (water only) and chose other forms of spiritual engagement. 

The other day a video came up in my Amazon Video cue, 'The Science of Fasting' I looked at the banner for a while drawn to the word 'Fasting' and felt compelled to watch it.   The documentary awakened a dormant passion within me as it walked through studies conducted over the past 50 years in Siberia, 30 years in Germany and recently at USC (California).  The doctors and researchers demonstrated how fasting cured mental illnesses, diabetes, asthmatic and respiratory conditions and included a recently published paper from USC on how fasting kills cancer cells and even mitigates the side effects of chemotherapy.   In both the Siberia and Germany reports the fasts were water only fasts under doctor's supervision for 21 days.   As I watched the documentary a stirring up of my own experiences with fasting surfaced and I wondered if God was healing my view of fasting.  The more I thought about it the more I sensed to call the Beloved to a 'Daniel Fast' to begin 2018.

Why A Daniel Fast?

Ellie Wiesel says, "[Daniel] knows how to please, especially in High Places.  His title: Not 'Daniel Hanavi,' Daniel the prophet, but 'Daniel ish-'hamudot,' Daniel the Beloved."   Rabbis and Sages have long held Daniel in the highest of regards, he is not grouped in among the Prophets (navi'im) but gets his own personal designation, "Beloved" within the Hebrew Scriptures.   We could stop there and find reason enough to follow his steps since we too are the Beloved.  

But there is more.

Daniel was the equivalent of our Secretary of State for the Babylonian Empire and eventually for the Persian Empire.  His responsibilities and duties required vigilance to the King's administration, a political misstep was punishable by execution.  There was the constant scrutiny from colleagues and entrapments from political adversaries.   In a world where kings had short lifespans and their administrators even shorter, Daniel defies the odds and serves five different kings and two different empires.  What was the secret to his longevity?  How did this exiled lad manage to avoid the political entrapments and outlast contemporary officials up into his eighties?   

Daniel's story, again and again, clue us into the secret of his stamina and favor and belovedness-- his determination to not let go of the spiritual disciplines that had formed him from his youth.  Those religious duties included an involved observance of the spiritual disciplines around food, prayer, chronicling dreams and visions, and faithfully serving leaders of his captivity.  The first story in Daniel lays the foundation with him as a young lad following his religious diet and the last story of Daniel records him as an elder statesman kneeling to pray three times a day in the face of a Lion's Den execution order.     

When Daniel was being groomed for service to Nebuchadnezzar he was told that his countenance, weight, intellectual sharpness would be inspected by the king and if he did not meet the kings standard someone would be executed (1:10).  There was much at stake!  The courtiers urged Daniel to not deviate from the prescribed diet, but Daniel insisted that he be permitted to follow his religious food observances for 10 days and then tested.  He was and he passed with flying colors.   I say all that to illustrate how deeply he valued the spiritual disciplines, especially around food, prayer, and work.   

The text I quoted above occurs in the later years of Daniel's life.   Daniel is out on business for King Cyrus near the Tigris river.  He needs energy and sustenance to perform his duties to Persia, but he also needs the spiritual insight and wisdom to speak to his people in exile.  So Daniel designs a fasting system that allows him to be his best at both.  He innovates the fasting stories he was privy to--the 40 days of Moses and the 40 days of Elijah that they did in the wilderness. 

And he comes up with the following:

  • 21 Days. 
  • No Meats.
  • No Wine.
  • No Bread, Pastries, Sugars or Delicacies (gourmet, expensive foods).  
  • No Oils, Colognes, Baths (the luxurious comforts afforded to the affluent).
  • He ate lentils and vegetables without the spices, salts, and flavorful fixings.   He ate only for strength to do his job.

Daniel creates a new approach to spiritual engagement, one firmly planted on the earth while soaring into the spiritual winds.  He shows us how the spiritual and the physical intersect.  We read of angelic encounters in the workspace, of daily stewarding his duties to King Cyrus and while he has visions in the evenings of the Ancient of Days.    Daniel's approach is relevant to us San Franciscans and Bay Area believers.   Most of us are busy, our jobs require a high level of engagement and focus and we cannot take a 40-day foray into the wild to sip on water, but along comes Daniel challenging us to not let our busyness and responsibilities hinder us from a spiritual encounter.

The outcome of his fast is absolutely staggering.   On the twenty-first day, standing on the banks of the Tigris River, miles and miles away from his beloved Zion, he comes face-to-face with an angel, who communicates to him words of hope, comfort, and direction.

Let's Do This.

So here's an invitation and challenge.  Let's detox our bodies from the holiday junkfood, sharpen our spirits from the sensory overload of holidays sights and sounds, bring a spiritual acuity into our workspace, and draw close to God during the first 21 days of 2018.  Let's set a precedent for the year.  Let's "seek first the kingdom".   What say ye?

Details.

  • January 2 (Tues) - 22 (Mon).
  • Get Creative With Your Own Version of the Daniel Fast.   Some ideas of things to abstain from meat, flour and sugars, alcohol, spices and flavorful dishes, media-entertainment, social-media, internet . . .
  • Prayer.  I will do a weekly facebook live prayer event--Transformational Praying, taking requests, sharing what I am sensing from the Voice.  See below for details.
  • Daniel, John, and Revelation will be the books we interact with during the fast. See below for details.
  • I will also share what I am doing that way you can have some ideas and feel as though we are in this together.   I realize that I run the risk of not following Jesus' words of fasting in secret, but I am willing to take that risk in the spirit of discipling and putting forth a memetic exemplar for you to follow.* 

Seeking First The Kingdom,

Jeff


Jeff's 21 day path: following Daniel

Week 1

"Listening For the Voice" in the Lord's Prayer

  • Corporate Prayer: 
  • Fasting:  abstain from meats, alcohols, flours, grains, sugars. 
  • Eating:  vegetables, herbal tea, water + lemon. 
  • Lectio Divina (click here for link to how-to):
    • Daniel 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12
  • Listening For the Voice (30min).  See diagram (right).  
  • Centering Prayer (30min.)

 

 

 

 

 

Week 2

"Discerning My Faith" in the Lord's Prayer

 

 

 

 

 

Week 3

 

 

 

*Jesus' said these words in light of an honor-shame-religious culture where Pharisees stood on corners and bragged out loud about how many days that had fasted, this religious spirit necessitated Jesus talking about spiritual disciplines being done in secret.   Isn't it interesting that only Matthew's Gospel which was written to Jews is the only Gospel to include this instruction about "fasting in secret.