“Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.'” (Matthew 26: 27-28, NKJV)
I didn’t make it. Over halfway through a 72-hour fast, the headache and hunger pains got the best of me. Smelling the food my husband ate, and hearing the clanging of dishes in the kitchen as my son worked on preparing his snack gave me the excuse to end the fast early. I felt guilty and embarrassed as I shoved beans greedily into my mouth. And just in case you’re wondering, beans are on the list of things you should NOT gorge on after fasting for nearly two days!
This was the farthest I had ever gotten, yet I still had not reached the goal I had in mind. Not only had I been trying to hit the 72-hour threshold, I was also looking for clarity about my life’s path, answers from the Holy Spirit about the steps I should next take. And true to form, I struggled with shaking loose the feeling that I had somehow not deserved to hear from God because I fell short.
But also true to form, God showed up anyway!
First, God showed me the type of fasting that pleases Him in Isaiah 58. God questions His people asking, Isn’t the fast I have chosen for you to partake in designed for you “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and…break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58: 6, NKJV) God’s light and guidance and answers are promised when we “extend [our souls] to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul” (Isaiah 58: 10). In other words, He says that our fasting should make the lives of those around us better. While we ask of Him, He is looking to see what we are doing for others!
Next, God reminded me of the heart posture of one who loves Him. Our giving, whether financial or otherwise, should be done with a joyfully generous spirit. In 2 Corinthians 9: 7, Paul says, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” As we fast and pray and help those in need around us, we should do so with a gladdened heart, knowing that “God is able to make all grace abound toward [us], that [we], always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9: 8, NKJV). Rereading this last mentioned verse is so powerful because it reminds us of the “everything” of God: “all grace,” “always having all sufficiency,” “in all things,” and “abundance for every good work.” When we serve the Most High God with joy in our hearts, there is nothing out of the realm of possibility!
This then led me to Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. Just prior to this, John the Baptist’s disciples told Jesus of John’s death and burial. Jesus decided to go off by Himself, but “the multitudes…followed Him on foot from the cities” (Matthew 14: 13, NKJV). Here we see a grieving Jesus, unable to have the alone time He wanted, and instead of blowing up at them or running away from them, scripture tells us that He was “moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick” (Matthew 14: 14, NKJV). After teaching and healing, the people were hungry, and taking the five loaves and two fish from a young boy, Jesus “looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all” (Mark 6: 41, NKJV). The boy’s generosity put into Jesus’ hands led to more than enough for many more than the food was originally intended! We, too, have this power as followers of Christ: we can on our toughest days rally with compassion to feed the hungry souls around us as long as we first give it over to God!
Finally, reflecting on these loaves and fish, led me to the Last Supper. In just a little while, Jesus would pray, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” As His arrest drew near, the heft of what He was about to endure weighed heavy on our Savior, but at the table in the upper room, Jesus “took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins'” (Matthew 26: 27-28, NKJV). I was struck by Jesus’ giving thanks. What was He thankful for? He was about to be betrayed by a close friend, ridiculed, scourged, stripped, stabbed, and crucified, and He knew it was all coming! He was thankful because He knew that the purpose of all of that was to free me from sin, reconciling me to the Father. That cup, which historically had meant the wrath of God being poured out on nations outside the will of God (Jeremiah 25), represented a new promise that our sins are wiped clean by belief in Jesus Christ. Jesus willingly and obediently drank from this cup, and our drinking from the cup means that we accept what Jesus has done on our behalf and are willing to allow His life to be the example of our living.
Then there I was once again reflecting on my “failed” fast, thanking God that my sufficiency does not equate to my salvation! My weakness is real, but Jesus stands in the gap, and when our Father looks at me, He sees Jesus there, too! And He remembers, that Jesus paid it all!
Friend, I didn’t make it 72 hours, but I got something my soul desperately needs: light for the next step of the journey! Today, it’s all right that I didn’t finish the goal I had in mind because the Holy Spirit taught me some things anyway. No matter what, if I love God with all that I am and with all that I have, love my neighbor as myself, and allow the example of Jesus to guide my life, I have not failed. Neither have you, Friend. Take time to reflect on the lessons God is teaching you. Go back to the word and allow it to remind you of some foundational truths. Use it as you take the very next step each and every step of the way. And remember, that Jesus is right there with you, advocating on our behalf! And while it would be nice to make it 72 full hours, wouldn’t we be more satisfied with God being pleased with our living?