I've often heard about fasting and praying from religious people. What exactly is the purpose of fasting? Does God take people who fast more seriously than people who don't or something? Does He listen to them more?
This is a question I asked myself, and I think I discovered a satisfactory answer, at least for myself. I'm no expert by any means, but I think it's safe to say that I've probably fasted more than the average American, and for different reasons. I fasted for three days several times, for a week four times, and once for ten days.
Let me address the physical aspects of fasting first, since that was the first reason I tried fasting. I was curious about it. I read that it helps the body to "clean toxins" from it periodically, so I decided to try it sometime. My only worry was weakness or shakiness from hunger. I had a family to support. I couldn't afford not to be at my best at work, and I thought fasting would destroy my concentration and make me weak and irritable, so those worries prevented me from fasting for quite a while.
But then I read a book on juice fasting. The author said that a person could fast with juice and experience no real hunger or weakness at all. I didn't really believe it, but I thought I'd try it. Here is the recipe for the juice I used (and still use) on the fast:
36 ounces of orange juice
18 ounces of grapefruit juice
9 ounces of lemon juice
Mix the juices together and pour into a gallon jug. It will fill the jug about half way. Fill the jug the rest of the way with water to dilute the acid of the juice. Keep the juice refrigerated during the day. Drink 8 ounces of the juice every half hour. Despite the dilution, the juice is very tangy, but it's an easily acquired taste, at least for me. I typically start drinking at 10 AM and finish the gallon at 6 PM, if I don't miss any drinks, but I usually do miss a few for various reasons and finish the gallon at 7 or 8 PM.
I fasted in this way for three days and discovered a number of interesting things. First, it was true...I experienced no real pangs of hunger, and no weakness whatsoever. In fact, I had more energy, and it seemed like I had a greater ability to concentrate. It literally flabbergasted me. I was expecting to be weak, shaky, and hungry, but it did not happen. Sure, I felt a little hungry, but if I were to honestly assess the feeling, I'd say it was about 95% mental and 5% physical. I like to eat, and I wanted to eat, but was I starving? No. Was I even all that hungry? Not really, not like I expected. I lost 8 pounds on my first three-day fast. I lost 20 pounds on my 10-day fast, but gained the weight back quickly when I stopped fasting.
I noticed a few other physical benefits of fasting. First, was a sort of internal "lightness". Some of it was a mental feeling, but mostly it was physical...in my torso...as if a bunch of sludge accumulated in my body were melting away. Another thing was a feeling of "lubrication", as if my muscles and joints were receiving some magic additive they'd been missing and were able to function a bit more smoothly. Another benefit was sleep. I NEVER sleep so well and awake so refreshed as when I fast. I lay my head down, fall asleep quickly, NEVER awake in the night, and awake alert and clear-headed. Any sinus problems usually clear during my fast. Typically, I awake with crusty eyes, but not when I fast. If any are curious about fasting, I recommend trying it for three days using my juice recipe. If you carefully monitor yourself and how you feel, I think you'll be amazed.
As for the spiritual aspect of fasting, I learned several interesting things. On my first week-long fast for spiritual reasons, I'd say I entered it with the attitude very much like your question implies: "Boy, God will really listen to me now that I'm fasting! How many Americans fast? Not many. And even if they do fast, it's often not a real fast. They'll just skip a meal or abstain from certain kinds of foods. But me, I'm eating nothing, just drinking this juice...and for a whole week! I am going to stand out. God is really going to notice me, buddy! My prayers will get results!"
What I discovered (at least for myself) is that fasting is not a megaphone so God can hear me better, but a mute control so I can hear God better. One of the first things I noticed was how much of my life is devoted to eating. I'm either planning my next meal, actually eating it, or thinking about what I just ate and how good it was. Food constantly harasses my soul. For the first three days, my mind and body were in the habit of eating, and I could think of nothing but my desire to eat, even though I was not really all that hungry. It was not until the fourth day I felt my mind released from that tyranny a bit, as if my mind and body finally began to "accept" the new state of affairs, and that release yielded a certain peace. In a small way, it felt like a taste of eternity, because it also yielded a lot of time.
What would you do if you never needed to eat? Imagine how much time becomes available when you need not buy food, prepare food, eat food, or clean up after you've eaten, all of which requires thought and planning to accomplish. I think most people don't realize just how much food dominates their time and thinking, but I sure learned it for myself. When food leaves, it's as if it creates a vacuum in your life that gives God a chance to expand His influence, to seep into areas of your mind previously clogged with food concerns. I can honestly say that after a fast, I feel better mentally, physically, and spiritually. I am less harried and more content.
So...is fasting some kind mystical "in" with God? If you fast, will you become some kind of spiritual superman? Will the characteristics of Christ be stamped on your psyche for your efforts? Hardly. For myself, I think it is almost entirely a matter of practicality. If the aim is to grow closer to God, to do as much as possible to focus on Him and His love, then of course, eliminating or neutralizing the demands and desires of the flesh is paramount. The Bible says plainly that the flesh is at war with the Spirit, and tells us to "mortify" our bodies. If fasting weakens the flesh in a significant area (at least temporarily) and lessens our distraction to allow God an easier inroad to our souls, then I think it fits the aim.
Of course, I realize people often fast for entirely different reasons, usually physical, and I think it's a good thing. However, for the spiritually minded, I think fasting is a great way to enhance and strengthen your relationship with God.