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7 Takeaways: 14 Days into the 40-Day Sugar Fast

Spoon and Fork imprints in sugar.

Today is day 14 of the 40-day sugar fast. The last post explained why I’m fasting. This post is about how. 

 

Fasting By Faith & For Faith

Yesterday a friend who’s fasting with me asked, What’s one thing you’re learning? In typical Abigail fashion, I proceeded to give her five. Then I thought of two more. They’re not profound or super-spiritual, nor are they universal. They may not be true for you. But still I’d like to share. 
 
Because this fast was borne of faith. Faith that God does indeed satisfy the hungry soul with good things (Psalm 107:9). And that whoever comes to Jesus will not hunger, and whoever believes in him will not thirst (John 6:35). But that sugar sates my flesh so my spirit doesn’t hunger, and that I go to sweets (and salty treats and Facebook feeds) to fill hunger that Christ wants to fill and he alone can satisfy.  
 
This fast was from faith, but pray it also leads to greater faith. I’m sharing these with so that you will be encouraged that God can use the loaves and fish you offer up- our desserts and sweets- to nourish others. That we may be strengthened and mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine (Romans 1:12).
 
So, please consider sharing your experience, whether mundane or triumphant. Your comment is most welcome.
 

7 Lessons, 14 Days In

1. It’s easier to fast when food is out of reach.

The word *easier makes me wince a little because fasting isn’t supposed to be easy. Maybe possible is the right word. Because the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Therefore watch and pray. (Matthew 26:41)
 
Some temptations we fight head on. We take up the shield of faith and wield the sword of the Word. But other passions- we flee. The end of 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. Purging chocolate from the house has made this easier possible. It’s been a way out. So don’t expect to see me at Dairy Queen in the next few weeks. 
 

2. Old habits die hard.

I knew this. But I’m learning it in a new way, a really physical way. When a surprise batch of my mother-in-law’s frosted sugar cookies appeared in front of me last week, I grabbed one and on autopilot, took a bite, completely forgetting I was on Day 10 of a sugar fast.
 
The second the frosting hit my tongue, I remembered, humbled. Romans 7:15 popped into my head, I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Not at all that I hate the cookies- the opposite is true. But it’s not the season. Only that my response to seeing them was to take and eat, without thought, and without thanks. But there is grace for that.
 

3. Substitutes don’t force me to deal with my heart. 

And my heart is what this fast is all about. I think we know this, about substitutes. Because we trade obsessions, and compulsive eating is more common than we may think.

I just heard about a heroin addict who broke free of that evil and got hooked on cupcakes and candy instead. He never learned to handle the pain inside and now all the sugar is ballooning his waistline and seriously hurting his heart. That’s why I won’t let Stevia sweetened pecans replace my dark chocolate almonds. But truth be told, peanuts and popcorn keep trying to fill void. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, or with sugar. All things are lawful, but I will not be mastered by anything (1 Cor. 6:12). I get trading obsessions. But I need to take my hungry hollowness to God. 

4. I anticipate the feast more because of the fast.

For everything there is a season, and time for every matter under heaven, the Teacher said and the Byrds sang. Jesus Christ did both. He explained in Matthew 9:15 that while his disciples weren’t fasting when he was with them, they would fast when He, the Bridegroom, was taken away.
 
It is time for a 40-day sugar fast, but the season for feasting will come. And when it does, it will be that much more of a treat. I admit, I’m really looking forward to breaking fast on February 10th. How much more we should we be looking to the return of Bridegroom and the marriage supper of the Lamb?

 

5. Rich food is more satisfying. 

Jim and I redeemed a gift certificate last week to a local bistro. It was more gourmet than our dining out norm. Roasted olives, sourdough with salted butter, lobster bisque, and blackened salmon hit the spot.
Usually I crave ice cream after a dinner out, but the richness of our meal made the sweetness- and the after-dinner snacking- easy to forgo. That made me think of a fighter verse my friend quotes when she’s tempted by food, My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food. When we fill up on the rich food, we won’t crave fillers as much. 
 

6. Hunger pangs can be pleasant pain. 

Romans 12:2 says we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. Part of our mind renewal, I think, is to learn to reframe the pain. Because we know that to grow strong- physically or spiritually- we must recognize good pain, by which I mean productive pain. Hunger pains become good pains when I face them with faith that God is producing good in me through them.
 
Here’s what I mean: Not caving to my sugar craving tears down the idol of food as comforter. It makes space that the God of all comfort will fill (2 Cor 1:3). Then He gets the glory. But when ice cream soothed my after-dinner unease or chocolate bars got me through writing difficult IEP’s, ice cream and chocolate got the credit, the glory. Sweets were my refuge and retreat.

 

7. Fasting from sugar helps me pray. 

I’ve written before about how prayer can be more like a spare tire than a steering wheel. I don’t want it to be. Fasting helps me this way.
 
When that emptiness or antsy-ness or hunger pains come and I go to God first and say, Fill me, help me, He does. When that happens the Giver, Living Bread, and the God of Comfort get the glory. That’s what I meant, in #6 by pleasant pain: hunger pangs can be productive. 

So how’s this 40-day sugar fast going?

There are still 25 days to go. But this morning I did something new when my stomach growled at me. Two weeks ago I would have grabbed a few chocolate almonds and last week some peanuts. But today, I let the rumbling be a quiet call to pray. 

I didn’t drop to my knees or fall prostrate. I just closed my eyes for five seconds and prayed, Lord, I want to know you more. Please fill me.
 
That’s it. Then I did the laundry. But I did it a little more full of Christ and a little more happy in Jesus.
 
Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled. 
Matthew 5:6
 
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Why This 40-Day Sugar Fast?

Plastic bin loaded with chocolate
Au revoir, chocolate!

“Why you putting all that chocolate in there, Mom? That was from Christmas. You like that stuff,” Gabe wondered aloud as he watched me pack it all in the little plastic bin.

“I’m not eating sweets for 40 days, Bud. Because I want to be more hungry for God.”

He shrugged and then begged for the York peppermint patties tucked at the bottom. I surrendered them to the mint loving son. Tomorrow Jim will take the little bin to his office in town, a safe place away, for 40 days.

This Much, O God, I Want You

If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I want you.”

John Piper, A Hunger For God

For the next 40 days, from January 1- February 9, the online Bible study group I facilitate (Wonders of the Word) will focus on key Bible verses about hunger, fasting, and the satisfaction found in God.

Along with this Scripture focus, I will be going on a 40-day “sugar fast” and I invite you to join me. I’m committed to saying no to foods with added sugars. No sugary snacks or desserts, sweet lattes, cocoa or candy. It will mean forgoing some of my go-to, feel-good treats: ice cream and dark chocolate.

A few of you are already gung-ho, but most of you are probably wondering why. So I’ll share 3 NON-REASONS for this 40-Day Sugar fast and then 3 of most compelling REASONS to try.

My NOT 3 Reasons for a 40-Day Sugar Fast

  1. To lose weight. There are plenty of good physical reasons for fasting and I’d be glad to share them some other time. Intermittent fasting is part of my life. But physical health is NOT the reason for this fast.
  2. To impress God (or you) with my discipline or devotion. This is big. Huge. In fact, after reading what Jesus said in Matthew 6 about fasting for show, I almost skipped this altogether. But, the benefits outweighed the risks. We’ll do this 40 days with smiles, by grace.
  3. To escape evil, wicked sugar. It’s not. Everything God created is good and is meant to be received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4). God made sugar cane.

By definition, Christian fasting is voluntarily and temporarily giving up a good gift to express our need for something greater, namely God and his work in our lives.

Why Fasting Magnifies Christ

Maybe you’re saying to yourself what I said to myself, “Well, I can eat my chocolate and ice cream and give thanks and it’s all good.” You’re right. It is all good. But maybe it- maybe your love and hunger for God- could be better. That’s what I’m banking on.

I love how John Piper explains this, how fasting and feasting can both exalt Christ, the Bread of Life:

Hunger and thirst were created for the glory of Christ. And fasting was created for the glory of Christ. Which means that bread magnifies Christ in two ways: by being eaten with gratitude for his goodness, and by being forfeited out of hunger for God himself. When we eat, we taste the emblem of our heavenly food—the Bread of Life. And when we fast we say, “I love the Reality above the emblem.” In the heart of the saint both eating and fasting are worship. Both magnify Christ.”

John Piper, A Hunger For God

Emblems are tasty. Chocolate covered almonds and Ghirardelli Intense Dark and Almond Joy ice cream are sweet emblems. I love those tastes.

But I want to love the Reality more.

L’appétit ient en mangeant

I don’t speak French, but I know this proverb. Appetite comes with eating. It fits. The more we feast on Christ and his Word, the hungrier we get.

Piper again, from A Hunger for God (free book PDF downloadable here):

One might think that those who feast most often on communion with God are least hungry. They turn often from the innocent pleasures of the world to linger more directly in the presence of God through the revelation of his Word. Paradoxically, it is not so that they are the least hungry saints…The strongest, most mature Christians I have ever met are the hungriest for God. It might seem that those who eat most would be least hungry. But that’s not the way it works with an inexhaustible fountain, and an infinite feast, and a glorious Lord. 

So, that’s why. That’s why this 40-Day sugar fast. Because appetite comes with eating. Eat more Word of God, crave more Word of God.

My TOP 3 Reasons for a 40-Day Sugar Fast

  1. Because I want to taste more of God’s goodness. I don’t taste it as much when the sweetness of sugar is on my tongue. I want Christ to fill my craving soul, even as my body craves the sugar. He satisfies the hungry with good things. Psalm 107:9
  2. Because I want to use my yearning for sugar as a cue to consume more of God’s Word. I want to crave pure spiritual milk, so to grow up in my salvation. Because I don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 1 Peter 2:3, Deuteronomy 8:3
  3. Because I want to master the appetites that would master me. Sugar, for the record, is far from the only one. Fasting can reveal what’s in us and how much a thing dominates us. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

So I ask: Will you commit to 40 days of fasting from a good thing in order to increase your taste for God and his nourishing Word? Will you put your stomach where your heart is and say, “Lord, you’re more important to me than sugar?” Can you give up a good thing for a better thing?

Whether or not you decide to fast-from sugar or another food or an activity that lessens your hunger for God- I invite you to join the WOW crew as we seek more fullness in Christ, the Living Word and the Bread of Life.

Help Needed

One last thing: this resolution, like every resolution I’ve ever made, will only be kept with the help of Almighty God. So I close with Jonathan Edward’s prayerful preface to his 70 Resolutions:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

Amen?

But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and they will fast.

Matthew 9:15

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 34:8

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Cross Training: Why I Kissed Ice Cream Good-Bye

Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. 

We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means. 

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Gabe gave in the day Aunt Danielle took him to Dairy Queen. 

Everybody else was having something, and they were making me really, really anxious, 
he explained with a shrug. 

I wanted ice cream really, really bad. So I just had a banana split.

So ended a seven year old’s self-imposed Lenten fast. He fell midway through week two.

My countdown continues: 42 hours left, give or take. Then Easter feast breaks Lenten fast. Cappuccino Fudge meets Resurrection Morn. 

Why bother with Lent? Why give up a good thing? Why wage an optional war? 


It’s not hard to find good answers.  Read five broad benefits of observing Lent at this Gospel Coalition blog post. Or my two reasons here. You might be surprised. 

Why do I fast? In a word, training. In four, Christ-exalting soul strength. Each time I skip a soft-serve and pass on pie a la mode, my soul gets a wee bit stronger. Train yourself to be godlyPaul told TimothyI from a little thing like ice cream and am strengthened for bigger battles against greed and pride, anger and envy.

Lent is testing ground; a time for spiritual cross-training. It’s a battlefield of sorts. Fasting shows what controls me, what comforts me. It exposes what I really live by: ice cream and coffee, Facebook and fitness? Or every word that comes from the mouth of God? 

Christian fasting-giving up a good gift for a time- is not about Stoic pride, or proving my love for God. It is about training in godliness. It’s working my soul in a new way to build spiritual fitness. It’s resisting what would lure my heart away from my all- glorious, all-satisfying God.

Fasting is a cross training to increase the strength of my soul, so, I will not be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). That is why I gave up ice cream.

If I can’t deny myself ice cream for six weeks, how can I resist the more habit-forming, tempting tastes of pride and envy, of anger and impatience?

A heaping bowl after dinner and steaming cups in the morning and push notices on my iPad-Each of those would have me for breakfast. When my comfort and joy hinges on the bowl, or the cup or more Facebook likes, I’m done. I’m captive.

All are innocent pleasures. Caffeine and ice cream, Facebook and fitness are gifts from God. And all can move subtly to become an end in themselves. To enslave.

Ice cream has that power?

It does. Or did. And so does coffee in the morning and posting that elusive “40 likes” photo. A sub-seven minute mile can do it, too.

But I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing his suffering, becoming like him in death. Starting with these little denial deaths. Paul said he counted everything rubbish that he could know Christ. Little food fasts make me strong for big soul fights, because in them I know Christ better.

But there’s one more big reason to fast.

How God is glorified and Christ is exalted in a little Lenten fast. 

C. S. Lewis hinted at it. Only those who try to resist temptation knows how strong it is, he wrote. And Christ is the only one who never yielded to temptation. 

The author of Hebrews’ said it straight out: Jesus was like us in every respect, and because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (2:14-15). He can sympathize with our weakness, because in every respect he has been tempted as we are, yet was without sin. 

And here is how Christ is exalted. It’s when we confidently draw near to the throne of grace, to receive mercy-forgiveness when we fall and find grace-power to keep from falling-to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

He gives mercy and grace. I call, tempted and weak. Christ answers, sympathetic and strong. I called, you answered, and you came to my rescue. That’s Hillsong’s version.

David’s last line is a tad different. I called, you answered; my strength of soul you increased (Psalm 138:3). And, Call to me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you and you will glorify me (Psalm 50:15)

That exchange- I call, God answers- is soul-strengthening, Christ-exalting cross training. 

But what does look like in real life

For me, it looks like closing the freezer without sneaking a bite from the pint in the back. And refusing to pop open my iPad at 10:30 at night to see if someone liked my post. At Arby’s last week it was Thank you Jesus as the rest of the family shared a Jamocha milkshake. 

Cross training looks different, but always sounds similar. We don’t call uncle; we call Jesus. Help me stand, help me resist the itch. Remind me of your good truth.  

  • It might be countering your itch for human praise with this reminder: Let another praise you and not your own lips. 
  • Or dueling with envy the minute he starts to whisper, You ought to have a four bedroom, sunny-side house. Nope: Godliness with contentment is great gain.
  • Or striking with the sword of the Spirit when despair over a failed friendship falls. Why so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God. He’s the lifter of your face. 
  • Or wielding the Word to kill worry when the infection spreads to your kids. Cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you. And, Commit your way to the Lord. 
  • Or trading gratitude for grumbling, when we feel entitled to better this, or more that. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

That’s how God gets glory when we cross train. The One who was tempted in every way, who is right now interceding for us, His strength is exalted when we work my soul muscles. When those muscles ache, when temptation’s strong don’t cry uncle. Cry Jesus.

Then we really know the truth we talk: no temptation can seize us beyond what we can bear. God truly is faithful to provide a way out so we can stand up under it. That strengthens spiritual muscles.

Yes, we are a Resurrection People; Christ is Risen indeed! My sin is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. We stand forgiven at the cross. But our battles aren’t over yet. 

Jesus suffered and died so I won’t have to suffer is NOT its message. It’s He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).

The cross isn’t just past. The word of the cross, Paul wrote, is to us who are being saved the power of God. John Piper contends that the cross of Christ is not merely a past place of substitution. It’s also a present place of daily execution.  

It’s not just history. It’s a present way of life for the Christian. It’s Colossians 3:5, Put to death what is earthly in you. It’s Roman’s 6:11, Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ. And, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 

But fasting and denying are not an end in themselves. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24). Lenten fast always leads to Easter feast.

In heaven there will be no self-denial because none of our desires will tend toward sin. We’ll be with the Bridegroom and we won’t fast. Till then we struggle with desires. So we deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. 
*       *       *       *       *

The ancient hymn, Audi benigne Conditor describes the bonds between our bodies and souls. Anthony Esolen’s translation beautifully expresses how God is glorified when we bring both into subjection. When we cross train in the present power of the cross. 

(You might sing it to the tune of the Old 100th, Praise God from Whom all Blessing Flow.)

Our sins are grave indeed, but we,
Are far too frail to bear the blame;
Spare us, and bring the remedy,
Unto the glory of Thy Name. 

So while we make our bodies lean,
Prune back our spirit’s pride within,
That hungering hearts made strong and clean,
Shall leave untouched the food of sin.

Grant, O Thou blessed Trinity;
Grant, O unchanging Unity;
That this our fast of forty days,
May work our profit and Thy praise! Amen!

Our profit, his praise. Weak made strong by the power of the cross. Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-your-sin-within religion. It’s I consider everything as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. 

Easter comes, then goes. But let’s not lose the present power of the cross when we tuck the plastic eggs away Sunday night. Let’s live its message daily. The cross is not just a symbol of the weight of our sin and guilt. It’s the present power of God to fight our sin within.

This side of glory, we live in the shadow of the cross. If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live, (Romans 8:13). All life, not just Lent, is Christ-exalting cross-training.

That’s why I kissed ice cream good-bye.  Until Easter.