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Roxane B. Salonen, Published December 27 2013

Faith Conversations: Strengthening faith through the Daniel Fast

Wishek, N.D. -- During the past several years at specific times, Jennifer Lukens has gone out of her way to deny herself certain foods in order to be spiritually enriched.

According to Lukens, an evangelical Christian, fasting in a spiritual sense simply means refraining from natural cravings to focus more on God’s will for a finite span of time.

“It’s depriving yourself to say, ‘God, I’m dependent on you, and I’m giving up these things to cry out for help for this specific purpose,’ ” Lukens says.

She first began fasting for spiritual benefit back in 2010, when her young-adult Christian outreach team was looking to procure a spiritual boost for its college ministry program.

Hours were long, prayer was pertinent, and the whole team agreed something extraordinary needed to happen to pull it all off.

“There’s a lot of talk about fasting in the Bible, especially surrounding a big event or a people or group that needed to repent before God,” Lukens notes, “and many amazing things happened to the people as a result (of fasting), so we decided to try it as a team.”

One approach that appealed was the Daniel Fast, a 21-day plant-based plan that requires eliminating sugars, carbohydrates and preservatives; eating only raw foods; and incorporating increased prayer as a way to draw closer to God.

SPIRITUAL AND PHYSICAL

The Daniel Fast is named for the scriptural Jewish noble Daniel, who, along with his companions, was captured by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar. For religious reasons, the men decided to refrain from eating the royal fare and consume only vegetables for 21 days.

They not only became healthier and stronger, but the diet served as a quiet demonstration against the king’s power.

Lukens says those same elements – the spiritual and physical benefits – were the reasons her team dove in, drinking only water and eating foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, lentils and whole grains for three weeks straight.

“For this generation, there’s a lot of darkness. People need hope that can only be found in Christ, and that’s the purpose of this – focusing on him,” she says, noting that the idea of food fasting may be more appealing now than in the past due to the organic craze. “It fits in more with the norm.”

Michelle Kocak, a fellow Daniel Fast enthusiast and friend of Lukens’ from Hastings, Minn., says any time we break routine with something familiar, there’s an opportunity to open our hearts more widely to what God is doing in our lives.

“If food is an area of longing for comfort,” she says, “that could mean you’re hiding something else that God needs to be into,” and a fast can help reveal what’s being overlooked.

Though she’s since moved on to another job and hasn’t done the Daniel Fast recently, Lukens found the experience so beneficial that she permanently modified her eating, choosing brown rice over white, and eating more fruits, vegetables and nuts.

She says her husband, Robbie, supports her desire for a healthy diet. Moving to a small town where fast-food isn’t as accessible also has helped.

The journey hasn’t been without some bumps, however. Lukens says some have wrongly equated her food choices and fasts as being the same as a food boycott for a political agenda.

“Misunderstandings can often happen with a practice that is biblical but not as common in our day and age,” she says. “But some of that can be avoided through education.”

Fasting in community

As the faith community nurse at Atonement Lutheran Church in Fargo, Barb Hanson has been trying to help educate and keep parishioners fit, both spiritually and physically, for 14 years.

The church has worked on various health programs through the years. Having read up on the Daniel Fast, Hanson, a registered nurse, plans to implement it into the church’s Lenten offerings in a few months.

“You’re still eating, and eating in a healthy way,” she says. “I think that’s one of the good things about (the Daniel Fast). You can reintroduce the foods slowly after taking them out of your diet.”

In addition, a more long-term version of the fast, The Daniel Plan – a diet being promulgated by Rick Warren, author and pastor of Saddleback Church in California – suggests a 40-day food modification, which, Hanson says, goes well with the 40-day season of Lent.

In part because of our country’s blessings and abundance, she says, we’re prone to going off balance and, with the excesses, acquire extra weight, which can weigh down the spirit, too.

“God does care about our spiritual health so we can do his work and spread the message of Jesus Christ,” she says. “But to do that well, we need to be healthy emotionally and spiritually.”

Working toward healthier living within the context of a faith community can make change more palatable.

“The community support that you get is huge, along with the grace and encouragement you receive from the group,” Hanson says. “When our groups meet, they share recipes and encouragement, and then you pray together, too. And where two or three are gathered, there’s power in that.”

She wouldn’t recommend fasting as a permanent practice, however, and suggests that anyone trying something new and long term relating to diet consults with a physician.

Giving it up for God

Heather Hanawalt Bjur of Hawley, Minn., an evangelical Christian, didn’t grow up fasting as a spiritual practice, but has discovered its dual benefits recently.

For nearly a decade, the mother of two struggled with fibromyalgia, and after her second son was born almost four years ago, her symptoms increased. To help, friends gave her advice on foods to eliminate so she’d feel better.

“I’d try something for a few days, thinking there’d be some instant change, but there never was,” she says, noting that she even accepted spiritual help of being prayed over, which offered only temporary relief.

“While I’m always grateful for that, I also never really changed my physical habits,” she says, “and I don’t think it’s probably fair or wise for me to think that there’s not going to be any participation on my part in my healing.”

After reading an article last month that listed all of her symptoms, she was inspired to take action, beginning by “cleaning out” her system with a juice fast.

“I borrowed a juicer from a friend and went to Costco and started stocking up on mangos and kale and all the fresh fruit and vegetables,” she says. “I found it to be very yummy, which was kind of surprising. I thought it was going to be horrible.”

Just several days into this routine, Hanawalt Bjur says, she felt significantly better, and was able to decrease her pain-relief medications. And while happy with the physical benefits, she also gratefully discovered huge spiritual benefits.

“It made me realize how often I turn to food or caffeine first rather than going to the Lord with my anxiety or depression or stress,” she says.

Like Lukens, she’s not only made some permanent changes in her diet, but has begun seeking God more “with even the small things in my life.”

“Every day is different, but I think that as a result of fasting, I have a deeper, closer understanding of how much God loves me, and that I don’t have to look to other things to find comfort or satisfaction,” she says. “He has my best interest at heart, no matter what the situation.”