A conversation about Fasting with Rainer Harter
Part 2


Fasting – Choosing Weakness out of Love – Part 2

A Conversation with Rainer Harter from the Gebetshaus Freiburg

Missed Part 1? Click here


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Part two of a three part series where we examine:

  • Can fasting be done wrong?
  • Can we “fail” in a fast?
  • Practical tips for those who struggle
  • Differences between a food or “things” fast

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D: Can fasting ever be done wrong?

R: (laughs) Yes, I think so. I believe fasting takes a wrong turn when it is no longer solution-oriented – there is this challenge, and that’s why I fast – nor person-oriented, in the sense of “I want you”. When it turns into me fulfilling a duty, to be a good Christian, to please God, to show a spiritual achievement. And then, like other expressions of spirituality or faith, fasting becomes empty, hollow. That is what Jesus accused the Pharisees and scribes of. They did a lot of things right, but the attitude of their hearts was wrong

D: We also see that in Isaiah 58 where the fail to do the “true fast”.
So the first time I ever tried fasting, I couldn’t stop thinking about food and then I woke up in the middle of the night and then I ate something and then I felt horrible and then I felt I like disappointed God and I felt like a failure.  I know I am not the only one that relates fasting to condemnation because we try and we fail.

D: So is fasting ever a failure?

R: I don’t believe we disappoint God. The heart attitude of someone who wants to fast is the attitude of “I want to come close to you.” When this is the attitude, that’s good. Not the attitude of: “I want to please you, I want to earn your presence”. It makes fasting tiresome when I think I have to fast.
[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#020202″][mks_separator style=”solid” height=”2″]When it turns into me fulfilling a duty, to be a good Christian, to please God…fasting becomes empty[mks_separator style=”solid” height=”2″] [/mks_pullquote]To think that if I don’t fast, or if I break my fast early, I’m a disappointment in God’s eyes, reveals a wrong understanding of fasting and a distorted picture of God. In the many years that I have been fasting, my experience has been that the success of fasting is strongly connected to my motivation for fasting. And a motivation of earning, of achievement, makes it very difficult. Then fasting isn’t pleasant, it’s a real effort.

But when I have this bridegroom paradigm, the paradigm of passion, and focus on why I am fasting – I want to love this Jesus, I want to be closer to Him – then it makes fasting easier, because this longing is really there. And my fasting increases this longing. I want this desire for God to increase while I fast. As I feel the physical hunger, I want to become more sensitive in my hunger for God.

I don’t think fasting can be a failure. But I do think that fasting has similarities to exercise. Sometimes when I fast, I think a lot about eating. Then I try to focus again on why I fast. Nobody is forcing me to do it – I could stop right there and eat something. So why am I fasting, and why do I want to? And when I keep that in mind, I can continue. What I mean with the comparison with physical exercise is that I have realized that it is ideal for me to regularly fast once a week, always on the same day. That is in addition to other times of fasting, like fasting as a community. [mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#020202″][mks_separator style=”solid” height=”2″]To think that if I don’t fast, or if I break my fast early, I’m a disappointment in God’s eyes, reveals a wrong understanding of fasting and a distorted picture of God[mks_separator style=”solid” height=”2″][/mks_pullquote] And this regular fasting day is now ingrained in my body and mind. The thought “Too bad I am not eating today” never crosses my mind on that day. I realize that my body and my mind adapt, and that makes it a lot easier.

D: It sounds like you are developing a habit, or like practicing an instrument, the more you practice the easier it becomes.

Do you have any practical tips for someone who is struggling with this?

You talked a little bit about the motivation and a good habit.

R: I would suggest to each beginner (to find something like what we have in the Freiburg Prayer house). We have training groups that help each participant develop a fasting lifestyle. This can look different for everyone. For me, one specific day in the week, though not always easy, could work. For others it’s better to fast just a half a day, or even every few months for one week.
I would also suggest to everyone to find some literature on the subject. What types of fasting are there? What types of Biblical fasts are there? Since there are different types, I would try it all out. I would stay with the one that costs me something, the one that encourages my passion, but doesn’t crush me and cause me condemnation when I can’t do it.

D: You spoke before of fasting something (so, not food). As an example, our family is fasting Netflix and entertainment.

In your experience, would you say that there is a difference in the outcome of a fast, lets say between a full blown fast food or maybe material things?

R: I think it’s very subjective and it varies individually. I can imagine that for many people it’s harder to not watch TV than not to eat, or the biggest sacrifice for them would be not to drive their car, or not to do sports, or other things. I think it’s like in Isaiah 58 or the Sermon on the Mount or in the Beatitudes. It’s primarily about giving away. And this attitude of freely giving, of freely choosing weakness, is fundamentally right and is full of blessing.
But I will say, there is a mystery to fasting food itself that I haven’t yet completely understood.[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″][mks_separator style=”solid” height=”2″]In this world we can be so full of entertainment or other things that we don’t even realize how needy we are.[mks_separator style=”solid” height=”2″] [/mks_pullquote] But when I look into the Bible, I see many instances of fasting food itself. In this way, it makes sense to me when Paul says, “When I am weak, then I am strong”.

And I see two things here:

1. God says that my strength comes to completion in weakness. Fasting, for me, is the choice of personal weakness. I voluntarily choose weakness. And I’m convinced that through this, I give God room in me to be strong.


2. When I abstain from food, I am less controlled than when eat. For example, on my fasting day, I am a lot more thin-skinned. If you do something stupid on that day, then I’m more easily annoyed than when I’m full. This is an interesting observation for me.

In this world we can be so full of entertainment or other things that we don’t even realize how needy we are. When I fast, anger, frustration, wrath and dissatisfaction come up faster. That shows me those things are still really there in me. I would say that in forgoing food I have the benefit of it not feeling so good, and then the realization that I really need this Jesus! But I think it can be just as challenging for others who give up driving or watching tv.
Still we see these mysteries of food in images like, “Man shall not live by bread alone” or, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me”(John 4:34). Which I’m still in the process of understanding.

But for me, to fast means to abstain from food, but not only that. It’s a lifestyle of fasting the for me means to regularly abstain from food, plus what we read in Isaiah 58 and what is in the Sermon on the Mount – to give away, to suffer with, to give up my rights, and to give my money.

Check back later this week to read Part 3! Or just click subscribe in the sidebar so you don’t miss any updates 🙂

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Do you struggle when you fast? What has helped you?


<—— Missed Part 1? Click here


For all my Germans speaking friends:

You can also find Rainer on his blog right here: unterWegs Sein

And check out the Gebetshaus(Prayer House) Freiburg website

You can check out his latest book here:

classic prayers

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