“At twenty-three years of age, I was dragged out of the womb of childlike faith into the harsh world of academia. Within six months, my faith was in crisis.”
It’s that dark place just before sleep... recurring nightmares... uncontrollable doubts... the terror of slowing down or being alone... a growing feeling of meaninglessness, faded joy, and lost peace. Running, running, and more running.
Just a year before, fresh into the Kingdom, God was everywhere, in everything. There was nothing I couldn’t do. Just a year before, I was heading to bible college to turn water into wine, feed the five thousand, and save a lost world. I was a newborn idealist, full of reckless faith. While waiting for college, I spent a year reading through the bible because I couldn’t help it. Hours were spent alone in my bedroom; I became David, Paul, and John. Walking through the doors of Ontario Bible College, the weight of expectation pressing down, it was as though I was entering into a holy priesthood.
But within a few months, everything changed. I learned hard realities that created questions about the credibility of almost every passage of the bible. My studies led into two-thousand years of church history that was often stained by corruption and self-interest—even blood. Page after page rolled out before my wide eyes. Conflicting early biblical manuscripts, authorships in question, and contradictory doctrines at war for a millennia dragged me out of the womb of childlike ignorance into the harsh world of knowledge. I could feel my faith crumbling and, within six months, I was in real trouble. Late-night conversations with classmates proved I was not alone.
Young, and knowing nothing about fasting, its very idea held a seductive contrast to the cold, institutionalized religion which was slowly changing me from Jesus Freak to Evangelical Practitioner. Trading my Larry Norman t-shirt and jeans for a turtleneck and khakis, I wore religion well and could debate the fine points of predestination with the brightest, but inside I was dying and increasingly terrified. The best way to deal with fear was to keep busy and move with the mob. And then there was bedtime. That’s when the demons came, in those quiet hours before the escape of sleep. My mind would entertain doubts; maybe this whole thing was a well invented sham, simply a product of human imagination devised to hold the night shadows at bay. I began to wonder if, like so many who struggle with obsessive insecurity, I had willingly drunk the Kool-Aid.
Before long, the demons became more courageous, not waiting for the cover of night. They would visit me during class, or while talking to friends, but usually when I was alone. The doubts became obsessive and repetitive. I felt as though I was losing control of my mind. My prayers made things worse as I desperately sought to evoke the feeling of euphoria I experienced when I first met Jesus. Feeling God again would be the antidote to this growing doubt, I thought. But instead of feeling relief, my prayers become repetitive and obsessive. God’s silence was deafening. The more I tried to regain a lost feeling, the more it slipped away until I doubted I had ever felt it at all.
Finally, I made the decision to fast. Long before cell phones, texting and internet, as the college emptied of students leaving for the four-day Easter weekend to be home with family, I decided to stay alone in my little room on the third floor of the men’s dorm. Its gray cinderblock hallway was void of the raucous sounds of men who still remembered their boyhood. I was alone with water, my bible and the voices in my head..
For my four-day Easter fast, I decided to narrow down my quest to one simple but critical question: Is the bible the word of God? It was not a question of historical accuracy or theology, but a deeply personal one involving the legitimacy of what I had based my whole life on. This was about stopping, shutting up, and facing my fears alone—without props, profs, and pals. I knew the darkness of doubt awaited me; it was crouching just outside the periphery of my busyness, waiting to pounce. But the doubts had to be answered or I would go down the path of so many others who cram life with enough religious duty to keep the inner terror at bay, thereby creating a disconnect between my inner spiritual world and my outer life. I knew where that led; I saw it played out all around me in a macabre parody of my dying faith.
The first day of my Easter fast was near agony. I was shocked at the intensity of my fears. It took every ounce of willpower to remain in that little room. The only reprieve was sleep but I was as confused at bedtime as I was when I first began. Upon awakening the next morning, I found my mind quieted. Weak, and fully in a water fasting state, there was a calm that had settled over my body, mind, and emotions. What I didn’t know at the time (and would not learn until two decades later), is that I am borderline OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). Over the years, fasting has had the remarkable ability to slow down—at times, even stop—obsessive fears and negative thoughts, providing time to resolve each one peacefully and meditatively. Over the last twenty years, fasting has not only reduced the symptoms of OCD, but it has had a positive, permanent effect in managing obsessive thinking.
I spent the second day reading the bible and I found concentration much easier. Praying was clearer and less repetitive; instead of my mind going in circles, I was moving forward, resolving one fear after another, resulting in a growing feeling of peace. With peace came that all-important sensation of hope and expectation.
Day three was the strangest day of all. Everything I was reading in the bible made complete sense, like when you read something that you already know is true. All the doubts that had plagued me over the previous six months seemed toothless and silly. What’s more, they didn’t matter. I was connecting with the truth behind the words. Just days before, reading the bible was a tedious operation in exegesis, compulsively cross-referencing my New International Version of scripture with the huge Greek lexicon that sat by my pillow. I would read commentators’ differing views on anything that seemed vague or that contradicted the complex doctrinal ecosystem I was creating for myself. The process was obsessive, dry, and dead. But here I was, lying on my small cot, sipping water, while each passage overflowed with spiritual animation. I laughed hysterically; sometimes I had to stop because my vision was blurred by tears or, forgetting myself, I would jump out of bed, almost pass out, recover, and then run around my little room with arms upraised in pure childlike joy. This is how I remembered my first introduction to the bible, truth upon truth, building into a crescendo until I would be physically overcome, hugging myself, shaking with deep energies that can only be explained as communion with God.
Day four. I awoke weak but full of joy. Again, I felt the Spirit of the Lord everywhere; I was again tuned in to His presence. That morning, I drank the Kool-Aid and, just like the day I became a Christian, I heard God speak to me, the kind of communication that cannot be mistaken or forgotten. It was firm and final: “This is My Word.”
That was it. The demons were stilled, at least for now. It was irrelevant that I was holding the New International Version rather than the more literal New American Standard Version, or the old-school Christians’ preferred King James Version. I knew that God was not referring to my Greek lexicon or long-lost original manuscripts. He was not saying that I needed to learn Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. What He was talking about is the magic that happens when I sit down, open my heart in faith, and read whatever bible I happen to grab off the shelf. Just as God was able to speak through an unwashed donkey, He chose to speak through an imperfect medium of our modern English versions, translated from manuscripts that were copied from copies of copies of the original, inspired words of the imperfect authors of scripture. There was no theological explanation of the magic that could bridge the gap between the biblical authors’ mouths and my ears but, at that moment, I didn’t require one. All I needed was the confirmation from my Father that, even in 1984, He still speaks to His children. To me.
That four-day Easter fast resolved my first faith crisis but it wouldn’t be my last. Many times over the years, I have turned to the quiet sanctuary of fasting to slow down out-of-control, obsessive thinking and hear the voice of my Father. The challenge is to find the courage to face your doubts and fears. If you don’t, you will never know the peace of God, and will spend the rest of your life running, running, and more running.
Related Article: Going Dark While Fasting