The Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

 

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Out of curiosity, I did a little search on Pinterest regarding fasting. I found articles on fasting titled “7 Tips for Getting Rid of Cellulite”, “How to Lose Your Double Chin”, and “Get Rid of Back Fat Fast!”. Nearly all of the articles had to do with quick tips on weight loss. Nothing but weight loss tips and diets to keep us focused on ourselves and the impossible standards of perfection. This is the epitome of the hashtag #pinterestfail.

So what is fasting? Is it simply starving yourself to lose a few pounds or chins? Is it dieting? Is it about willpower? Is it only for the spiritually elite?

“Fasting is a believer’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. Other types of fasting—despite the benefits they may produce for the mind and body—could not be classified as Christian fasting, and fasting by a non-Christian obtains no eternal value. It is for believers in Christ, for the Discipline must be rooted in a relationship with Christ and practiced with the desire to become more like Christ.” (Donald Whitney)

Fasting is meant to draw you closer to God, and with every hunger pang, turn to Him in prayer. It is not a practice to keep us focused on ourselves and achieving the perfect body or religious points of sacrifice, but to focus on Christ, His broken body, and His perfection. It is designed to make you hunger and thirst for God and His kind of life. Perhaps that’s why Jesus warns us in the Sermon on the Mount to make sure the motivation of our fasting is for God alone (Matt 6:16-18).

We don’t live in a country where self-denial is practiced. In fact, self-sufficiency is more of our gospel than self-denial here in America. We are very impatient, used to getting what we want, when we want, rushed, busy, and overextended. The practice of fasting and abstaining to get more of God seems so foreign to us when we can have any of our needs met at the snap of our fingers.  Why would we abstain when we can have instant gratification? So often, we don’t fast because we’re satisfied so easily.

Fasting causes us to rely on the Lord, to turn to Him in our want and in our need and seek Him. According to scripture, here are some reasons as to why we fast:

Why We Fast Individually

We Fast to Grow Closer to God and Seek His Will

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.” (Matthew 4:1-2)

Jesus fasted. Jesus modeled a life submitted to God and drawing near to Him. Before He set out to do His ministry, he pulled away into the wilderness to fast and hunger for God.

We Fast for the Impossible

And He *said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.  [But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”] (Matthew 17:20-22)

Of course we know God can do whatever He wills. We can fast and pray; yet He will determine the outcome. But oh how we of little faith neglect this call to fast in hopes that God will do the impossible.

We Fast to Let Go of Idols

“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.” (Dan 1:8)

While Daniel did not abstain from all food in this fast, he intentionally abstained from certain food to avoid his heart being lured away from complete devotion to God. Later Daniel fasts again on behalf of his people.

We Fast in Mourning and Grief for Our Sin

“So I gave my attention to the LORD God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.  I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O LORD, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,  we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances.  Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.” (Daniel 9:3-6)

Much like Nehemiah, Daniel mourns for the people and repents not only for his sin, but the sin of the people.

Before he ever laid a brick to rebuild the wall, Nehemiah started his project weeping and fasting; recognizing things were not the way they should be. “They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:3-4)

We fast when things aren’t the way they should be, out of confession and mourning for the people of God.

We Fast in Our Suffering

“Then the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s widow bore to David, so that he was very sick. David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them.” (2 Samuel 12:15-17)

In the midst of circumstances out of our control, we can fast and pray and beg God to move.

We Fast in Anticipation for a Greater Feast

“Then he *said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” (Revelation 19:9)

This is actually not a verse on fasting, but it’s a reminder of what is to come. We can abstain and go without and hunger on this earth, because there is going to be an abundant feast waiting for us in heaven that will satisfy us for all of eternity.

Why We Fast Together

While Jesus teaches us to fast in secret, in order to be seen by God and not men, there is also a call in scripture to fast corporately, or together, as the body of believers.

We Fast to Seek God and His Will

“While they were ministering to the LORD and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” (Acts 13:2-3)

While the church was beginning to spread, the early church fathers were fasting for God’s wisdom and direction with what to do next. The spirit leads us in our hunger to obey His will.

We Fast to Intercede for Others

“Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

Esther was being brave and bold to step up and attempt to save the Jews, her people. But, she wouldn’t go alone. She called on her people to pray and fast along with her, and the LORD saved an entire generation.”

A Corporate Confession of Sin

“Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God. (Nehemiah 9:1-3)

A Corporate Fast to Seek Help From the LORD

“Now it came about after this that the sons of Moab and the sons of Ammon, together with some of the Meunites, came to make war against Jehoshaphat.  Then some came and reported to Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, out of Aram and behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar (that is Engedi).”  Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to seek help from the LORD; they even came from all the cities of Judah to seek the LORD.” (2 Chronicles 20:1-4)

A Corporate Fast to Seek Refuge in the LORD

“Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, “The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him.” So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty.” (Ezra 8:21-23)

Fasting is not about dieting, unless we’re seeking the diet to be filled by God and found in Him. Fasting is to lay aside having our needs met in anything but Christ. It’s to hunger and thirst for His righteousness, to seek His Kingdom. It’s going without to be with Jesus. It’s emptying ourselves to be filled by His Spirit.

This week before Holy Week, practice with me as we look to the darkest and most joyful few days in all of history, the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ our King who gave up everything so that we would become heirs in His abundance.

Resources for this week as you practice fasting:

  1. In Isaiah 58, the Lord shows there is a fast that honors God and one that doesn’t. Read through Isaiah 58:1-12 and record your observations.

Religious Fast (v.2-5)                                                 Fast That Honors God (v.6-12)

 

    1. Watch the women on this panel share about fasting, what it’s meant for them and how they have practiced this discipline.
      1. Practice fasting. Abstain from food for 24 hours. If you can’t abstain from food for medical purposes, try abstaining from something like television or social media for 24 hours, or reducing the amount of food (one meal), practice silence or solitude for 24 hours, etc.

Journal about your experience. How did you feel physically? Emotionally? Spiritually? How much was it on your mind? Did that push you to God and dependence upon Him?

“These hunger pangs teach us we’re waiting for a greater feast.”  
-Lore Ferguson Wilbert

 

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