When you read the word “fasting,” what do you think? Maybe you think, “I have never given fasting much thought.” Or maybe you say fearfully, “How can I go without food for a day or longer?” In our food-loving society, fasting may seem almost impossible. But it is not. Let us be encouraged from scripture to practice this forgotten spiritual discipline.
We all know someone who fasted. Jesus fasted (Matt. 4:2). And he instructed the church to practice this spiritual discipline. Maybe this surprises you! In Matthew 6:16, Jesus says, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites…” Jesus forbids the wrong way the Pharisees practiced fasting, but not the discipline of fasting. Then Jesus says in Matthew 9:15, “but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” Jesus means that after his ascension into heaven, until he returns, the church shall fast. This is expected. And this is what the early church did as recorded in the book of Acts (Acts 10:30; 13:2–3; 14:23). If Jesus and the early church fasted, shouldn’t we?
What is fasting? Fasting is voluntary abstaining from food in the service of God. Christian fasting is not for health purposes, but for spiritual purposes. The believer, knowing salvation in Jesus Christ, desires to do all things, including fasting, for the glory of God. Although scripture identifies fasting primarily as abstaining from food, fasting can include abstaining from the enjoyment of things such as social media, sports, or gadgets, if we think they dominate our hearts and lives.
What is the purpose of fasting? Fasting is an expression of contentment in the all-sufficiency of Christ. When we fast we look back to Christ’s finished work on the cross, acknowledging that Christ made the final payment for all our sins. Fasting is a way to remind ourselves that in him we find everything we need. We need the Bread of Life more than we need bread. Fasting is for the purpose of feasting on Christ. Fasting must never be done to earn God’s favor or to impress God.
With this spiritual purpose in mind, fasting is always accompanied by prayer. The scriptures emphasize repeatedly the connection between fasting and prayer, which keeps us from making fasting an end in itself. In a practical way, when we are hungry, instead of getting something to eat, we go to God in prayer, remembering that we have all we need in Christ.
Let us see some of the biblical reasons for abstaining from food. God uses fasting to strengthen us in prayer (Acts 13:3). When we have an important decision to make, we might pray and fast, seeking God’s guidance (Acts 14:23). We might fast to express our repentance to God and to seek his protection from sin in our lives (Jonah 3:5–8). Fasting is an expression of humility and dependence upon God (Ps. 35:13). Fight the fear of fasting with these God-honoring reasons for fasting.
Originally published January 2020, Vol. 79 No. 1