Fasting is one of those things that isn’t often spoken about or taught on and it is emphasised more in some Christian traditions than in others. The well-known story of Jesus’ 40 day fast, and his regular times of praying and fasting in the Bible are an indicator that this is something that we should be doing too.
But most of us aren’t really sure how to do it…most of us aren’t really sure why we’d do it either.
First of all, what is fasting?
Fasting is voluntarily giving up something for a period of time, usually food, for a spiritual purpose. It’s something quite serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is not the same as a ‘juice fast’ to cleanse the system, or to lose weight.
There are lots of different types of fasts. Some Christians today practise regular fasting, some fast for certain periods of time ranging from a day to 40 days, others do partial fasts. There aren’t really any hard and fast rules about how to do it or how long to do it for.
Got it. Now why we do it?
- To get closer to God
By giving up something as wonderful and necessary as food as a spiritual discipline, we are declaring that God is more wonderful and more necessary. We give up physical nourishment in order to receive spiritual nourishment. Fasting is a way to reorder our priorities and put God first. We humble ourselves too. It’s a reminder that, as humans, we are needy. We are fully reliant on God for everything.
- To hear from God
As we stop eating physical food and replace it with ‘spiritual food’, our ‘spiritual senses’ are heightened. We position our hearts to hear more clearly from God. Christians sometimes fast to help them make an important decision.
- To cultivate self-control
Fasting helps us in the discipline of saying ‘no’, of resisting temptation and developing our self-control. It helps us to step away from the desire for self-satisfaction, which can help in other situations not relating to food at other times.
These are just a few of the reasons. Fasting can also be to prepare ourselves for something, to seek God about a decision we are making, corporate fasting to ask God to act in a crisis, to mourn or to ask for repentance. One of the Church-wide times of fasting is Lent, which is done to prepare our hearts for Easter. In the Bible we see examples of these other times of fasting (not Lent).
– Esther fasted with her whole faith community in preparation for her mission to try and save them from a mass genocide. Often in history, the prayer and fasting of Christians has had an impact on national and global crises. Esther 4:15-16
– Jesus fasted before temptation from Satan and in preparation for his ministry. Matthew 4
– Leaders in the Early Church fasted before sending people on missions or appointing other leaders. Acts 13:1-3 and 14:23
Top Tips for Fasting:
- Before fasting, please speak to your parents, mentors, leaders, or older experienced Christians that you know and trust. If you have any medical conditions, speak to your doctor too.
- If you decide to fast, at the times when you would normally eat, spend time with the Lord. ‘Feast’ on his word – the Bible, pray, sing, meditate and listen.
- Don’t make a show of it. Keep fasting between you and God (and your trusted older Christian). I once read somewhere that when you are fasting, people shouldn’t wonder what’s wrong with you, they should wonder why you’re so happy! Matthew 6:16-18
- See if your church has ever done any teachings on it or chat to your pastors about it. If not, there was a great sermon at my church on it.
- Talk to God about it! Ask him to give you a deeper understanding of what fasting is all about, why he wants you to do it and how you might incorporate it as a discipline in your spiritual life.