Spiritual Discipline 101: Fasting
Fasting is not a spiritual discipline reserved only for “deep” saints who have walked with God for a very long time. It is a discipline that should be practiced and embraced as much as other disciplines like reading the Bible or praying, by all believers, regardless of how long you’ve been a Christian.
Simply put, fasting is the abstaining of something, typically food, for the purpose of spiritual growth or an external gain. Food is a natural need and desire. However, when we deny our belly the fleshly satisfaction of eating, it has spiritual ramifications that lead to earthly benefits.
Fasting, like all of the other spiritual disciplines, should be practiced regularly in the life of every believer because of Jesus’ commandment and model for us. He told his disciples in Matthew 6:16-18 ESV):
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Did you catch the first four words of that passage – and when you fast – when; not if… Fasting is one of the ways we can commune with God. Our longing to be more like Jesus is influenced by our love and appreciation for Him. The lifestyle He demonstrated while living on earth affirms how fasting should also be incorporated into our own lifestyles. Fostering intimacy in our relationship with God is our privilege and responsibility to carry out. We do this through living out all the spiritual disciplines revealed in scripture, including (not shying away from or overlooking) the spiritual discipline of fasting.
Reasons for Fasting
1. When Desiring Closer Fellowship with God
Fasting starts with a desire to foster an intimate relationship with God.We are reminded in Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV), Fasting also requires a willingness to walk humbly and honestly with God so that He may lead us according to His ways for us.Although it will involve sacrifice, the blessings of fasting far outweigh the inconveniences we temporarily experience.
2. When Seeking Direction from God
Whenever we are faced with major decisions or unexpected crossroads in life, we should turn to God for direction through fasting.If there is something you are unsure of and need greater clarity concerning, fasting allows the opportunity for us to hear the voice of God without distractions.I am reminded of Esther and how she fasted on behalf of the Jewish people, seeking God’s direction as to what might be done to spare their lives.She even declared a corporate fast so that they might collectively entreat the throne room of God with prayer and fasting (see Esther 4: 15-16).Before making choices that could potentially have severe and irreversible consequences, it is wise to seek God through fasting first.
3. When Needing Deliverance from Sin Behavior
We praise God that our salvation has been purchased with the precious, incorruptible blood of Jesus.Although we are saved, it does not mean we will never sin.Sometimes, we will even find ourselves struggling with sin behaviors, addictions, or strongholds that must be overcome.One of the ways we can receive deliverance is through fasting.
In the Old Testament, the prophet and priest Samuel, assembled the nation of Israel to fast and confess their sin before God.As a result, they were then able to achieve victory over their enemy, the Philistine nation (see 1 Samuel 7: 5-11).
In the New Testament, Jesus’ disciples questioned why they were not able to cast out a demon that had possessed a young boy.Jesus explained to them, they needed the power that comes as a result of prayer and fasting in order to take authority over the spirit ( Matthew 17:21).
If we ever attempt to deny the fact that we live in world that has unseen powers at work, and that we can physically overcome in our own strength those supernatural powers that form against us, then we are deceiving ourselves.Despite our best efforts, some things are bigger than us because of the spiritual warfare attached to it.In order to experience breakthrough, we will need to draw near to God through fasting and cry out to him for our deliverance.
4. When Petitioning God for Healing
One of the advantages to knowing God is knowing His heart to see us live in perfect healing; not sickness. Isaiah 58:8 (NIV) helps us understand how God responds to those who fast with pure motives and how that can impact our physical, healing. The scripture tells us, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you.” Healing, we know, is not limited to physical diagnosis and symptoms being eradicated or experiencing wholeness in the body. Sometimes the healing we need is mental or emotional as well. These are all reasons we can seek God through fasting.
5. When Interceding on Behalf of Someone
In all of our lives, there will be times when we are moved by the pain or plight of someone we know.Although we may not be the person going through the trial, it causes us grief and sorrow because we don’t want to see our loved one suffering.In these moments when we often feel as if there is nothing we can do, that the situation is too hard and difficult, and possibly bigger than anyone’s ability to “fix it,” it is then we must remind ourselves the greatest act of love we can show another person is our gesture of fasting on their behalf.Nehemiah 1:4-11 depicts a narrative that illustrates how God pricked the heart of Nehemiah to stand in the gap through prayer and fasting on behalf of the remnant of Jews who survived exile and remained in Jerusalem.Even though He was the king’s cup-bearer and did not live there, he was filled with compassion to make up the hedge of intercession through fasting on behalf of the people.There will be people in our path God will touch our hearts for and impress within our spirit to “turn down your plate for them.” We should do so without the slightest hesitation.
Recommendations for Fasting
1. Identify your purpose for your fast.
There should be specific purpose or goals you have for wanting to go on a fast.I encourage you to write down your purpose(s) before beginning.You may also find it helpful to journal each day of your fast.
2. Understand the different types of fasts.
The Bible offers insight to two primary types of fasts: absolute fast (like Jesus did in the wilderness); and a partial fast (like Daniel modeled).With an absolute fast, you completely abstain from eating and drinking.A partial fast means you have particular criteria surrounding the conditions of your fast.Some ideas for partial fasting include abstaining from (or a combination of) meat, sugar, dairy, bread, caffeine, candy, etc.
3. Establish a duration for your fast.
The length of time you choose to fast may vary.You may choose to fast for intermittent periods of time like one, three, seven, twenty-one, or forty days.You may also decide to fast from sun up to sun down, or sun up to noon, or only twelve hours in one day.This might look like only having one or two meals a day for a prescribed period of time.If you are fasting something other than food, you still need to decide time parameters to guide you.Pray and allow God to give you His strategy for your particular details.
4. Decide what you will abstain from during your fast.
Clarifying what you are giving up during your fast helps to provide or establish boundaries about what you can eat, or even your level of activity and engagement in other ways.Be specific. Again, you may want to write this down in your fasting journal.
5. Determine a substitution focus.
Determine what you will substitute your attention on in place of what you are denying yourself.This gives you the ability to direct your focus on the goal and benefits of fasting instead of what you are not able to eat or do.
I want to leave you with this quote, “Fasting that touches your heart will also touch the heart of God.” Otherwise, if it doesn’t mean anything to us and we are not being changed in the process, then what’s the point? God does not need us to fast; He already has all power and is completely sufficient. However, He does desire that we would hunger and thirst for Him, and that our appetite for Him might be stronger than anything else in this world.
Don’t miss one of the greatest opportunities we will ever have to draw near to God (through fasting) because we don’t want to “do the work” of bringing our flesh under submission to the Spirit of God. Our relationship with God is the most important relationship we will ever have in this life, and in the one to come. It should be our eternal resolve to know God, be known by Him, and as a result - make Him known to others.
I invite you and challenge you to start by choosing one day a week as your built-in fasting day. Pray about it, and let God guide you through the details. Once you have the green light, be faithful, be consistent, and keep showing up so that you may keep growing by God’s grace.
Disclaimer: As with any changes to your diet and nutrition, please seek the counsel of your medical professional.