Fasting is an intriguing spiritual discipline that I readily admit I do not fully understand. Thus, though I started to regularly fast several years ago, somewhere along the line I got sidetracked. We know that God does not “bargain,” as though we could approach Him and say, “Okay, I fasted ‘X’ number of times this month; therefore, You have to do ‘Y’ that I have asked for in prayer.” We remember that HE is God, we are not, and that He is never under obligation to His creatures.
Fasting does not particularly make us aware of spiritual realities more than if we simply pray with focused attention on Heavenly priorities. For me, prayer while fasting has never been an occasion of visions or angelic appearances, at least in my very limited experience. It just makes my stomach growl a little louder than usual, especially after drinking a little water.
Now, I must admit that fasting is not difficult for me. My body is unusual in this regard, and I hope on an autopsy someday, some researcher will look at my gut receptors and try to find some that would signal appetite, because I have never felt hungry. Even after going three days without eating (for whatever reason), if someone offered food, it was more a matter of “Oh, yeah, I guess I should probably eat something” than “OHHhh, I crave food sooo much.” If fasting is supposed to alert us to denying ravenous desires to promote spiritual ones, maybe that is why I have been lax with developing this as a regular discipline.
However, Jesus specifically expected His disciples to fast after He left the earth. “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” (Mark 2:20) I have addressed fasting before, so will not repeat all of that blog, but to say it is appropriate for a Christ-follower to fast at times. Specifically, Jesus mentioned fasting in Matthew 6 with a couple of prescriptions: go about normal business, don’t show off, focus on Heavenly things (Matthew 6:16-21). Like giving and praying, fasting was to be a normal part of a Christ-follower’s life.
Fasting should not be merely a time of dieting or controlling one’s intake for weight control (although that is one obvious side-benefit for us gluttonous Americans). It should also involve devoted time to prayer, utilizing time usually spent in meal prep or eating to a new routine of praying. And prayers should be more than merely, “Oh, Lord, teach me to pray.” We should know how to pray longer prayers than just “Our Father…” or announcing our “grocery lists.” (See A Catalog of Prayer here.) Be careful not to get caught in “vain repetition.”
Fasting also can involve immersing yourself in the Bible. In our busy lives, most of us spend every moment in moving from one task to another with very little time in Scripture meditation. Unlike Eastern meditative techniques that call us to “empty our minds,” Christian meditation is intended to fill our minds with what the Bible teaches, often focusing on Scriptures that we have not yet applied to our lives. This can overlap with prayer that is simply waiting on the Lord. “Remember that for the Christian, waiting is not about what you get at the end of the wait, but more importantly about what you become as you wait.” (Paul Tripp, The Gains of Giving Up)
The result of fasting should be to draw us closer to The God Who Is and to His word, and by that to reveal to us what kind of people we should be, where we are not measuring up yet, revealing hidden sin and opening our minds to new commitments that we should make.
There is a danger in any of the spiritual disciplines. Whenever we focus on what we do rather than on what Father is doing, there is always a risk of marking off a checklist, “There I fasted this week, so I am spiritual.” This was the major problem with most of the Jerusalem Pharisees in Jesus’ day: they thought that detailed observance of regulations was the way to serve God. With fasting, there is an additional danger if one is not prepared physically for it. It is not glorifying to Father when we put our health at risk or damage our “temples.” Look up Daniel fasts if your body or doctor tells you that you should not do an absolute food fast. I do not recommend absolute fasting that includes water avoidance.
So I have blogged on this before, but I have never developed the habit to do a “regular” fast, which is what this blog is inviting me to begin. You probably will not read here about any benefits I experience per Matthew 6:18, but enjoy exploring fasting on your own. Be thankful to a God who supplies our daily bread and then some! And let a growling tummy remind you of His blessings and how His steadfast love is new every morning.