What is Fasting?
Simply put, fasting is the voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. It is important to note that fasts have a spiritual purpose it is not just missing lunch because you are too busy .A fast can last anywhere from one meal to 40 days without food. There are different types of fasts – the most typical is to go without any food, some people will fast from food and water – although you can only do this for a short time. There are limited fasts, when people will allow themselves juice or other liquid sustenance during their fast. There are partial fasts, where you will give up certain types of food for a period of time. Many people do this during lent when they will give up sweets, or meat, or something else for the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
While we are going to concentrate on fasting from food, people will also fast from T.V. and other media, from talking, from computers or computer games, shopping, couples can fast from sexual intimacy. You can fast from anything that habitual in your life. It is good to fast from the things that you obsess about – it reminds you that you can get by without them. I have a friend who hates holidays – work is so important to him that a holiday is like a fast from work rather than a rest.
Fasting can increase our hunger for God John Piper writes in his book, A Hunger for God,
If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast ‘This much, O God, I want you’” (Pg 23).
Fasting reminds us that we can get by without most things in our lives for a time, but we cannot get by without God. The first and main pupose of Fasting is to draw closer to God.
Fasting can train our passions
We are so used to giving ourselves what ever we want, we say “I feel like a donut,” so we go get a donut. Richard Foster says that our stomach is like a spoiled child, and spoiled children do not need indulgence, they need discipline. We are not to be controlled by our stomachs, but controlled by the Spirit of God. Fasting is spiritual training in self-control.
The way that gold was refined in ancient days, was the ore was placed in a great cauldron with fire underneath it, as it heated up, the ore would melt, and all the impurities would rise to the surface. The smelter would then skim off the impurities, the dross. But he wasn’t finished there, he would stock the fire more and more impurities would rise to the top. He would skim those off, and heat it up more. He would continue this process until the gold was pure. And it is said that he knew that the gold was pure when he could see his reflection in the gold.
God does the same thing. He heats things up in our life so that the dross rises to the top – when we go through hard times, things in our lives are brought to the surface, sins, things that we are holding on to that we need to let go of, pride etc. These things can become real obvious when we go through hard times, and it gives God the chance to skim them of and purify us. He knows when he is done when he can see his reflection in us.
Fasting is voluntarily turning up the heat in our lives
Foster says, “ More than any other single discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the rue disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David said, “I humbled myself with fasting” (Ps. 69:10). Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear – if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we know that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.” – p.48
God wants us to be like pure gold, we can turn up the heat ourselves, or we can wait until he does.
1 Timothy 4:7-8
Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.
Out of all the Spiritual Disciplines fasting is most like physical exercise. It is both physical and spiritual and it builds our faith muscles so that we can withstand the bigger contests that come our way.
Fasting can be earnest prayer
Many people fast when they are desperate for God to answer their prayers. We can fast for rescue from a bad situation, healing of a loved one, direction in life or other requests that are close to our hearts.
Fasting is not some kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding. The Israelites got this wrong in Isaiah 58 when they say, “’Why have we fasted, and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?
On the other side, fasting can bring a note of urgency to our praying. We are coming to our Father and telling Him (and ourselves) how important this issue is to us.
Fasting can help us humble ourselves.
Fasting can humble us – often times all the things in our life that we take pride in are stripped away in fasting – the ability to move and think fast, the ability to be productive, our physical strength are all reduced in fasting. Fasting really should be called “slowing!”
On the other hand, fasting can be an act of humility – just as kneeling or bowing before God is an act of humility, so is fasting.
One of the most wicked men in Jewish history, King Ahab, eventually humbled himself before God and demonstrated it by fasting: “When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.
Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day.” (1 Kings 21:27-29)
David, one of the most righteous kings also humbled himself through fasting (Ps. 35:13)
Fasting can be a sign of Repentance
Repentance is a decision to turn away from sin in our lives.
In Christianity today, repentance can be a light thing. It is just some words we say, and it can be over in seconds. But many people in the Bible fasted to show their seriousness in repentance.You might be uncomfortable with this, but God isn’t. While we would like our confession and repentance to be a short as possible, fasting takes time. This might lengthen our discomfort with our guilt, but it might cause us to take more seriously our decision to turn from sin. When we fast in our repentance, it is not an attempt to punish ourselves for our past sin, but as a commitment and preparation for our future righteousness. It is a sign that we are starting something new.
How to Fast
Start small fasting is a bit like physical exercise, you want to train yourself, don’t jump into a 40 day fast with no training; you wouldn’t try to run a marathon with no training. Start by fasting for one meal, then two, then do a 24hr fast. Determine the purpose of the fast. Is it to seek God, to seek direction, to pray for others? Determine the nature of the fast. Is it an absolute fast, or solid food only?
Is it a partial fast? Many people do partial fasts through lent. Is it also a media fast? Is it going to be a working fast, where you keep your schedule the same, but use the time that you would be eating to pray, or are you going to clear your schedule and retreat during your fast? Determine the length of the fast. Is it one day? Two meals or three? Is it longer? Plan for the fast. Set the time specifically. It is likely best not to be fasting if you have a presentation or a job interview that day. Don’t plan to decide as you go – that doesn’t work so well.
Get people praying for you. There is so much potential power in seeking God in this way that Satan will do whatever necessary to derail your plan. Don’t call attention to your fasting. A simple “I’m skipping lunch today” will be an adequate explanation for most situations.
Stay continually focused on the Lord. If your fasting leaves you irritable with family or coworkers, it will not honor God.
Pitfalls of Fasting
The Pharisees were very self-righteousness about their fasting, and it is easy for us to become self-righteous as well. Remember that your fast is about you and God, not about impressing others, or even yourself.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18, NIV)
There is also the temptation to judge others who don’t fast, or who don’t fast as long, or who don’t deny themselves as many things.
Fasting can also trap its participants in legalism. As soon as rule-making begins about whether juice is okay or water only, or what media are excluded, the joy and power of the Spirit will be lost.
Coercion of God
Remember that we are not twisting God’s arm, we are trying to draw closer to Him.
There is a heretical tradition in Christianity of punishing ourselves for sins. God’s forgiveness of our sins comes with no requirement of us except confession and repentance. We shouldn’t deprive ourselves of food as a way to punish ourselves or gain favor with God. We already have God’s favor through Jesus.
It is tempting to see fasting as a great weight-loss program. Although you can shed weight during fasting, this is not it’s first goal. The goal is spiritual not physical. If you want to lose weight, find away to eat healthier, if you want to draw closer to God, try fasting.