I’ve come to realize, many don’t fully understand what fasting is and why we do it. Much of our understanding of fasting is based on tradition (namely – we fast to gain some benefit, like an answered prayer). The selfless biblical understanding of fasting, however, seems to be completely lost. I don’t know for sure, but perhaps we’re in this position, at least in part, because we seem to ignore this act of piety in our modern culture. It’s unfortunate because fasting is one of ways we can live out our righteousness and hear God’s heart.
So what is fasting?
Fasting is “the complete and voluntary choice not to eat (or not eat or drink) for a specific period of time.” Biblically speaking, it is an act of Christian piety that connects us with the life of Christ:
“The Christian is the person who has absorbed the Story of God in Jesus Christ, and that gospel Story teaches us that God’s grace comes to us in a way that redounds to the glory of Jesus Christ – not to ourselves. One might even say that Jesus’ own fasting (4:1-11) perfects any fasting we might do, and our task is simply to participate in his fasting the way we participate in his life, death, and resurrection.”1
But why do we respond with fasting? Here are three reasons:2
Fasting self-denies our basic need of food and water to focus on the situations around us. For example, Nehemiah fasted in response of the past sins of Israel (Nehemiah 9:1). It was an expression of humility and self-denial before God as they were about to rebuild Jerusalem. Esther gave us another example. Before she brought her request to the king, she fasted as an act of self-denial knowing that a good result would be beyond her own ability (Esther 4:16). We fast today as an act of self-denial and humility as we respond to grievous moments behind us (death, sin, sickness, or pain), or big moments before us (fear, threats, needs, or taking a faith-based stand).
Fasting aids in our ability to have self-control. Paul used the metaphor of an athlete. Just like athletes need to discipline their bodies for success, we need to spiritually discipline our bodies (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We have to remember that our bodies are made in the image of God and are God’s temple. Fasting, then, actually helps us to guard ourselves against the sin of gluttony. With that said, we certainly can’t fast to lose weight or try and bring “suffering” upon our bodies – that would be immature. The goal would simply be self-control and discipline.
Fasting helps us understand those without food. The fast is for sharing our “bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house…” (Isaiah 58:7). In our fast, we hear God’s heart for the broken. We may not always be able to physically feed someone, but fasting should help us become more aware of the need in our world and cause us to act appropriately. On a day-to-day basis, this could mean setting aside a regular “lunch fast.” It could even be a time to sacrifice a lunch and offer it to someone else in need.
Biblical Fasting and Prayer
Prayer is simply communicating with God. So yes, prayer and fasting work together, but fasting is more than giving up food and drink to speak to God. Prayer is about sharing our heart TO God (“Prayer: The Sincere and Authentic Heart”). Fasting, on the other hand, is about hearing the heart and will OF God. The two can work together, but fasting isn’t simply a form or means of prayer.If #prayer is about sharing our heart TO God, then #fasting is about hearing the heart OF God. Click To Tweet
Biblical fasting is about our selfless response to sacred and/or grievous moments.3 In our journey of faith with Christ, fasting brings about self-denial and humility; self-discipline; and, self-awareness so we can hear the heart of God.
I encourage everyone to make this a regular part of their Christian faith and journey.
Fasting: The Ancient Practices by Scot McKnight