This week, my church is beginning “First Fast.” We are setting aside time during the first week of the month to practice this spiritual discipline. We plan to do this each month from this point forward, so it is an exciting time for us. I thought it may be helpful to write on the purpose and process of fasting. I know that I like to know why I’m doing something and it is always good to know how to do it. That is true for all things…but especially true for new adventures.
So why should a Christian fast?
I think this is an important question to be able to answer if you are about to embark on any fast. So let’s try to get to the point of it. The bottom line is that Jesus expected his followers to do it. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus says a lot about a lot. He goes through what the citizens of His kingdom will look like & what they will do. In Matthew 6:5, Jesus says, “And when you pray,” and goes on to give warnings and teachings on the matter of prayer. I haven’t heard anyone question whether or not Christians are to pray, but if I ever did…this would be one of the places I would point them to on the subject. Jesus doesn’t give an opening to NOT pray, he expects that His people WILL pray. So…we pray.
If you look a bit further down the text in Matthew 6:16 you’ll read the following, “And when you fast…” and again in verse 17, “But when you fast…” from Jesus. The same principle should be followed for fasting as for prayer. Jesus doesn’t give His people an option on the matter. It isn’t a “when you feel like it, when it is convenient, when you want to lose weight, etc”…there is simply a expectation that His people WILL fast. So…let’s fast.
We fast because Jesus expected it of His followers, but Christians also fast because we want to set our hope on God alone. That’s why fasting is a spiritual discipline: it calls us to find our sole hope, joy and life in Christ. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul writes in verses 7-10, “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
You see spiritual disciplines are God’s means by which His people grow. God’s people mature through these disciplines. But the growth isn’t so they rely more on themselves, it is so they find more delight in the God who saves. So let’s fast, but let’s do it remembering that this spiritual discipline is intended to grow us by His grace and for His glory.
So how does a Christian fast?
There are a lot of places in the Bible that help us understand various fasts, one of the best books that concisely covers these issues is found in a chapter of Don Whitney’s book. I highly recommend it! But for our church, here is what we are doing.
We are starting with one corporate (the whole church body is encouraged to participate) fast, one time a month. On the first Tuesday of the month, we are encouraging our members to eat dinner on Tuesday night and then begin their fast after that meal. They will fast throughout the day on Wednesday until we break (end) the fast together as a church body at our 5 PM fellowship meal. So that means we are encouraging our members to fast through a breakfast & lunch on Wednesday.
As you fast, what do you do during those times where you would typically eat? Do you just stare at others as they eat, longing for their food? Do you go around your office letting everyone know how spiritual you are because you are currently fasting? No, please don’t be that person. Instead, take the time to go & pray.
Maybe there is a park near your work or home, go for a walk and spend time praying. Pray for your family, your church family, your church ministry partners, your city. Pray that God would give you & others grace to see sin for what it is & the rescuing kindness of our God as beautiful. Pray that the cravings you feel towards food would be used by God to remind you of your deep need for His presence and grace in your life. You may also take the time to read. Spend time in the Bible and use God’s Word to inform your prayer life. The bottom line is this: don’t waste this time. Use the time that fasting provides well. Use it in a way that pleases God.
There is so much more to say on the subject of fasting, but this is a start. I hope you found this post helpful & encouraging. Congrats…you read all the way to the end!