We continue our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Fasting. If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, you can read about it here. Last week, we discussed Stewardship. In that post, we discovered that meditating on Scripture is unlocks yet another door to experiencing more of God. As we dwell on His Word our affections are stirred towards worship.
Each week I issue something similar to the following reminder: delight not ritual and routine lead to the growth we seek. Simply walking through the motions won’t help you grow in godliness. Engaging in the Spiritual Disciplines because they get you more of Jesus helps you become more like Him. Keep this in mind each week as you study and read.
You no doubt glanced at the table of contents as began making our way through this book to figure out when and where we would get to the topic of fasting. Don’t worry, I did the same. “Fasting,” Whitney said, “is the most feared and misunderstood of all the Spiritual Disciplines.” There are a million reasons why we’re scared of the topic and rarely engage in its practice. Some of it comes down to concerns about what others will think, but mostly we avoid it because it goes against what we want. “Few Disciplines,” Whitney said, “go so radically against the flesh and the mainstream of culture as this one.”
We should take note as Christians, when something goes against the world’s wisdom and our fleshly desires. Special things happen when we discipline ourselves to say, “No” to the flesh and “Yes” to God. The more we build those muscles the better we’ll all be.
“Christian fasting,” Whitney said, “is a believer's voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.” You’ve no doubt heard of fasting from social media, or a dozen other things for spiritual reasons. While those are good and right things, they aren’t what Scripture talks about when it mentions fasting. The Bible exclusively uses the term in relation to our abstaining from the consumption of food.
“Believers, Whitney said, “should fast according to biblical teaching and with purposes that are God-centered.” Two things stand out from the biblical accounts of fasting. It is voluntary and for spiritual purposes. It’s not something you’re forced into doing because someone told you to, and it’s most certainly not a weight loss fad. Purpose and heart matter in fasting just as they do in every other Spiritual Discipline.
Scripture speaks of varying types of fasts that we would do well to understand before moving into exactly why we should fast.
- A normal fast involves abstaining from all food, but not from water. To abstain from food but to drink water or perhaps other liquids is the most common kind of Christian fast.
- A partial fast is a limitation of the diet, but not abstention from all food.
- An absolute fast is the avoidance of all food and liquid, even water.
- A supernatural fast requires God's supernatural intervention into the bodily processes and are not repeatable apart from the Lord's specific calling and miraculous provision.
- A private fast is fasting in a way not to be noticed by others.
- A congregational fast involves all or part of a church body.
- A national fast involves calling an entire nation to fast.
- Regular fasts are those partaken in on a schedule. (i.e. Lev 16:29-31)
- Occasional fasts occur on special occasions as the need arises.
The most common fast among Christians today would probably fall under the categories of normal, private, and occasional.
Most of us don’t struggle with questions of how to fast. We struggle with the why of it all. The simple answer is that it is expected of us by God. He clearly and explicitly asks for His children to fast. He even promises to bless and reward those who fast according to His Word.
Earlier we mentioned that fasting was skipping the intake of food for spiritual purposes. “Without a purpose, fasting can be a miserable, self-centered experience about willpower and endurance.” We learned several weeks ago that purpose shapes our engagement in any of the Spiritual Disciplines. Without it, they quickly become a noose around our neck or worse still drudgery. Having biblical purposes in mind as we engage in the Disciplines may be the biggest takeaway of the entire book. And it’s no doubt the biggest of this chapter. “Having a biblical purpose for your fast,” Whitney said, “may be the single most important concept to take from this chapter.”
So what are the purposes and reasons for fasting set forth in Scripture?
1. To Strengthen Prayer
2. To Seek God's Guidance
3. To Express Grief
4. To Seek Deliverance or Protection
5. To Express Repentance and the Return to God
6. To Humble Oneself Before God
7. To Express Concern for the Work of God
8. To Minister to the Needs of Others
9. To Overcome Temptation and Dedicate Yourself to God
10. To Express Love and Worship to God
“Of all the purposes for fasting found in Scripture, fasting in order to strengthen prayer,” Whitney said, “receives the most emphasis by far. In fact, in one way or another, all other biblical purposes of fasting relate to prayer. Fasting is one of the best friends we can introduce to our prayer lives.” Do you have an important matter about which you need to go before the Lord in prayer? Consider skipping breakfast or lunch and using that time to beseech the Lord.
Be wary however, of believing that if we fast, God is obligated to give us anything. God cannot be manipulated. “Fasting should always have a purpose,” Whitney said, “but we must learn to elevate God's purposes over ours.”
I’ll confess that I’ve never once in my life fasted for spiritual reasons. I may have forgotten to eat a meal or two, but that’s not the same. Rather than serving as a rebuke for my failing to fast, this chapter wet my appetite for it. There is far too much of God that I am missing out on.
I’ve heard that it’s impossible to reach the depths of God and when I read chapters like this it hits home a new. There are so many aspects of relationship and communion with Him that I have neglected and rather than being mad at me God is waiting with open arms for me to come enjoy more of Him.
That’s what drives me to want to fast and I hope it encourages you to do the same.
We will continue with the next chapter (chapter ten) of the book next Sunday. We’re in the middle of a series on Spiritual Disciplines, and would love for you to get the book and join in. Click here to see what ground we’ve covered so far.
I’d like to hear what stood out to you this week. Please feel free to post your reflections, and thoughts in the comment section below.