Fasting: What and Why?
This article is adapted from a post by Sam Storms.
Fasting: abstaining from anything to gain something I want more.
Spiritual purposes for fasting:
- Strengthening prayer (Ezra 8:23; Joel 2:13; Acts 13:3)
- Seeking God’s guidance (Judges 20:26; Acts 14:23)
- Expressing grief (1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:11–12)
- Seeking deliverance or protection (2 Chronicles 20:3–4; Ezra 8:21–23)
- Expressing repentance and returning to God (1 Samuel 7:6; Jonah 3:5–8)
- Humbling oneself before God (1 Kings 21:27–29; Psalm 35:13)
- Expressing concern for the work of God (Nehemiah 1:3–4; Daniel 9:3)
- Ministering to the needs of others (Isaiah 58:3–7)
- Overcoming temptation and dedicating yourself to God (Matthew 4:1–11)
- Expressing love and worship to God (Luke 2:37)
You only have so much space.
Fasting is not about what we’re giving up. It’s about what we’re gaining that is greater than what we could get if we didn’t give something up. It’s motivated by deep desire for God. It’s the intense pursuit of God. It’s saying - I have to have this! - It’s all about ingesting the Word of God, the presence of God, and the blessings of God.
The honest truth is that our lives are full. Our hearts are full. Our minds are full. They’re full of media, information, and the onslaught of life. Our bodies are full of satisfaction and comfort and we always get whatever we want.
The spirit of our time is instant self-gratification. Fasting may sound odd, but I bet there’s something in you that resonates deeply with this truth. You know you’re running too hard and there’s too much information coming at you.
Fasting makes some space. We turn off the TV or our phones. We eliminate some immediate gratification of food and we somehow supernaturally leave some space for Jesus.
1) Fasting is always motivated by deep desire.
• Fasting is not the suppression of desire but the intense pursuit of it. We fast because we want something more than food or more than whatever activity it is from which we abstain. If one suppresses the desire for food it is only because he or she has a greater and more intense desire for something more precious. Something of eternal value (John 4:31-34).
• Fasting is feasting. The ironic thing about fasting is that it really isn’t about not eating food. It’s about feeding on the fullness of every divine blessing secured for us in Christ. Fasting tenderizes our hearts to experience the presence of God. It expands the capacity of our souls to hear his voice and be assured of his love and be filled with the fullness of his joy.Fasting is all about ingesting the Word of God, the beauty of God, the presence of God, the blessings of God. Fasting is spiritual gluttony. It is not a giving up of food (or some activity) for its own sake. It is about a giving up of food for Christ’s sake.
2) Fasting is not something you do for God.
• It is instead your appeal that God in grace and power do everything for you. Thus fasting is not an act of willpower but a declaration of weakness. It is not a work of our hearts and bodies but a confession of our utter dependency on God and his grace.
3) Fasting is not a statement that food or other things are bad, but that God is better!
• It’s not a rejection of the many blessings God has given to us, but an affirmation that in the ultimate sense we prefer the Giver to his gifts. Fasting is a declaration that God is enough.
4) We must understand the difference between being seen fasting, on the one hand, and fasting to be seen, on the other.
• Or again, to be seen fasting is not a sin. Fasting to be seen is (see Matt. 6:16). True, godly fasting is motivated by a heart for God, not human admiration. Being seen fasting is merely an external, and often unavoidable, reality. But fasting to be seen is a self-exalting motive of the heart.
5) Fasting opens our spiritual eyes to see him more clearly in Scripture and sensitizes our hearts to enjoy God’s presence.
• Look closely at Acts 13:1-3. Their fasting became the occasion for the Spirit's guidance to be communicated to them. Don't miss the obvious causal link that Luke draws. It was while/when or even because they were ministering to the Lord and fasting that the Holy Spirit spoke. I’m not suggesting that fasting puts God in our debt, as if it compels him to respond to us. But God does promise to be found by those who diligently seek him with their whole heart (Jer. 29:12-13). And what God said to them in the course of their fasting changed history. The results, both immediate and long-term, are stunning, for prior to this incident the church had progressed little, if at all, beyond the eastern seacoast of the Mediterranean. Paul had as yet taken no missionary journeys westward to Asia Minor, Greece, Rome, or Spain. Neither had he written any of his epistles. All his letters were the result of the missionary journeys he was to take and the churches he was to plant. This occasion of prayer and fasting birthed Paul’s missionary journeys and led to the writing of 13 of our NT books! (I’m indebted to John Piper for these insights on Acts 13)
6) Fasting is a powerful weapon in spiritual warfare.
• See Mt. 4:1-11, Mark 9:29. Fasting heightens our complete dependence upon God and forces us to draw on him and his power, and to believe fully in his strength. This explains why Jesus fasted in preparation for facing the temptations of Satan in the wilderness.
Are we commanded to fast? Am I in sin if I choose not to?
No. But the Bible assumes we will fast. Jesus simply takes it for granted (Matt. 6:16-18 / “when you fast”). In Mark 2 we see the same emphasis. When the Pharisees queried why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast, he explained it in terms of his own physical presence on earth. “The days will come,” he said, “when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” The point here is that the Messiah has come like a bridegroom to a wedding feast. Such a moment is too joyful and stunning and exciting to mingle with fasting. Groomsmen don’t fast at the bachelor party! The rehearsal dinner is no place to be sad. Jesus is present. The time for celebration is upon us. When the wedding feast is over and the bridegroom has departed, then it is appropriate to fast.
Beginning with fasting:
Option 1: For a period of time (maybe 3, 7, 21, 40 days), turn off all media for 30 minutes each day or night.
- In this time, we’re going to seek the Lord with this prayer: I want to want You more than I want anything else. Use the desire to tell God that what He has for you is more important.
Option 2: Eliminate a certain food or foods for a period of time.
Option 3: Skip a meal for a day or a week.
Option 4: Don’t eat for a full day, or for 3 or 7 or 21 days.