Re-Claiming the Art of Biblical Fasting

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Introduction: Fasting.  The topic that Christians love to talk about but hate actually putting into practice.  Fasting is an art.  It’s a Spiritual discipline.  It takes time.  It takes patience.  And it takes endurance.  Lots of endurance.  It isn’t easy, but it is character forming and brings you into a deeper understanding of Christ’s love for you and for the world.  In the following paragraphs, I’d like to help you discover the art of fasting.  Fasting is something that I have done in different forms at different times.  I’ve done fasts from food, from social media, and from talking (also called silent retreats).  I’m still not terribly good at it.  It still takes so much effort for me to stick with the program and for me to not allow my physical and emotional cravings to get the better of me when I’m trying to focus on Christ.  That’s why it’s an art.  It’s something that you don’t develop overnight.  But if you make the effort to seek God and to read His Word through this discipline I guarantee He will provide you with immeasurable richness of blessings!  It’s hard work, but in the end of the day, it’s totally worth it!

Why Fast? When I was growing up, my church never really stressed or taught the discipline of fasting, but the Bible never told us to stop doing it!  It’s just another way of receiving blessings and showing submission and obedience to Christ’s will.

As Corey Russell, one of the International House of Prayer KC Leaders who did a sermon at the IHOPKC One Thing 2013 conference mentioned in his talk, “fasting food will starve the other loves.  It will make you vulnerable to the truth.”[1]

Think of Jesus.  Shortly after the most Spiritually monumental time in His life, He went into the desert to fast and pray and to seek the Will of God for His life.[2]  As He was praying He became very vulnerable.  Satan tempted Him with all of the goods that this world offers.  His first temptation was in the form of physical food.[3]  My goal here is not to get into a theological discussion about all of Christ’s temptations and what they all meant, but as you can imagine the immediate gratification that fresh bread would give must have been very hard to ignore.  That’s because fasting is HARD!  If you have ever fasted you know that for the first several hours it’s so hard to get the idea of eating out of your head.  Christ later became vulnerable to even greater temptations – the temptations of the heart and the flesh to seek status and wealth.[4]  Yet because Christ was fasting, He was given supernatural strength to shun all of these desires and put them as second place in His life.  He starved out the other potential loves, and that gave way to immeasurable truth.  A truth which enabled Him to seek the ways of God.  A maturity to handle delayed gratification rather than indulgence.  It is through His fasting that He used great wisdom to give a rebuttal to Satan which included the very words from the Scriptures!

There are also many other reasons that Scripture gives us for why we should fast.  I will highlight a few of them below:

– It produces DISCIPLINE which is a necessary part of not only the Christian life, but even life in general.  We all need discipline to complete things which are difficult or which seem impossible rather than giving up.  Furthermore, discipline produces character and perseverance.[5]  Discipline produces endurance.[6] 

– Fasting opens our hearts and our minds to seek the Will of God[7]

– Fasting gives us an opportunity to confess and repent of deeply embedded sins which we have committed and to refocus our lives so as not to live in that same way again[8]

– Fasting gives us a rich and vibrant personal prayer time[9]

– Fasting gives us a chance to intercede on behalf of others and to cry out for their Salvation.[10] 

– Fasting helps to strength ministries.  One of the best examples I can give of this is how during my time as a pregnancy center intern, our staff used to fast Monday during lunch and we would use that time to pray for our clients and for our ministry.[11]

– Fasting helps you to identity problem areas in your spiritual and personal life.[12]

– Fasting allows you the opportunity to intercede for the national or for the global world.[13]

– Fasting allows you the opportunity to deepen your own prayer life and spirituality.[14]

– Fasting puts you in the position of receiving blessings.[15]

– Fasting can be an observance (or in obedience to) a religious festival already declared by God.  For example, during the Jewish Passover, we are told not to eat leavened bread.[16]  Although this is not a complete fast, it is abstaining from one item (thus, a form of fasting).  Additionally, many Christians choose to fast or to only eat Fish on Good Friday and there are also Catholics who will abstain from meat on all Fridays.

– Fasting allows you the opportunity to declare victory and release over oppressive forces of darkness[17]

– Fasting is another way of reclaiming the Sabbath (an important observance which we often pass over in North American culture).  Fasting from social media on Sundays can be a great way of being countercultural and reclaiming that time for Christ.

– Fasting allows you the opportunity to break bad habits in your own life (example: drugs, excessive drinking, gambling, pornography, etc).  Think about the Christian season of Lent.  I heard once in one of my undergrad Bible classes that from a psychological viewpoint, it takes 40 days to break a habit.  That’s why during Lent, many people give something up and choose to take it a step further by replacing that void with something good.  Any obstacle which does not honour Christ or which we devout more time to than to God can become an obstacle in our lives.  Fasting from those pleasures and gratifications opens us up to first of all realize the problem or the item which has the potential of being troublesome, and secondly, to be able to break the habit.

Why Reclaim? The very first reason that we should reclaim fasting is exactly because it IS Biblical!  Fasting also gives us the opportunity to remember our Lord’s passion and all that He suffered.  Just like He denied Himself, so it is also our privilege as Christians to deny ourselves.    Fasting can also make us more aware of the needs of others around the globe and the reality that millions go to bed without food every day.  That’s why fasts such as the 30 Hour Famine are so popular within churches or fasts from talking which draw attention to the unfortunate and unpleasant realities of the sex trade and those who are silenced because of oppression due to racism, gender inequality (sexism), or because of a disability. 

Reclaiming fasting also is one of the very best ways to learn humility.[18]  In a culture which often views individualism as a bonus, we need to learn how to be servants and humble.  It’s hard to learn how to be humble.  We can’t just talk about it, but we actually have to put it into practice!  Fasting is one way among others to learn that skill.

Fasting also is counter-cultural.  How many people do you know (who aren’t Christians) who actually fast unless their doctor tells them they need to because of a medical examination?  I don’t know any!  Fasting is one way to make you be set apart from the world and to live for Christ!  Not only that, but as mentioned before, it helps you to know when other things (such as gluttony) are beginning to take an unhealthy place in your life.  When they are becoming idols, or when you are using them as a coping mechanism when you are stressed out, bored, or depressed.

Finally, fasting is HEALTHY for you!  It may not be enjoyable to go without food, but I have read ample health books and spoken to doctors who recommend periodically fasting as a way to release the toxins in your body, to realign your juices, and to release any unnecessary chemicals.  That’s not to say that you need to fast ALL the time… but it’s recommended at least a few times a year because of its health benefits.  People who fast, even if only once or twice a year, often have less of a chance of getting disease.  I’m not a health professional, so don’t quote me on all of this.  If you’re interested in the health benefits, you’ll have to Google it or talk to your doctor about it yourself!  Keep in mind, also, that fasting does not necessarily mean completely abstaining from food.  There are other types of fasting such as raw food diets and vegetarianism/veganism.  If done wisely and with much research, often people on these diets can live a healthier life than those who eat meat.[19] 

What to Do When You Fast: The Bible does give us some direction as to how to fast, which is perfect for anyone just starting out who does not have much experience in this area.

First of all, determine the reason why you are fasting.  Fasting can be personal, corporate, national, or familial (natural or spiritual family).  Maybe you are fasting to hear God’s voice regarding a move or career change.  Maybe you are fasting because you really want to see your brother come to know Christ.  Maybe you are fasting because you have just gone through a tragedy and you want to hear God’s voice in it.  There’s also the possibility that like King David, you are fasting because you want God to change His mind on something that would bring grievous consequences to your life.[20]

Once you have determined the reason for your fast, also determine what type of fast you will have.  As I have mentioned, fasting does not need to be from food, but it could be from a variety of different things.  If you do choose a food fast you may want to start small if you’ve never fasted  before.  Perhaps over one meal once a week.  For example over lunch on Mondays.  You can also determine the length of time you want to fast – a complete day, every Monday for a month, one meal a week for a year?  It all depends on the purpose you are trying to achieve.

After these initial steps, it’s time to begin to actually fast.  Most of the time, the purpose of a fast is to PRAY or to give extra (additional) time to prayer.  It’s not simply doing without, but it’s using the time that you would have spent eating or on Facebook or whatever to seek God’s will and direction or to bring about some type of positive change.  If you simply go without and don’t replace it with something good, fasting will not have its complete effect on your life.

Secondly, don’t tell everyone that you or fasting or make it obvious to gain attention from others.[21]  Fasting is meant to be between you and God.  You may want to tell your closest friend, spouse, or pastor just in order that you have someone to hold you accountable (especially if you are contemplating a longer term fast).  It’s okay to tell one or two other people so that they can help you when you start to feel weak, because you will.  But you definitely DON’T need to go posting it on Facebook or making any big announcements about it.

Lastly, fasting is an ART.  That means it takes time and lots of effort to develop.  So don’t get discouraged if at the beginning you fail or find it very difficult.  It’s meant to be difficult, but usually things which are hard are very rewarding in the end of the day.  If you find yourself slacking, just surround yourself with an accountability partner, remind yourself again of the motivation for your fast in the first place, and pick yourself up.  Don’t give up!  You won’t develop the skill in one day or just because you have fasted once before.

Additional Precautions: Before beginning a fast, there are some things which will be beneficial to keep in mind.

I highly recommend that you consult a doctor if you are considering a food fast and have any health concerns or if you are unsure whether it would be beneficial or harmful to you.  Especially if you have issues related to diabetes, high/low blood pressure, or are on any type of medication this is definitely something you will want to consult them about before you actually do it.  Don’t take the risk, even if it’s only fasting over one meal.  Nothing is worse than having a fast interrupted because you have blacked out (and we aren’t talking about being slain in the Spirit here!).  The same precaution goes for if you are considering fasting through taking up a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle but you have health concerns such as Anemia.  Also, I would recommend consulting your doctor if you want a food fast but in the past have had other issues related to food (such as anorexia or bulimia).  Make sure to take care of your physical health at all times!

If health circumstances (such as illness, age, pregnancy, etc) prevent you from full fasting I would highly recommend considering another type of fast such as from social media.  It’s not the TYPE of fast that matters, but the reason behind the fast.  The motivations of your heart.[22]

While fasting from food, make sure that you still receive ample levels of fluid, especially water.  If you are diabetic or have other health concerns, you may also want to consider fruit juices, vitamin water, or Gatorades.  Consult your doctor about what types of fluids would be best for you if you have any concerns.  Don’t feel guilty about drinking liquids while fasting!  It isn’t cheating, it’s taking care of the Temple![23]

Another thing that has helped others when fasting from food is to chew gum.  The liquid released from the gum helps coat your throat and takes your mind off of some of the hunger pains because you are stimulating the action of eating through chewing.  Again, this is NOT cheating!  Don’t become legalistic about the fast otherwise there’s no purpose to fasting.

Conclusion: Whether you want to fast from food, social media, or talking, fasting is a great way to refocus your priorities, your energies, and your passions.  It’s a great way to seek God and to find rest and renewal in Him.  It’s also a great way to find healing from emotional and psychological (or Spiritual) pains which may be harming you.  I hope that what you have read here is beneficial for you as you start your journey of fasting and I trust that God will provide blessings to you as you make the journey


[1] December 31st  Sermon by Corey Russell at IHOPKC One Thing 2013 Conference

[20]  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20Samuel%2012&version=ESVUK  See Also: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ezra%208:23&version=ESVUK

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