Why I Fast
For many people fasting is a strange concept. Why would I intentionally starve myself? Why would I willfully give up the blessings that God has put into my life? What is the purpose? I can understand these concerns. I have not always practiced or understood fasting, but over the last few years this practice has become a central part of my spiritual growth. And here is why:
First, from a purely biblical perspective, Jesus did it and assumed it for his disciples. We all know that Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights. What some do not realize is that Jesus spoke of fasting as if it were a given that his disciples would also fast. Consider Matthew 6:16 where Jesus says, “When you fast ….” Notice it is not “if” you fast. He assumes they will. Look also at Matthew 9:15 where Jesus is asked why his disciples do not fast, and he says it is because he is currently with them, but when he is gone, “then they will fast.” It is not an option, but an expectation. This should not surprise us. If we are followers of Christ, and he fasted, it would be natural for us to fast as well.
Second, fasting has practical benefits. Here are a few. It helps us focus on God. When you fast, every meal you eat, every hunger pain you feel, and every item of food you see that you desire, turns your thoughts to God. Not only that, but you have built into your schedule at every meal time to pray and read the scriptures. It helps us practice self-denial. When you fast, you are saying “no” to yourself. You are putting into practice what Jesus said in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself ….” It helps learn to tell ourselves “no” so that when we come to a time of sin, and we need to say “no” to ourselves, it is not a foreign concept, but has become part of our regular routine of life. Finally, it helps us to see those things that have more control over our lives than we would like. It shows us how much material things really mean to us. I never realized how much I need food or TV until I sought to give them up for a period. I do not want material things to have that kind of control over my life.
Fasting Q & A
There are many questions about fasting. Some of the questions arise because it is not a typical practice for many Americans and, thus, we have little experience with this discipline. Our culture is one that, by and large, eats often and eats a lot. In the Dallas area, there are restaurants everywhere, and many of these are packed on a regular basis. Fasting challenges this way of living. More importantly, it offers the opportunity to draw us closer to God and to open our lives to the amazing work of the Holy Spirit.
“What is fasting?”
To fast means to abstain from food and sometimes drink. This might mean giving up a single meal or abstaining from food for an entire day. I would encourage you not to give up water unless you are experienced in fasting and this is a regular discipline in your life. Even then, if you are planning to fast more than a day or two without water, you should consult your physician.
“What kind of fast are we doing as a church?”
I encourage everyone to try a 24-hour fast that gives up two main meals. For example: begin your fast Tuesday evening following dinner. Continue to fast from all food until the following evening and then eat dinner. Remember to drink water throughout the day.
“How do I break a fast?”
If you skip a single meal, just eat normally after that. If you participate with us in a 24-hour fast, let your first meal be a little smaller than normal, filled with fruits and vegetables, and avoid foods containing a lot of saturated fat (e.g. burgers, pizza, or cheesecake). Consider options like a fruit smoothie, a grilled chicken breast or whole grains to break the fast.
“How do I use my time when I am fasting?”
Typically, a person spends a minimum of one hour every day engaged in eating. When that is taken away, this is the perfect time to devote oneself to prayer and reading the Scriptures.
“How do I do it in secret when the entire congregation is participating?”
When Jesus says we are to fast for our Father in secret, the point has more to do with not drawing attention to yourself. If you let everyone know how much you have been fasting and how hard it has been, but how you are being so faithful to God throughout, then that’s drawing attention to yourself. Jesus says to act normally. Basically, act like you are not fasting.
“What if I am diabetic or have other health issues?”
You may want to consult your physician before attempting a fast. You may want to abstain from something else like television or the internet. For some, while you give up food, you may need to drink fruit juice or a smoothie during the day. Fasting should not be something that puts you at risk. A normal person can very safely fast, but if you have health problems, please be safe and wise about how you fast.
Your first fast will likely be your easiest. It will be new and exciting. As you practice this discipline more regularly, you will find it gets harder. The temptation will grow. You will find yourself needing to turn more and more to God and likely discovering just how much control food has over your life. It is a very good spiritual discipline with many benefits. It will be a wonderful experience for our whole church. If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.