Often times fasting as a biblical concept can seem mysterious and a bit overwhelming. But as we delve into the bible we find that it is something in which Jesus, his disciples and his many other subsequent followers intentionally partook.
Fasting is a time where, as followers of Christ, we can express our desire to experience more of God, who lives in each of us. Our physical hunger becomes a hunger for Him.
So what is fasting?
As John Piper phrases it, “Fasting is a temporary renunciation of something that is in itself good, like food, in order to intensify our expression of need for something greater; namely, God and his work in our lives.” By denying ourselves of food we rely on Him who is our eternal sustenance. Fasting is not limited to Christians, but as Christians the purpose of fasting differs.
So what are the reasons for fasting?
1. Christ expects it
Matthew 6:16-18 NIV
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Notice that Jesus never said, ‘if you fast’, but rather ‘when you fast’. Fasting is never explicitly commanded by Jesus, but there is an expectation placed on his followers. He assumed we would fast out of devotion to Him. But not only must we fast, we must do it in humility. Christ is not focussed on our outward expression but rather on our hearts.
There is an even clearer call by Jesus in this passage, and that is while there is a communal aspect to fasting, it is largely personal. We should direct our fasting not at others, but to God. Our denial of food is a personal devotion to God so that He can be our sustenance.
2. By denying ourselves we seek Him
Joel 1:14 NIV
“Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.”
There are many times when it may be easy to go without food, but fasting is much more than denying yourself a meal. It is not merely that we renounce food, but in that lack we realise that everything has been given to us in Christ Jesus already and we should rely on him alone.
Fasting is a plea for the fullness and abundance that can only be found in God himself and not in the world. Many people will tell you that there is something extraordinary that happens when they fast but they can’t quite explain why. There is something powerful in when we surrender things in the world to make more space for God. Our hunger in the physical must be joined by a hunger for God. He patiently waits for us to cry out to Him, poised to respond with abundance.
Being hungry acts as a reminder that, ‘I need to seek God’. By denying ourselves of food, it creates space and time for Him, because it forces us to put Him first.
3. There is power and breakthrough in community
“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
Community is at the centre of this passage; followers gathered together in prayer and fasting. A community gathered and seeking God together is powerful. In this communal space God commands a blessing. For it is says:
Again, I tell you truly that if two of you on the earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:19-20 NIV.
We see that Paul and the others were fasting and praying to God to express their own desire for His guidance in their lives. Through this there was breakthrough, breakthrough so great it would impact the world and the future of Christianity. When we trust and seek God together mountains can be moved.
Why do we fast food? Food is a gift from God. It brings Him glory when we feast upon it, but also when we deny ourselves from consuming it. When we focus less on the gift that God has given us and more on the Giver, we will encounter the fullness of God. Fasting is a simple crying out, “I love you God, You will sustain me.”