Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday. There are lots of reasons for that—turkey, mashed potatoes, pie, stuffing, noodles, green bean casserole … you get the point. With all of the focus on food that will inevitably happen this week, it may seem like a strange choice to blog about fasting, but I actually think Thanksgiving provides a great opportunity for us to take a look at taking a break from food from time to time.
Several months ago, one of you left me a comment asking for my advice about how to deal with a difficult situation. My response was to set aside some time to fast and pray. Your reaction surprised me. Many of you left comments saying that you wanted to know more about fasting. What is it, exactly? Should all Christians fast? When do you fast? What if fasting makes your thoughts dwell on weight, should you fast anyway?
These are great questions! And I am so glad that you are thinking about this issue, because fasting is a topic that is addressed often in God’s Word. In fact, there are so many references to fasting in Scripture that I won’t be able to tackle all of it in a single post. So I’ll be blogging about fasting in several chunks in the coming weeks.
Before we get too far, I want to define fasting. Fasting simply means to abstain from something that you are used to ingesting. Usually, fasting means taking a break from eating or from eating certain foods. But it is also possible to fast from specific media forms such as TV or Facebook or from something else that you take in on a regular basis. The purpose of fasting is to take a break from focusing on yourself and to feast on the things of God.
I like how Elyse Fitzpatrick explains it in this Revive Our Hearts broadcast:
I think it’s good for us just from time to time to say no to our flesh. Can you have [food]? Sure. Is it sinful for you to have it? No. Do you need to have it whenever you want it? Absolutely not. You know what? Today I am going to say no …
Just to say, “Flesh, you are not going to rule my life.” And during this time when I would have spent time cooking or eating … I’m going to meditate on the Lord.
Simply put, fasting gives us an opportunity to deny ourselves and focus on Christ. Here are some thoughts on fasting, pulled straight from Scripture.
The people of Israel turned to fasting to help them win battles.
In Judges 20:26 all of Israel fasted and wept before the Lord after several days of losing battles against the Benjamites. The next day they won the war against their enemy. There are many other examples in Scripture of the armies of Israel fasting before battle.
You probably aren’t engaged in a war with the Benjamites. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t face battles. Are you struggling to have victory over sin? Are you engaged in a conflict at home or at school? Fasting is a way to prepare yourself for the battle.
Many people in the Bible fasted in response to their own sin.
In 1 Samuel 7 the people of Israel fasted after being confronted with their sin of serving other Gods. In Joel 1:14 the people of Israel were called to a corporate (group) fast because of the need to repent of their sins.
When you sin against God or when you are stuck in a pattern of sin, fasting is an appropriate response.
Fasting is not a magic formula to make sure our prayers work.
In 2 Samuel 12 we find David fasting for his sick son. In the end, despite David’s fast and prayers, the boy died. Fasting does not ensure that God will answer our prayers our way. So what’s the point?
Psalm 69:10 puts it this way, “When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach.”
I love the psalmist’s words here: “humbled my soul with fasting.” One of the goals of fasting is to humble ourselves before God and recognize our need for Him. Everything we have comes from Him, including our food. That humility that comes from acknowledging our dependence on Him puts us in a great place to approach Him through prayer.
Fasting is personal and best done in private.
In Matthew 6:16–18 Jesus gave these instructions for fasting: “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Jesus took his own advice when he retreated to the wilderness alone to fast and pray for forty days and forty nights (Matt. 4:2).
The point of fasting is not to draw attention to yourself. If you feel the need to go around telling everyone you know that you’re on a fast so that they will see how spiritual you are, you’re missing the point big time. Fasting isn’t the ultimate goal. Feasting on God is! That’s why it’s best to keep your efforts just between you and God.
Certainly making the choice not to eat and keeping it a secret can be a dangerous choice for some girls, especially those of you with eating disorders or a body obsession. That’s why I want you to make sure you come back to the blog tomorrow to read my post on reasons not to fast.
But for now, I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever fasted? What was the result? Based on the Scriptures you just read, what are good reasons to fast?
If you’re really feeling hungry (pun intended) to learn more about this subject, I want to challenge you to do a word study of your own. Simply type the word “fast” into online concordance such as biblegateway.com or use the concordance in the back of your Bible to read all the verses you can about fasting. Then hop right back here on the blog, and tell us what you’ve learned.